—"The Willows," Algernon Blackwood
One of my recent purchases (and the primary source of inspiration for doing a day of short story reviews) is The Century's Best Horror Fiction, recently published by Cemetery Dance Publications. The books are incredible—100 great stories, some of which I've read but, delightfully enough, many of which I have not.
The subject of today's review, though, is a story I've read many times. And reading it again in this book... it still gave me goosebumps.
"The Willows" is, in fact, one of my favorite stories of all time. It's easily my favorite by Algernon Blackwood. Very few other stories come close to capturing the mounting sense of dread and alien horror that Blackwood achieves in "The Willows," and he does it in a way that would (and, in fact, did) make Lovecraft proud.
In this story, two friends making a canoe trip down the Danube river happen upon a strange stretch of land in a flood plain and become stranded on an island that, over the course of the story, is eroded away by the rushing rivers, just as their minds are being eroded away by the encroaching presence of... SOMETHING... from another dimension.
The story builds on itself, becoming more and more oppressive and haunting with every page, until finally at the last, the final line of the story... despite the fact that it's something utterly mundane... is giving me goosebumps right now just thinking about it.
"The Willows" is...
- ... one of my favorite short stories. One that I don't get tired of, no matter how often I read it. And one that creeps me out just by thinking about some of the things it implies.
- ... perhaps H. P. Lovecraft's favorite story—"It is my firm opinion that his longish short story The Willows is the greatest weird tale ever written."(from a letter to Fritz Leiber, November 9th, 1936)
- ... probably not a story to read if you're in the mood for action-packed mayhem, but if you're sitting in a quiet room and it's raining outside and your window's open and you can feel a chill creeping through the room... you'll be in the right frame of mind to visit "The Willows."