Tuesday Terror! The Sea-Fit by Algernon Blackwood

To his death singing…

Although the British Library call their series of vintage horror stories Tales of the Weird, the stories often don’t strictly fall into the nebulous definition of “weird fiction”. (Xavier Aldana Reyes defines weird fiction as ‘a subgenre of speculative fiction concerned with the limits of human experience and the unknowability of the natural world that brings together elements of the horror, science fiction and fantasy literary traditions’.) This week’s definitely does, however! I haven’t read much Algernon Blackwood yet, but he’s already left lingering horrors imprinted on my mind from his wonderful weird story The Willows. This one is less well known, but in my opinion just as unsettling. I’ve taken it from the BL’s anthology, Our Haunted Shores…

The Sea-Fit
by Algernon Blackwood

Algernon Blackwood

The sea that night sang rather than chanted; all along the far-running shore a rising tide dropped thick foam, and the waves, white-crested, came steadily in with the swing of a deliberate purpose.

Three friends have gathered in a little bungalow nestling in the sand dunes.

Foregathered for Easter, they spent the day fishing and sailing, and at night told yarns of the days when life was younger.

The owner of the bungalow is Captain Erricson…

‘Big Erricson’, Norwegian by extraction, student by adoption, wanderer by blood, a Viking reincarnated if ever there was one, belonged to that type of primitive man in whom burns an inborn love and passion for the sea that amounts to positive worship—devouring tide, a lust and fever in the soul.

His friends are half-brothers, Major Reese and Doctor Reese, so both men of learning and experience, surely not subject to superstitious fancies. The last occupant of the bungalow is ‘Sinbad’, Erricson’s servant…

‘Sinbad,’ sailor of big seas, and a man who had shared on many a ship all the lust of strange adventure that distinguished his great blonde-haired owner—an ideal servant and dog-faithful, divining his master’s moods almost before they were born.

Yes, well, it was the times! However nauseating that description, Sinbad is more than faithful – he knows that his master holds some strange views and is affected sometimes by the moon and the tides, and he tries to protect him when the sea-fit comes on him. As it does this night…

Erricson had one of his queer sea-fits on—the Doctor was responsible for the term—and was in the thick of it, plunging like a straining boat at anchor, talking in a way that made them both feel vaguely uncomfortable and distressed.

The tumbledown bungalow and the sound of the tide don’t help…

The loneliness of the sandspit and that melancholy singing of the sea before their very door may have had something to do with it, seeing that both were landsmen; for Imagination is ever Lord of the Lonely Places, and adventurous men remain children to the last.

And nor does Sinbad’s muttered warning to the doctor…

Sinbad had tugged his sleeve on entering and whispered in his ear significantly: ‘Full moon, sir, please, and he’s better without too much! These high spring tides get him all caught off his feet sometimes—clean sea-crazy’; and the man had contrived to let the doctor see the hilt of a small pistol he carried in his hip-pocket.

As the room grows cold and a strange sea-mist creeps over the bungalow, Erricson talks ever more wildly of the old sea gods, and his belief that they still exist for those who are willing to believe…

‘And I like the old idea,’ he had been saying, speaking of these departed pagan deities, ‘that sacrifice and ritual feed their great beings, and that death is only the final sacrifice by which the worshipper becomes absorbed into them. The devout worshipper’—and there was a singular drive and power behind the words—‘should go to his death singing, as to a wedding—the wedding of his soul with the particular deity he has loved and served all his life.’

And the sea-mist creeps through the cracks in the window-frames and the cold pours through the badly-fitting doors and the tide continues to sing as it brings the sea ever closer and Erricson plunges deeper with each passing moment into the sea-fit…

The man’s inner soul was on fire now. He was talking at a fearful pace, his eyes alight, his voice turned somehow into a kind of sing-song that chimed well, singularly well, with the booming of waves outside, and from time to time he turned to the window to stare at the sea and the moon-blanched sands. And then a look of triumph would come into his face—that giant face framed by slow-moving wreaths of pipe smoke.

Illustration by mgkellermeyer
via deviantart.com

* * * * *

Well! I shall be considerably less enthusiastic about going paddling in the sea after this one, I can tell you! It’s fabulously written, and although it’s clear where it’s heading somehow Blackwood still manages to build an atmosphere of real tension, and the climax is worthy of the story. There’s something about the way he describes nature that makes it utterly terrifying – there’s no romantic beauty in it, all is power and malevolence, all is ruled by beings too great for our puny minds to comprehend and so ancient we foolishly believe they must no longer exist…

‘And I like, too, the way they manage to keep their names before us . . . There’s old Hu, the Druid god of justice, still alive in “Hue and Cry”; there’s Typhon hammering his way against us in the typhoon; there’s the mighty Hurakar, serpent god of the winds, you know, shouting to us in hurricane and ouragan…’

If you’d like to find out what happens, here’s a link.

(The porpy was so scared by this one
he’s refusing to come out of hiding…
)

Fretful Porpentine rating:   😮 😮 😮 😮 😮

Overall story rating:            😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

Amazon UK Link

43 thoughts on “Tuesday Terror! The Sea-Fit by Algernon Blackwood

  1. I *may* have read some Blackwood in my youth in some horror story collection, but to be honest it would have been all as one with the M R James, Machen and others I read at the time – educated middle-class white men, familiar with libraries, trespassing in areas where their brief systems would be severely challenged. Now I might be more able to discern subtle differences in style and approach, but not so much then!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I find Blackwood far more terrifying than MR James. In fact, the weird sub-genre terrifies me far more than the traditional Gothic ghost in general. Machen is another one whose stories I often find deeply unsettling. Despite my cynicism about all things supernatural, clearly those ancient gods still lurk somewhere in my subconscious, waiting to spring!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Even those bits you shared made me glad I don’t live right by the sea, FictionFan! His writing style really is absorbing, and such a deliciously creepy tale, too! Even if you do have a sense of where the story’s going, I can still see how the porpy would be unsettled by this one!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hahaha, I must admit if I keep reading his stories I’ll probably end up too scared to ever go outdoors! I’ll never look at a willow tree in the same away, and now I’ll be checking the sea for ancient gods before relaxing on the beach! 😱

      Liked by 1 person

    • The last unexplored region, maybe? A bit like why so many horror stories are set in the Arctic – these places are already scary so it’s easy to add a monster or an ancient god… 😱

      Like

  3. “The Willows” is one of my all-time faves. It scared me witless when I was 12. You’re right about Blackwood’s descriptions of nature; he did cosmic horror before H.P. Lovecraft. I will have to read this one.
    I hope the porpy has recovered.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, The Willows scared me witless too – and I was about half a century older! I swear if I read enough Blackwood I’d end up too scared to go outdoors at all! 😉 In general I find “weird” horror more scary than Gothic spooks – and so does the poor porpy!! 🦔😱

      Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, I know – there’s something about the way he gives nature such malevolent power that is utterly terrifying! I’ll never lie on a beach again without wondering if ancient sea gods are just about to leap out of the water… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I think I’ll past on this entire collection. Although I’m a good (swimming pool) swimmer, I’m definitely a land-lubber and have no desire to be around the ocean! Sounds like a scary place to be!

    Liked by 1 person

    • We all think of ourselves as sea-faring folk even if we’ve never been to sea – it’s our island heritage! And so much of our history involves sea battles, or trading, or fishing, or exploring. This book has certainly left some seriously creepy sea images in my mind!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, it’s the last great unexplored region, and I must say the stories in this book have left some pretty creepy sea images in my mind – and the porpy’s! Sunbathing on the beach will never feel quite so relaxing again… 😱

      Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, I’m glad you enjoyed it! Yes, I thought it was similar to The Willows too, though I admit those clapping little hands the willows had are even more scary than the human sacrifices of the sea-gods! What an imagination he had! 😱

      Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, Blackwood is pretty scary I admit, and the pictures he puts in my head tend to linger! This one isn’t quite as scary as The Willows, though – the porpy still shivers whenever I mention that one!

      Liked by 1 person

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