Tuesday Terror! The Willows by Algernon Blackwood

Worse than whomping…

When two young men who are canoeing down the Danube in the middle of a great flood decide to camp for the night on a tiny island, what could possibly go wrong? Time to find out in this week’s…

Tuesday Terror 2The Willows
by Algernon Blackwood

Algernon Blackwood

After leaving Vienna, and long before you come to Budapest, the Danube enters a region of singular loneliness and desolation, where its waters spread away on all sides regardless of a main channel, and the country becomes a swamp for miles upon miles, covered by a vast sea of low willow-bushes.

Our unnamed narrator (I shall call him Jim) and his friend, known only as the Swede, have travelled far along the Danube on a pleasure excursion in a little canoe. They have reached a place where the river splits into three branches, and know that a high flood is due. They decide to continue anyway, both being experienced rivermen and having done many journeys together before. Driven forward by the fast waters and a howling wind, they have some difficulty landing for the night on one of the small temporary islands that spring up in this swampy stretch of the river, but finally they manage it…

Then we lay panting and laughing after our exertions on the hot yellow sand, sheltered from the wind, and in the full blaze of a scorching sun, a cloudless blue sky above, and an immense army of dancing, shouting willow bushes, closing in from all sides, shining with spray and clapping their thousand little hands as though to applaud the success of our efforts.

Already Jim has shown that he feels the river as a mighty presence with its own character. At first he sees it as friendly…

How, indeed, could it be otherwise, since it told us so much of its secret life? At night we heard it singing to the moon as we lay in our tent, uttering that odd sibilant note peculiar to itself and said to be caused by the rapid tearing of the pebbles along its bed, so great is its hurrying speed. We knew, too, the voice of its gurgling whirlpools, suddenly bubbling up on a surface previously quite calm; the roar of its shallows and swift rapids; its constant steady thundering below all mere surface sounds; and that ceaseless tearing of its icy waters at the banks. How it stood up and shouted when the rains fell flat upon its face! And how its laughter roared out when the wind blew up-stream and tried to stop its growing speed!

But once on the island and with night approaching, a strange feeling of dread begins to fall over the travellers. The willows seem to give off a threatening air…

Some essence emanated from them that besieged the heart. A sense of awe awakened, true, but of awe touched somewhere by a vague terror. Their serried ranks, growing everywhere darker about me as the shadows deepened, moving furiously yet softly in the wind, woke in me the curious and unwelcome suggestion that we had trespassed here upon the borders of an alien world, a world where we were intruders, a world where we were not wanted or invited to remain—where we ran grave risks perhaps!

As night sets in, Jim finds himself unable to sleep and wanders out of the camp. By now his imagination – or is it? – is working overtime, and he has come to see the willows as somehow malevolent…

What, I thought, if, after all, these crouching willows proved to be alive; if suddenly they should rise up, like a swarm of living creatures, marshaled by the gods whose territory we had invaded, sweep towards us off the vast swamps, booming overhead in the night—and then settle down! As I looked it was so easy to imagine they actually moved, crept nearer, retreated a little, huddled together in masses, hostile, waiting for the great wind that should finally start them a-running. I could have sworn their aspect changed a little, and their ranks deepened and pressed more closely together.

The Swede seems stolidly unimaginative at first and Jim relies on this to keep his dread at bay. But it soon transpires that the Swede, far from being unaffected, is way ahead of Jim in interpreting the strange events… and has come to a chilling conclusion…

…I think I felt annoyed to be out of it, to be thus proved less psychic, less sensitive than himself to these extraordinary happenings, and half ignorant all the time of what was going on under my very nose. He knew from the very beginning, apparently. But at the moment I wholly missed the point of his words about the necessity of there being a victim, and that we ourselves were destined to satisfy the want…

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Well, this is a classic for a reason! The descriptive writing is fabulous, and Blackwood gradually builds up an air of creepy menace guaranteed to send shivers down the stoutest spine. Apparently Lovecraft hailed this as the greatest supernatural tale of all, and it’s very clear to see how it influenced his own later weird tales. There is the same suggestion of ancient and malign alien beings, with men caught up as irrelevant victims of a power at which they can only vaguely guess. But, unlike Lovecraft, this doesn’t get bogged down in endless repetitive description – it is novella length but it keeps going at a good pace and builds up to an excellently chilling climax. Nature is used brilliantly, at first as something for man to admire and revel in, and then, gradually, as something immense and uncontrollable, reducing man to tiny insignificance, fumbling to make sense of forces so great that they are incomprehensible to his limited mind. Great stuff – the porpentine highly recommends it!

If you would like to read it, here’s a link, though personally I found it too long to read comfortably online, so downloaded a Kindle version.

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Fretful Porpentine rating:  😯 😯 😯 😯 😯

Overall story rating:           😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

It’s a fretful porpentine!

TBR Thursday 49…

The People’s Choice 6…

 

Dramatic news! The TBR has gone down!! By 2 – to 136…but it’s a start, right?

So…that means I can squeeze in one more book, but which one? So many choices around the blogosphere – so many great reviews! Which means it’s time for another People’s Choice Poll…

Last time it was all crime, so this time the shortlist is all fiction. So which one of these do you think most deserves a place on the TBR? The winner will be announced next Thursday…

With my usual grateful thanks to all the reviewers who’ve intrigued and inspired me over the last few weeks, here are:

The Contenders…

 

the constant nymphThe BlurbTessa is the daughter of a brilliant bohemian composer, Albert Sanger, who with his “circus” of precocious children, slovenly mistress, and assortment of hangers-on, lives in a rambling chalet high in the Austrian Alps. The fourteen-year-old Tessa has fallen in love with Lewis Dodd, a gifted composer like her father. Confidently, she awaits maturity, for even his marriage to Tessa’s beautiful cousin Florence cannot shatter the loving bond between Lewis and his constant nymph.

heavenali says: “The Constant Nymph was Margaret Kennedy’s second novel, and probably her most successful and well known. I absolutely loved it, at once fully involving myself with the characters, as I became immersed in the world of ‘Sanger’s Circus’. I think Margaret Kennedy might be an author whose work I will have to read much more of.

See the full review at heavenali

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the beesThe BlurbBorn into the lowest class of her society, Flora 717 is a sanitation bee, only fit to clean her orchard hive. Living to accept, obey and serve, she is prepared to sacrifice everything for her beloved holy mother, the Queen. Yet Flora has talents that are not typical of her kin. And while mutant bees are usually instantly destroyed, Flora is reassigned to feed the newborns, before becoming a forager, collecting pollen on the wing. Then she finds her way into the Queen’s inner sanctum, where she discovers secrets both sublime and ominous. Enemies roam everywhere, from the fearsome fertility police to the high priestesses who jealously guard the Hive Mind. But Flora cannot help but break the most sacred law of all, and her instinct to serve is overshadowed by a desire, as overwhelming as it is forbidden…

Claire says: “I know little about the bee world, but the environment the author creates is fascinating, intriguing and imaginative with references to monarchy, spiritual devotion, universal instinct and power. It also contains a subtle environmental reference, one that will be recognised by nature lovers everywhere, without compromising the essence of great storytelling.”

See the full review at Word by Word

*******

passingThe BlurbNella Larsen, a writer of the Harlem Renaissance, wrote two brilliant novels that interrogated issues of gender and race. In Passing, her second novel published in 1929, she examines the troubled friendship between two mixed-race women who can pass as white. One, Irene Redfield, marries a black man and lives in Harlem, while the other, Clare Kendry, marries a bigoted white man. Clare re-enters Irene’s life after an absence of many years, and stirs up painful questions about identity.

My Book Strings says: “Even without the “issue of race,” the toxic relationship between the two women would have made for a fascinating story. But, of course, race is at the very heart of it. It permeates every single aspect of life, and at times, I found it quite shocking to read about it…

See the full review at My Book Strings

*******

the willowsThe Blurb – Two friends are midway on a canoe trip down the Danube River. Throughout the story Blackwood personifies the surrounding environment—river, sun, wind—and imbues them with a powerful and ultimately threatening character. Most ominous are the masses of dense, desultory, menacing willows, which “moved of their own will as though alive, and they touched, by some incalculable method, my own keen sense of the horrible.” American horror author H.P. Lovecraft considered this to be the finest supernatural tale in English literature.

The Bibliophile Chronicles says: “I absolutely love this book, I’ve read it before and it is no less creepy and wonderful the second time around. Personally I think that horror novels/films are most effective when you don’t actually see anything. That eerie sense of not knowing what is there seems to result in such a strong feeling of discomfort. That is very much at play in The Willows.

See the full review at The Bibliophile Chronicles

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the guernsey literary and potato peel societyThe BlurbIt is 1946, in the thick of World War II, when American writer Juliet Ashton becomes the sudden recipient of letters from the inhabitants of Guernsey, the small island in the English Channel that has fallen under Nazi control. The letter writers have formed the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society as a way to gather without attracting the attention of their occupiers. Out of these letters, Juliet comes to know the lives, loves, and hardships of a wonderfully eccentric and vivid cast of characters, and their charming philosophies and anecdotes help her resolve her own romantic conundrum.

Cleo says: The genius of this book is the perfect mix of horrific stories, those people who were deported, those who lived in fear along with the lack of food, but these are balanced out by some tender moments, with memories of bravery and humour and compassion, not least at the society’s meetings. There were some letters that took my breath away despite being familiar with the nature of the events that occurred.” (Cleo lives in the Channel Islands herself.)

See the full review at Cleopatra Loves Books

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NB All blurbs and covers are taken from Goodreads.

So…over to you! I love the sound of all of these so you can’t choose the wrong one! Choose just one or as many as you like – the book with most votes will be this week’s winner…

Hope you pick a good one! 😉