NOTE: This is the ninth in a series of 31 reviews of scary short stories and novels. As part of All Hallow’s Read, I will be sharing all the scary stories that I think you should consider giving to someone for Halloween. Because this is a tradition intended for people of all ages, some of these titles will be for children and young adults, while others are meant strictly for adults. Happy Reading.
The Empty House
There are certain names which spring to most of our minds when we think of classic horror writers. Poe, Lovecraft, James (both Henry and M.R.) Jackson, maybe even Machen. Well, there is one name which should be added to that list. His name is Algernon Blackwood.
For starters, just look at that name! Has there ever been a moniker more suited for horror fiction than that? I remember talking with my dad once about the names of horror people. I told him John Carpenter was perfect because it made me think of carving things. Wes Craven was even better because it brings to mind the idea of craving something. He told me that was only because I was associating their names with the work they do. He was right. Had John actually been a carpenter it would have worked just as well. Wes could have been a cook and the name would fit. But even he would have to admit that Algernon Blackwood HAS to be a horror writer’s name. That is the sole reason such a surname exists.
For the life of me I can not recall when I first discovered Blackwood’s work. Probably while delving into the Rabbit Hole of Public Domain titles. I’m pretty sure he was listed by Bradbury as an influence. However it happened, I’m glad.
What’s so great about ghost stories from the turn of the 20th century is their ability to shape an atmosphere around you, drawing you in to precisely where they want you. How they do this is magic to me. Even if a story has little going on and practically no resolution, the experience of entering that head space is still wholly satisfying.
When I finished “The Empty House” by Algernon Blackwood (I’ll never tire of typing that name) I had to take a step outside, breath in the air of the physical world around me, because I had fully immersed into the shadows of the empty house he wrote about so effectively. I was lost in its darkness, listening to the creaking of floorboards in empty room, holding my breath to avoid attracting whatever loomed in the quiet. There was such a subtle energy to the story that I almost felt it -not the entity in the story- the story itself watching me.
This may have been the style of writing for the time, but Blackwood employs it most effectively. Instead of a singular foreboding and dread there is almost a thrill to it all. As if the characters are getting turned on by coming so close to the unknown. This is something that has come to categorize Blackwood’s writing. He doesn’t aim only to scare, he wants to excite, sometimes to illicit awe.
Something truly wonderful and unique about it is his voice. Superficially it may look like anyone else of the time. But Blackwood doesn’t deliver us the main character’s entire family history, or share geographical details more suited for an encyclopedia instead of a short story, he takes you by the hand, guiding you easily into the depth of his tale, only to stop, and leaves finding a way out again up to you.