John Silence: Physician Extraordinary – Algernon Blackwood
Eveleigh Nash – 1908
I first read Algernon Blackwood years ago. I was just starting to get into weird fiction, and I read the Penguin edition of his stories right after reading a similar volume of Arthur Machen’s best tales. I always felt like I rushed through the Blackwood book, and I’ve been meaning to give him another go for years. I recently decided to read his John Silence stories. John Silence is an occult detective predating Carnacki, Duke De Richleau and Doctor Orient. The book pictured above is the first John Silence collection. It contains 5 tales. There is a more recent collection put out by Dover with an introduction by S.T. Joshi and an additional story. This is all pretty old stuff though, and it’s all public domain, so I just downloaded an e-book for free. Here’s what I thought of the stories:
A Psychical Invasion
This is the worst story in the collection and a terrible introduction to the book. It’s a boring haunted house yarn. It was like a shit version of Bulwer Lytton’s The Haunted and the Haunters, itself a boring story.
This was the only story in the collection that I had read before. I remembered that it was about cat people, but I had forgotten that these cat people worshipped the Devil. I enjoyed this one, but it isn’t really a John Silence story. Silence merely listens to the tale as it’s recounted by one of his patients. He plays no part in the events described.
The Nemesis of Fire
This is another haunted house story, but it’s a lot more interesting than the other one. It involves an ancient Egyptian fire spirit. It was alright.
This is another story in which John Silence only plays a small role. It might also be my favourite in the collection. It’s about a man returning to the strict boarding school/ monastery where he spent his youth. The place has fallen into ill repute, and this guy has to discover why the hard way.
The Camp of the Dog
This one is pretty bad to be honest. A werewolf is on the loose in a campsite. There’s never any mystery as to what is going on and the way the characters respond to the crisis is completely unbelievable. A man sees his daughter attacked by a werewolf on an uninhabited island, hundreds of miles from civilisation. He has a gun but doesn’t shoot the werewolf dead immediately. Come on…
On top of being unbelievable, this was way too long. It was a real stinker.
A Victim of Higher Space
The last story, and the only one not contained in the original 1908 collection, is about a man who passes into other dimensions. It was like a horror version of Flatland by Edwin Abbott Abbott. It was alright.
Honestly, this collection was pretty crap. Only two of the six stories are enjoyable, and it’s not a coincidence that those two tales are the ones that aren’t really about the eponymous occult detective. John Silence is a know-it-all cunt, and I’d like to box him in the mouth.
I’d be willing to give Blackwood another chance, but not for a while.