Algernon Blackwood’s John Silence Stories

Published in 1908. Don’t get upset!

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.

Ancient Sorceries
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.

Secret Worship
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.

Arthur Machen and Algernon Blackwood – Weird Fiction from the Golden Dawn

2016-05-06 19.05.55

The Three Imposters and other stories – Vol. 1 of the Best Weird Tales of Arthur Machen
The White People and other stories – Vol. 2 of the Best Weird Tales of Arthur Machen
The Terror and other stories – Vol. 3 of the Best Weird Tales of Arthur Machen
Chaosium Publishing

It’s very rare that I would read a book of short stories in the same way that I would read a novel. I usually have a book or two of short stories on the go that I’ll dip in and out of when I’m between other texts. It can take an awfully long time to get through a book in this manner, but it stops me from getting bored of the author’s style. (The Collected Stories of M.R. James, for example, took me about 7 months to finish, but I got through another 35 full texts in that same period.) In this particular case, the collection of short stories was broken up over three books, and I interspersed other collections between each of these volumes. It has hence taken me about 4 years to get through Chaosium’s collected weird tales of Arthur Machen, and I can’t honestly say that I remember much about the first ones that I read other than that I absolutely adored them.

Much like Penguin’s editions of Lovecraft’s stories, the first volume of this collection contains the best material. I took a copy of it out of the library after reading about Machen online, and I enjoyed it immensely. These creepy stories about freaks, weird experiments and dark forces are top notch stuff. I’ve already linked to my posts on James and Lovecraft, and I feel that Machen, at his best, occupies the middle-ground between these two authors. Every story in here was deadly. You should buy and read this book.

The second volume has some good stuff, but some of it is lame. This book contains the Angels of Mons stuff. During the first World War, Machen wrote a story about some angels appearing on a battlefield at Mons. The story was published in a newspaper, and many people, including some of the soldiers who had been in that battle, took it to be a factual account. It’s kind of cool that this happened, but the story isn’t that great. The Red Hand and The White People are the highlights in this volume. Maybe take this one out of the library, or read those two stories online instead.

The third volume is plop. There were a few stories that seem promising at the beginning, but these either teeter off into incoherence or abruptly turn to shit. Changes was worth reading for the hideous, yellow-faced goblin-child, and Out of the Picture was entertaining if quite silly, but the rest of the stories in here are garbage. The title story is actually the uncut version of a story that appears in the second version, and it’s a drawn-out piece of trash. Speaking of what is contained in this volume, S.T. Joshi claims; “None of these works add anything to Machen’s overall reputation as a horror writer.” I agree. Joshi afterwards mentions other works of Machen’s which were too poor to be included here. Those stories must be the literary equivalent of sniffing a shit-stained pair of britches. Don’t bother with this one unless you’re a completist. It’s not an enjoyable read.

Machen also wrote a novel called The Hill of Dreams. I haven’t read that yet, but it’s supposed to be good. I’ll get around to it someday.

2016-05-06 20.39.05

Ancient Sorceries and Other Weird Stories – Algernon Blackwood
Penguin – 2002

I took this book out of the library right after finishing the first volume in the above Machen collection. I read it straight through without breaks, and while I thoroughly enjoyed most of it, by the end I was getting burnt out on short stories. It has been a long time since I read this book, but I seem to remember the individual stories from this one better than those from the first Machen collection. There’s 9 stories in here, and they are all quite different. The weird in ‘Weird Fiction’ is a tricky thing to pin down, but I found that Blackwood’s stories are weirder (in the common sense of the word weird) than those of Machen or Lovecraft. That being said, this is the only collection of Blackwood’s that I have read, and maybe his other work is different. I would love to hear from anyone who has any recommendations on Blackwood’s other stuff. The layout of this book is nice; it has an almost identical format to the Penguin editions of Lovecraft (an introduction by Joshi and a small article and set of notes for each story). I would recommend picking this one up.

Both Machen and Blackwood were members of the magical order of the Golden Dawn along with W.B. Yeats and Aleister Crowley. Whatever though. I’m not going to get into that. If you’re interested, you can find out more about their involvement in this magical order online.