Saturday, October 31, 2009

Time for ghosts and things that go bump in the night.

It's the night when all sorts of things go walking about, so I thought this would be the perfect time to post an excerpt or two from my favorite ghost story, even though it really isn't about ghosts. Just what it is about, well, I'm not sure. I hope you do go and read the story. The author is Algernon Blackwood and the story is "The Willows."

The narrator and his friend are on an extended boating trip down the Danube River. This was not by far their first trip, but it developed into a very different one from all of the others they had taken.

Night is coming on, so they elected to camp out overnight on an island in the middle of the river and set out the next morning. However, it didn't quite turn out that way.

"With this multitude of willows, however, it was something far different, I felt. 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!"

During the night, he was awakened by something:

"I gazed across the waste of wild waters; I watched the whispering willows; I heard the ceaseless beating of the tireless wind; and, one and all, each in its own way, stirred in me this sensation of a strange distress. But the willows especially; for ever they went on chattering and talking among themselves, laughing a little, shrilly crying out, sometimes sighing--but what it was they made so much to-do about belonged to the secret life of the great plain they inhabited. And it was utterly alien to the world I knew, or to that of the wild yet kindly elements. They made me think of a host of beings from another plane of life, another evolution altogether, perhaps, all discussing a mystery known only to themselves. I watched them moving busily together, oddly shaking their big bushy heads, twirling their myriad leaves even where there was no wind. They moved of their own will as though alive, and they touched, by some incalculable method, my own keen sense of the horrible.

There they stood in the moonlight, like a vast army surrounding our camp, shaking their innumerable silver spears defiantly, formed all ready for an attack."


Strange thoughts like these, bizarre fancies, borne I know not whence, found lodgment in my mind as I stood listening. 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."
For a change, I thought, had somehow come about in the arrangement of the landscape. It was not that my point of vantage gave me a different view, but that an alteration had apparently been effected in the relation of the tent to the willows, and of the willows to the tent. Surely the bushes now crowded much closer--unnecessarily, unpleasantly close. They had moved nearer."

And later...

"Creeping with silent feet over the shifting sands, drawing imperceptibly nearer by soft, unhurried movements, the willows had come closer during the night. But had the wind moved them, or had they moved of themselves? I recalled the sound of infinite small patterings and the pressure upon the tent and upon my own heart that caused me to wake in terror. I swayed for a moment in the wind like a tree, finding it hard to keep my upright position on the sandy hillock. There was a suggestion here of personal agency, of deliberate intention, of aggressive hostility, and it terrified me into a sort of rigidity."

It's a great tale for reading by campfire or in the safety of one's home with only a candle burning and a cat purring in one's lap. It can be found online at the following link:



  1. There was an old Outer Limits ( 1963) episode similar to this story called "Cry of Silence". Here's a link, for those who are able to view it:

    It's much more over-the-top than Blackwood's story, but I bet the writer was inspired by it.

    I had read that Lovecraft was very impressed by "The Willows", and can see why he liked it. It's similar to his stories about the "Old Ones" - part horror, part SF.

  2. Cheryl,

    Thanks for the link. I have dial-up so that would be a problem for me. However, I am getting the Outer Limits DVDs from Netflix, so I will get to see it. I'll make a note of the name and move it up on my queue.

    I had heard also that Lovecraft like the story. There are also some common elements in "The Willows" and Lovecraft's "The Colour Out of Space," especially the part where a life form seems to inhabit the trees.

    I like the title--"The Cry of Silence."

  3. What a wonderful tale! H. P. Lovecraft would be envious. Thanks for sharing it.

  4. In an essay, "Supernatural Horror in Literature,"
    Lovecraft wrote the following:

    "The well-nigh endless array of Mr. Blackwood's fiction includes both novels and shorter tales, the latter sometimes independent and sometimes arrayed in series. Foremost of all must be reckoned _The Willows_, in which the nameless presences on a desolate Danube island are horribly felt and recognized by a pair of idle voyagers. Here art and restraint in narrative reach their very highest development, and an impression of lasting poignancy is produced without a single stained passage or single false note."

  5. I had no idea about the Lovecraft-Blackwood connection (in the form of Lovecraft's commentary). My comment was more intuitive and correct than I had realized.

  6. R. T.,

    Yup, right on the nose.