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In Algernon Blackwood???s ???The Willows??? (1907) the first person narrator and his friend are canoeing down the Danube through Eastern Europe when they camp on a sandy island in a vast marshy region populated by innumerable willows. Although the narrator has been charmed by earlier friendly willows, ???showing their silver leaves to the sunshine in an ever-moving plain of bewildering beauty,??? on the island they oppress him with what seems to be malevolent sentience. He and his companion watch a human corpse rolling by the island in the flooding river. Or was it only an otter?
The island turns out to be a kind of junction between our world and another. The beings of the other world are powerful and inimical, and the longer the narrator and his friend stay on the island, the more the aliens become attuned to their thoughts and emotions and become able to influence them. It is not, perhaps, that the alien beings are willows, so much as that they are able to act in our world through them. The tension in the story increases until the terrified friends are trying to stay sane and safe by confining their thoughts to mundane things. More than death, they dread being changed in some unknown way by the alien beings.
???The Willows??? is not an easy listen, because Felbrigg Napoleon Herriot reads it rapidly, while Blackwood???s rich prose should be slowly savored and pondered, so that I frequently found myself rewinding to re-listen to certain parts. But Herriot???s voice and manner and British accent are otherwise just right for the sensitive narrator and intellectual horror story.
And I can see why H. P. Lovecraft loved ???The Willows,??? because it is vivid and poetic and evokes the sublimity of the natural world so as to tear open the veil between reality and the gulf of everything we can never understand about it. The narrator telling the story of his encounter with vast, malevolent, and incomprehensible alien forces feels like a prototype of Lovecraft???s narrators and their experiences, though Blackwood???s alien beings remain more anonymous and enigmatic than Lovecraft???s.
Finally, I prefer Blackwood???s more moving and strange ???The Man Whom the Trees Loved??? (available for free on LibriVox), but ???The Willows??? is an interesting listen.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
Do you ever go camping? Have you seen the leaves turning over in the wind at the edge of a campfire? Then you can really relate to "The Willows". Don't miss this seemingly normal little trip down a flooded river - not sure if I'll ever camp where there are willows again - enjoy!
1 of 1 people found this review helpful