Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, March 18, 2011


Tongues of Fire and Other Sketches by Algernon Blackwood (London:  Herbert Jenkins Limited, 1924; printed in the U.S. by Dutton as Tongues of Fire and Other Stories, 1925)

Algernon Blackwood was one of the preeminent writers of supernatural stories in the first half of the Twentieth Century and is probably best known for classic stories such as "The Willows" and "The Wendigo", as well as the John Silence psychic detective stories.  His stories tend to provide a sense of unease and a knowledge that there may be something in nature that lies just beyond our grasp.  This mystic view of nature puts much of his writing in the same class as that of Arthur Machen, a great contemporary writer of supernatural tales.  (Both Blackwood and Machen were members of the the mystical Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.)

     The British title of this collection is more descriptive than the American one for many of these tales are sketches and mood-pieces rather than stories.  Most of them view nature as an organic, perhaps cosmic, entity.  The protagonist of  "A Man of Earth", for example, was not merely a person who worked with the earth or one who loved the earth, John Erdlieb was a man OF the earth, one whose is part and parcel of  the ground he worked with:

     "He was a miniing engineer by profession; he loved the earth and anything to do with the earth, from a garden he played with half tenderly, to a mountain he attacked half savagely for tunnellin or blasting purposes.  He never left the earth if he could help it; both feet and mind were always planted firmly upon terra firma; figuratively or actually, he never flew.  And his physical appearance expressed his wholesome, earthy type -- the rumbling subterranean bas voice, the tangled undergrowth of beard that his his necktie, the slow, stately walk as of a small hill advancing [...] A child of earth, in the literal sense he was, if ever such existed."

     From the publisher's introduction:  "A childhood spent in the Black Forest, then farming in Canada, experience on the Rainy River Goldfields, journalism in America, have stored up for the author a fund of impressions which enable him to reproduce every emotion of the human heart and mind.  His great theme is Mystery, the Unknown, which he seeks in strange places and among strange people."

     The sketches/stories are:
  • Tongues of Fire
  • The Little Beggar
  • Malahide and Forden
  • Playing Catch
  • The Pikestaffe Case
  • Alexander Alexander
  • Lost!
  • The Olive
  • A Continuous Performance
  • The World-Dream of McCallister
  • The Other Woman
  • Picking Fir-Cones
  • The Open Window
  • Petershin and Mr. Snide
  • The Man Who Was Milligan
  • The Falling Glass
  • The Spell of Egypt
  • A Man of Earth
  • The Laughter of Carthage
  • S.O.S.
  • Nephele
     Most of Blackwood's shorter work is readily available on the internet, but Tongues of Fire is not.  I got the copy I read from an interlibrary loan.  Since Abebooks lists 18 copies for sale and the prices go from $50.00 to $2250.00, you may want to do the same.


     While Patti Abbott relaxes for a couple of weeks, the Friday's Forgotten Books wrangler position goes to George Kelley this week (at and next week to Todd Mason.  Visit George for a complete list of this week's selections.


  1. Ash-Tree Press hasn't done an edition yet? Seems odd, somehow, if not...though theirs could easily cost at least $50 (Canadian or US)...

  2. As far as I can tell, Ash-Tree Press has never done a Blackwood volume. Tartarus Press did issue an edition of PAN'S GARDEN in 2002. The biggest supporter of Blackwood's short fiction appears to be Stark House with two double volumes: THE LOST VALLEY/THE WOLVES OF GOD and PAN'S GARDEN/INCREDIBLE ADVENTURES. There are also some editions from Wildside. Amazingly, TONGUES OF FIRE last saw print in 1929.

    Stark House, Tartarus, Ash-Tree...are you listening?