Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, November 17, 2017

FORGOTTEN BOOK: THE MAGIC MIRROR

The Magic Mirror:  Lost Supernatural and Mystery Stories by Algernon Blackwood edited by Mike Ashley (1989)


Algernon Blackwood  (1869-1951) has long been considered, along with J. Sheridan Le Fanu, Arthuir Machen, and M. R. James, one of the major players in the field of the supernatural tale.  His stories "The Willows," "The Wendigo," and "Ancient Sorceries" are oft-reprinted classics.  H. P. Lovecraft, William Hope Hodgson, H. Russell Wakefield, Ramsay Campbell, and Clark Ashton Smith were influenced by Blackwood.  Henry Miller, in his The Books in My Life, called Blackwood's The Bright Messenger "the most extraordinary novel on psychoanalysis, one that dwarfs the subject."

Blackwood lived an extraordinary life.  As a young man he had an interest in Eastern philosophy and occultism (his parents were hellfire and damnation fundamentalists) and at the close of the nineteenth century joined the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, whose members were to include (or were rumored to include Arnold Bennett, Alister Crowley, Arthur Conan Doyle, Arthur Machen,Gustav Meyrink, Sax Rohmer, William Sharp ("Fiona McLeod"), Bram Stoker, and A. W. Waite.  Blackwood rose in the ranks of the order, eventually abandoning much of its reliance on magic in favor of mysticism and the type of pantheistic approach to nature that has infused much of his writings.

Blackwood's writings found a ready audience in the early part of the twentieth century but, as his writing career began to flag after the First World War (in which he worked as an undercover agent in Switzerland), he found new opportunities as a broadcast narrator on both radio and television.  At parties and gatherings, he had always been in demand for telling stories and beginning in 1934, instead of being interviewed for a radio program he chose instead to tell a story, his talent at narration proved to be great success.  On November 2, 1936, Blackwood appeared in the very first television broadcast from London -- narrating on of his stories, of course.   It is a radio and television narrator that many people in Britain during the middle of the century knew him best.

As the title of this collection suggest, Blackwood wrote many stories that are (for the moment) lost in time.  His records and many of his manuscripts were destroyed in the Blitz.  (And he was probably not the best of record keepers, also.)  Ashley spent ten years uncovering many of the stories reprinted here and, he feels, that there are other stories still to be uncovered in the crumbling yellow pages of old magazines and newspapers to be uncovered.  Then, too, a lot of his radio stories are lost; Blackwood would often ad-lib stories rather than read from a prepared script.

The Magic Mirror contains 25 stories, most of which have been previously unavailable, and excerpts from four of his novels.

The contents:

     The Early Years:

  • A Mysterious House (possibly Blackwood's first published story)
  • The Kit-Bag
  • The Laying of a Red-Haired Ghost
  • The Message of the Clock
  • The Singular Death of Morton
  • The Mauvaise Riche
  • The Soldier's Visitor
  • The Memory of Beauty
  • Onanonanon


     The Novels:

  • The First Flight (excerpt from Jimbo)
  • The Vision of the Winds (excerpt from The Education of Uncle Paul)
  • The Call of the Urwelt (excerpt from The Centaur)
  • The Summoning (excerpt from Julius LeVallon)


     Radio Talks:

  • The Blackmailers
  • The Wig
  • King's Evidence
  • Lock Your Door
  • Five Strange Stories
              - The Texas Farm Disappearance
              - The Holy Man
              - Pistol Against a Ghost
              - Japanese Literary Cocktail (similar to E. F. Benson's story "The Step;" there is no evidence                  of plagiarism, however)
              - The Curate and the Stockbroker

     Later Stories:

  • At a Mayfair Luncheon
  • The Man-Eater
  • By Proxy
  • The Voice
  • The Magic Mirror
  • Roman Remains
  • Wishful Thinking

This is admittedly a mixed bag.  Many of the stories are minor.  Some are mere anecdotes; others employ well-worn tropes.  But there is enough good writing here to satisfy even the most jaded enthusiast of the horror story.  Sprinkled throughout the book are splashes of humor and irony that often are fundamental to a good horror story.  Blackwood's mystical view of nature as a type of awareness or force is also present here, most notably in the excerpt from The Education of Uncle Paul (Blackwood's one book that I found difficult to read; it came across as Arthur Machen on steroids).  Two of the other excepts (from The Centaur and Julius LeVallon) are enough to make one dive into those novels immediately.

The Magic Mirror provides a decent sampling of Blackwood's work.  Almost all of his other collections, as well as many of his novels, are available for free online.  If you aren't familiar with the genius of Algernon Blackwood, what are you waiting for?

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