Book Review: The Willows by Algernon Blackwood

I am not sure how to review this book or start this review. Maybe I should say that this is a horror short story about two friends, Swede and our protagonist, who are on a canoe trip and stay over on an island. Then things gradually start getting weird, and the willows surrounding their tent get closer, and there are strange noises at night. Clearly, all is not what it seems, and the barrier between this world and the eerie is getting thin.

That’s the premise in a nutshell. Then we get to the horror part. But, unfortunately, I couldn’t quite immerse myself in the terror. I’m not sure if it is because I listened to this as an audiobook or the nature of the language. So let’s get to the language part first. It was eloquent and beautifully written, but it was removed and too explanatory to make me fully feel the fear in the protagonist. The voice got better around the midpoint of the story, feeling more immediate and using the reader’s senses better, but still, I wasn’t afraid. Not that it ruined my reading experience. I loved the story and how it escalated towards the end and how it, with one sentence, could create this comprehension of the greater meaning of the situation, connecting it to physics, metaphysics, and religion.

Another suspect for me not feeling terror could be the audiobook experience, but I have to be honest, I highly doubt it. The narrator read it beautifully. I even listened to this in the woods while taking my usual stroll. Still, nothing. But maybe that is the key. I am used to spending time in the woods alone and feeling and hearing all the protagonist has, yet never being eaten by a supernatural being or even finding one. I have seen tracks of lynxes, foxes, and deer and met a few, but never something bizarre who would hunt me down. I have been in the woods when it is dark and used the light of the moon or my flashlight to navigate back home. So, maybe there is no terror as the elements of the story are something I have dealt with. The woods are strange, so is nature, and our mind, which can create stories, will make leaps between reality and the eerie so easily, especially when being in such a majestic and uncontrollable place.

I have mainly dealt with the level of my terror in this piece, and I think that’s a shame. The short story has more to offer than fear. As I wrote earlier, the language is eloquent, and it draws parallels with physics and folklore and how our mind travels between those two realities. How we reason things, yet we find it difficult to trust our reasoning when our senses warn us of danger. And there are so many elements in the story I have seen other writers borrow. It is no wonder, as the parts are effective, and they question the basics of what it means to be a human and what our minds can form. I would say, if you haven’t read this old classic, please do.

Thank you for reading, and have an eerie day ❤

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