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Classics of the Occult and Supernatural: Silence times Three

Classics of the Occult and Supernatural: Silence times Three

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Please note: Silence times Three is a collection of out of print, public domain fiction and is not a gaming supplement.

Welcome to the first in the “Classics of the Occult and Supernatural” line of books. The goal of this, and future books, is to bring attention back to the originators of the genres of horror, gothic, fantasy and supernatural literature. There is a great, untapped stream of early writers out there in the public domain that so many readers of today do not even know about and traditional publishers and bookstores do not help to change that. Once, the genre sections of bookstores (both new and used) sagged with the output of creative writers, both past and present, but these days the only concern of publishers is what is new and shiny. Hopefully, in some small way this line of books will be able to change that. With technology and the internet today, few works can truly ever die. In fact that should be the motto of “Classics of the Occult and Supernatural”: nothing truly dies. And as this present volume and the future ones will demonstrate some works just do not deserve the death that they have received. For this first volume of what is hoped to be many, we present three of the Doctor John Silence stories written by horror great Algernon Blackwood.

From H.P. Lovecraft’s extraordinary Supernatural Horror in Literature: "Less intense than Mr. Machen in delineating the extremes of stark fear, yet infinitely more closely wedded to the idea of an unreal world constantly pressing upon ours is the inspired and prolific Algernon Blackwood, amidst whose voluminous and uneven work may be found some of the finest spectral literature of this or any age. Of the quality of Mr. Blackwood's genius there can be no dispute; for no one has even approached the skill, seriousness, and minute fidelity with which he records the overtones of strangeness in ordinary things and experiences, or the preternatural insight with which he builds up detail by detail the complete sensations and perceptions leading from reality into supernormal life or vision. Without notable command of the poetic witchery of mere words, he is the one absolute and unquestioned master of weird atmosphere; and can evoke what amounts almost to a story from a simple fragment of humourless psychological description. Above all others he understands how fully some sensitive minds dwell forever on the borderland of dream, and how relatively slight is the distinction betwixt those images formed from actual objects and those excited by the play of the imagination.

"Mr. Blackwood's lesser work is marred by several defects such as ethical didacticism, occasional insipid whimsicality, the flatness of benignant supernaturalism, and a too free use of the trade jargon of modem ‘occultism.’ A fault of his more serious efforts is that diffuseness and long-windedness which results from an excessively elaborate attempt, under the handicap of a somewhat bald and journalistic style devoid of intrinsic magic, colour, and vitality, to visualise precise sensations and nuances of uncanny suggestion. But in spite of all this, the major products of Mr. Blackwood attain a genuinely classic level, and evoke as does nothing else in literature in awed convinced sense of the imminence of strange spiritual spheres of entities.

"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 recognised 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 strained passage or a single false note. Another amazingly potent though less artistically finished tale is The Wendigo, where we are confronted by horrible evidences of a vast forest dæmon about which North Woods lumbermen whisper at evening. The manner in which certain footprints tell certain unbelievable things is really a marked triumph in craftsmanship. In An Episode in a Lodging House we behold frightful presences summoned out of black space by a sorcerer, and The Listener tells of the awful psychic residuum creeping about an old house where a leper died. In the volume titled Incredible Adventures occur some of the finest tales which the author has yet produced, leading the fancy to wild rites on nocturnal hills, to secret and terrible aspects lurking behind stolid scenes, and to unimaginable vaults of mystery below the sands and pyramids of Egypt; all with a serious finesse and delicacy that convince where a cruder or lighter treatment would merely amuse. Some of these accounts are hardly stories at all, but rather studies in elusive impressions and half-remembered snatches of dream. Plot is everywhere negligible, and atmosphere reigns untrammelled."

Algernon Blackwood (1869-1951) was a prolific fantasy and horror writer whose total production consists of more than 200 short stories, 12 novels, a couple of plays, an autobiography and even some poetry. Over 50 distinct book editions of his works have been published in the US and UK, counting the reprint collections. Today, his books are mostly out of print, but he is far from forgotten.

His style of writing is very intense emotionally, and holds a strong fascination for the reader. The supernatural element is carefully woven into the plot which often turns the ordinary and familiar into something mysterious and awesome. Many of his tales take place outdoors in some magnificent setting of nature, like the wilderness of Canada, the swamplands of the Danube river or the Black Forest in Germany. Nature spirits, haunted houses, the spirits of the dead and other ancient sorceries all abound in his strange tales.

Blackwood's private life was almost as odd and mysterious as his tales. A traveling man, he saw a great many places in the world. He was born in Kent, England, 1869. As a young man, he lived in New York and later on settled in Switzerland. Before that he had been moose hunting in Canada, hiking in Italy, France and Spain, and touring in Egypt, Austria and Sweden. After WWI, he found himself back in England. Besides writing, his activities were very diverse. He served as a secret agent in Switzerland at the end of WWI. His interest in the supernatural led him to visiting a spiritualist camp, exploring haunted houses and seeking out gurus like Gurdjieff and Ouspensky in France at a time when they were fashionable amongst the artistic jet set of the day.

His talent as a story teller brought him a devoted audience amongst his nephews and other young relatives. Blackwood also wrote a number of children's books. In his later days, Blackwood experienced a renewed interest in his work. In 1934 he made his first radio broadcast and this he took up again in 1941 and onwards when he wrote a number of radio talks and plays. In 1947 he appeared on BBC TV as a story teller and became quite popular. This popularity culminated in 1949 when he received the C.B.E. award at Buckingham Palace. He continued to work, although his health failed him in the following years and a stroke made him a convalescent.

The sub-genre of the "psychic detective" sprang out of the immense popularity of that original private detective, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock homes and was combined with the Victorian fascination with spiritualism and the occult. Investigators such as John Silence, Thomas Carnaki, and Flaxman Low are all the products of this interest. These men live on in modern-day characters like John Constantine and Doctor Occult. Some ideas, like literature, just will not die and the psychic detective (also called the ghost detective) is one of those ideas. Even contemporary "reality" television like the Ghost Hunters shows how the concept of the psychic detective has seeped into the real world.

Once again from Supernatural Horror in Literature, Lovecraft wrote about the John Silence stories: "John SilencePhysician Extraordinary is a book of five related tales, through which a single character runs his triumphant course. Marred only by traces of the popular and conventional detective-story atmosphere—for Dr. Silence is one of those benevolent geniuses who employ their remarkable powers to aid worthy fellow-men in difficulty—these narratives contain some of the author's best work, and produce an illusion at once emphatic and lasting. The opening tale, A Psychical Invasion, relates what befell a sensitive author in a house once the scene of dark deeds, and how a legion of fiends was exorcised. Ancient Sorceries, perhaps the finest tale in the book, gives an almost hypnotically vivid account of an old French town where once the unholy Sabbath was kept by all the people in the form of cats. In The Nemesis of Fire a hideous elemental is evoked by new-spilt blood, whilst Secret Worship tells of a German school where Satanism held sway, and where long afterward an evil aura remained. The Camp of the Dog is a werewolf tale, but is weakened by moralisation and professional ‘occultism.’"

This present work contains three of the five stories mentioned above by Lovecraft. One of the originators of the horror genre of the Psychic Detective, John Silence lives on today through his many offspring that populate television, movies, novels and comic books. While some of the writing may strain the credibility of modern readers, there is still much to find in these stories and there is still a wealth that a modern reader can take away.

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File Last Updated:
September 02, 2007
This title was added to our catalog on September 02, 2007.
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