Ancient Sorceries and Other Weird Stories, by Algernon Blackwood

ancient-sorceries-and-other-weird-stories-by-algernon-blackwood coverGenre: Horror Anthology
Publisher: House of Stratus
Published: 1927
Reviewer Rating: four stars
Book Review by Paul Goat Allen

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House of Stratus, an England based publishing company specializing in reissuing classic literary works, has unearthed a huge collection of long out-of-print stories by Algernon Blackwood, the prolific early 20th century English writer and BBC broadcaster best known for penning supernatural masterpieces like “The Willows” and “The Wendigo.”

Ancient Sorceries and Other Weird Stories is just one of seven volumes of Blackwood’s supernatural ghost stories published by House of Stratus. Among the six stories in this collection, the most memorable was the title story, “Ancient Sorceries.” Doctor John Silence, the main character in many of Blackwood’s stories, is a psychic detective of sorts, taking on strange and unusual cases decades before anyone ever heard of Dana Scully and Fox Mulder. Silence’s client in this story is one Arthur Vezin, a quiet, unassuming man with an incredible story. While on a train in northern France headed home from a vacation, Vezin has the sudden, uncontrollable urge to get off the train. As he is disembarking, another passenger warns him in French something about sleeping and cats. Vezin disregards the advice and continues on towards a quiet little hill town to find an inn to stay overnight. There is something wrong with the people of the town — with the whole town itself — but Vezin can’t quite figure it out. After a pleasant night’s sleep, Vezin can’t make himself leave in the morning. Something is inexplicably holding him there. When the proprietress’ beautiful daughter begins to seduce Vezin to stay, he vows to uncover the mysteries of the townspeople — with terrifying results.

Another great story is “The Nemesis of Fire,” another John Silence story that pits the psychic doctor up against a historic haunted house and an impenetrable forest. When Silence visits the home of retired colonel Wragge, he finds the house uncomfortably warm and when Wragge tells Silence about recent fires mysteriously flaring up in his invalid sister’s bedroom, Silence decides to investigate the nearby woods for clues. What he finds only deepens the mystery…

Blackwood’s writing style is cerebral, almost analytical, and his stories — although as frightening as any H.P. Lovecraft tale — conspicuously lack the blood and gore that is all too associated with contemporary horror. The absence of over-the-top physical violence tells me two things: Blacwood simply didn’t need shock and splatter to scare the pants off his reader, and maybe all the blood and guts in contemporary horror stories is just a cheap diversion to cover a weakly developed plot.

After reading Ancient Sorceries and Other Weird Stories, it’s evident that Blackwood was both a scholar and a literary craftsman. If you enjoy a well-written ghost story or are a fan of supernatural fiction in the vein of Edgar Allan Poe, I can’t recommend this collection enough. And since there is no real graphic violence in these stories, I feel safe recommending this book to children and young adults as well.

Paul Goat Allen is the editor of Barnes & Noble’s Explorations science fiction/fantasy book review and is the author of Burning Sticks, Old Winding Way and Warlock Dreams.

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