First published back in 1968, the Algernon Blackwood collection ‘Ancient Sorceries And Other Stories’ brought together six previously published short stories for the first time in this particular collection.  The collection has since been reprinted a number of times over the years, no doubt due to it containing six of Blackwood’s more popular shorts.

The Empty House - Written in 1906 (Taken from the book 'The Empty House') – 23 pages
A young man named Shorthouse decides to pay his Aunt Julia a weekend visit.  Soon enough the two of them go and explore an empty house that has been left deserted in the middle of the street.  They choose the middle of the night to undertake their brave exploration of the empty property.  But their inherent fears of such an abandoned property turn out to be well warranted.  They should have listened to their inner voice.  For within the cold uncaring walls of the empty house a supernatural presence has manifested itself.  And it’s been waiting...

Blackwood utilises a classic (and quite simplistic) supernatural horror story idea, this time with the premise of a ‘Haunted House’.  Blackwood does incorporate many of the usual horror traits that go along with such a story; mounting up the tension with each creek and thump within the house.  However, the English writer is a master of creating a monumentally menacing atmosphere, and he uses this particular strength well here.  The end result is a creepy and intense read with plenty of suspense and menace to keep the pulses hurtling along at a hundred beats a second.

A Haunted Island - Written in 1906 (Taken from the book ‘The Empty House’) – 21 pages
A lone student is taking advantage of a quiet island in the remote Canadian backwoods, hoping to catch up on some much needed revision.  However, during his time on the island, he begins to witness a number of strange and ghostly visions of Indians circling the island in what appears to be an ancient canoe.  Somewhat perturbed by the odd appearance of these Native Indians, the student retires to the isolated house situated a little further inland on the island.  But the Indians are unhappy with the young student’s presence here.  And they will be returning to deal with the intrusion on their turf...

Here we have another one of Blackwood’s shorts that relies heavily on a tense and oppressive atmosphere.  Written in the first-person-perspective of our lone student, the initial premise for the tale was very probably inspired by Bram Stoker’s earlier short ‘The Judge’s House’ (1891).  However, Blackwood’s tale packs in a hell of a horror punch, instantly engaging with the character’s mounting fear and alarm at the sudden arrival of these strange Native Indian’s.  Blackwood unleashes a veritable barrage of heart-in-mouth suspense as he draws this intense supernatural tale to an action filled and desperate conclusion.  Once again we see Algernon at his best.

Keeping His Promise - Written in 1906 (Taken from the book 'The Empty House') – 19 pages
Marriott is a fourth-year student at Edinburgh University.  One night he is cramming for his finals when a friend from a long time ago knocks on his door in an obvious state of distress.  His friend is close to starvation, and so Marriot feeds him and sets him to sleep.  As his friend sleeps, Marriott discovers that nothing is quite as it seems with the situation.  A promise that was made a number of years ago has come back to haunt him...

Blackwood plays around with a little light-hearted black comedy, with this slightly predictable but nevertheless, utterly enjoyable read.  Blackwood’s prose and style of writing instantly pulls the reader into this delightfully intriguing tale which is sadly too focused on a particularly predictable twist ending.  But still a good bit of ghostly supernatural fun.

Ancient Sorceries - Written in 1908 (Taken from the 1908 book 'Secret Worship') – 20 pages
Whilst returning from a trip abroad, Arthur Vezin takes the sudden and impulsive decision to leave the train he is travelling upon and visit a small French village that’s seemingly located in the middle of nowhere.  Whilst exploring this strange and enchanted village, Vezin finds himself not wanting to leave.  But there is something that is not quite right about the village.  Something that has stayed with the people there.  And as the day draws on, to the Dance of the Sorcerers commences...

This is one of those altogether odd reads where the end result is still very vague and somewhat unresolved – even with the unnecessary appearance of John Silence to supposedly sort things out.  Paranoia plays a big part in the impact of the tale upon the reader.  That and the weird pagan/witchcraft references that are thrown into the plodding storyline, suggesting something a little more occultist is lurking behind the ‘quiet-little-French-village’ facade.  This is certainly not one of Blackwood’s better shorts.  Indeed, the slow, dragging nature of the tale can become quite tiresome, with the ultimate finale and final conclusion not really adding much more to the short to make it a particularly worthwhile read.

The Nemesis of Fire – Written in 1908 (Taken from the book ‘John Silence, Physician Extraordinary’) - 63 pages
Psychic detective Dr John Silence, together with his assistant Mr. Hubbard, have been called to an historic manor house in Ireland that is home to the wealthy retired solider, Colonel Wragge.  It appears that the Colonel and his sister have been experiencing a number of unnerving assaults on their person.  Furthermore, Wragge’s brother died a number of years back from an unexplainable burning upon his flesh.  To this day a feeling of heat lies over the manor’s grounds and the large plantation that it overlooks.  A heat that Silence and his assistant are instantly aware of.  But Silence’s investigations are uncovering much more than just a strange phenomenon.  They are unearthing a power that stretches back to ancient Egypt.  An ungodly power that has been burning its way through the centuries...

This final tale is by far and away the longest addition in the collection. Written in the first-person-perspective of Silence’s assistant (whom has remained anonymous in his role as narrator in all previous tales until now), the short instantly has the look and feel of another John Silence instalment.  The supernatural plot is gradually, piece by piece, laid out for the reader.  And once it’s clear that there’s definitely something untoward going on, Blackwood takes the tale to a much deeper, darker and more menacing level – with the insertion of an age old power that is threatening Wragge and his hapless sister.  But the story is one hell of a slow-burner (pardon the pun).  Blackwood just plods along with his elaborate background on the spiritual powers, making the short become more of a spiritual essay than a sit-back-and-enjoy ghostly romp.  It’s still eerie and atmospheric, with some excellent scenes of supernatural mayhem.  But at the end of the day it’s the lagging pace and general over-padding that really does the short in.  However, the tale ends on a rather grand and somewhat spectacular note, finishing the short and indeed the collection off in a very fitting way.

The collection runs for a total of 244 pages.

 

© DLS Reviews

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