Book Review - The Complete John Silence Stories by Algernon Blackwood. Dover Publications, 1997.

Jack Goblin By Jack Goblin, 30th Sep 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL
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The Doctor John Silence series was one of Algernon Blackwood's early successes, an occult investigator who came to the aid of the haunted. This book collects all the stories in one volume.


These are not new stories. Indeed, John Silence - Physician Extraordinary (which contained most of the stories in this book) was published in 1908. They are, however, very good stories. And important ones: John Silence was one of Blackwood's earliest successes and gave him both the financial ability and encouragement to continue his writing career. A career that made him one of the most esteemed authors of tales of the weird, the strange, the unearthly, and the awesome in literature. Blackwood's stories aren't conventional horror stories but rather instances where the human world intersects with other realms or inhuman beings - some of them so extraordinary that awe, not fear, is the result - and puts lives and souls at risk. And it is precisely those instances that Doctor John Silence deals with. A brave, brilliant, deeply spiritual man who has studied the occult extensively, he uses his knowledge to help those who inadvertently or through misguided desire have come into contact with forces beyond human experience, and now are in danger they can't comprehend.

The stories:

A Psychial Invasion - An investigation into the case of a writer of light humor whose work, against his will, has suddenly become dark and malignant. Silence easily concludes an overdose of a drug has made the writer susceptible to occult influence and that the house he is staying in is filled with dangerous forces. Removing the writer from this place and danger is easy. But then Silence, armed only with his courage and knowledge, and accompanied by a dog and a cat by whose reactions he intends to gauge what opposes him, enters the not so empty house to attempt to comprehend and defeat that danger.

Ancient Sorceries - John Silence is merely an interested observer in this story, as he has one of his clients, a mild mannered, apparently unremarkable man, recount to a colleague a European holiday he took once. The man wound up in a strange town filled with strange people with odd, feline habits. And slowly, he began to feel as if he'd been before. In another, wilder life, when he'd loved and lived and worshiped fell dark things with inhuman passion. A life he was quietly, secretly, being given the chance to resume...

The Nemesis of Fire - Silence, with his male secretary in tow, travels to the country home of a retired military man who is being plagued by something malevolent he does not understand. Something intangible and unseen that burned to death his older brother, and keeps starting fires around his property, getting ever closer to his sister and he.

Secret Worship - A middle aged businessman, traveling through Europe, is seized with the desire to visit the strict German religious school run by an order of monks that he attended as a boy. But his night-time visit degenerates into fear and danger when it turns out the monks' true religious zeal is not for God but for something quite different. Which they worship by sacrifice...

The Camp of the Dog - While on a wilderness camping trip in the Swedish fjords, a group of people including Silence's secretary keep encountering what appears to be a wolf. Where no wolf can possibly be.

A Victim of Higher Space - Written at the same time as the other John Silence stories, but not published until six years later. A brilliant mathematician has become so good at visualizing the theoretical, other dimensional realms of higher space he has somehow become able to slip into them. This gives him extraordinary capacities. But he can't control his ability: He can disappear against his will anytime, and pop back out thousands of miles from where he started. Perhaps into a volcano, for all the control he has. And there are THINGS in higher space such that no man can possibly encounter and survive. He's been lucky, so far, and now he's come to John Silence in the desperate hope the doctor can help him before he disappears and never comes back. But then he starts to fade...


It is hard to avoid seeing traces of Sherlock Holmes in some of these stories. Doyle's Consulting Detective was extremely popular in 1908 England, and there are certain superficial similarities between him and the Psychial Doctor, as Silence was often called. Especially in Silence's habit of meeting clients in his consulting room, then going forth to investigate those cases which excite his curiosity and interest. And showing tremendous physical stamina and ability during those investigations. However, the similarities ARE only superficial. John Silence is a very different man, with different motivations and methods. And of course the tone of the stories themselves is hardly Holmesian. Blackwood's interest in the supernatural (or as Silence might say, the natural world that is beyond Human ken), combined with his writing skills, already formidable even in these early stories, takes things in very different directions. As for instance in a scene in the first story where the humor writer, describing what had happened when he took an overdose of a drug that was known to induce hilarity, explained how he was torn by laughter from within and terror from without as he became vulnerable to the power of the house. Humor and horror, merged into something unbearable...


As I mentioned, these ARE very good stories. If you are a fan of some of the best early 20th century supernatural fiction, or of Algernon Blackwood and wish to read more than just "The Willows" and "The Wendigo", you'll probably want this book.


Algernon Blackwood, Dover Publications, Fantastic, Ghost Stories, Horror Stories, John Silence, Occult, Weird

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