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Hoppety & Hideous

4 minute read

THE DOLL AND ONE OTHER [138 pp.]—Algernon Blackwood—Arkham House ($1.50).

The toy doll was cheap, with a flimsy dress, a wax face, a scraggly wig. But Monica, the Colonel’s little daughter, loved it. The Colonel, when he saw it, ordered the doll burned or thrown away. As a rule, Mrs. O’Reilly, the cook, did what she was told, but this was such a nice, harmless little doll. “Oh, lovely, darling,” she had said, giving it to Monica, “ain’t it a pet?”

One night Monica’s governess happened to peep into the darkened nursery. She stifled a scream and fainted dead away. Something “disjointed, hoppety, hideous” was stalking across Monica’s bed. . . .

Author Algernon Blackwood, a bald, tall (6 ft. 2 in.) Englishman now 77, is still up to his old tricks. The Doll is his first book in ten years. It consists of merely two longish stories (the other: The Trod), both typical old-style Blackwood: sinister, spooky, uncanny. To the literal-minded, such writing appears to be raving nonsense. So, in one sense, it surely is, but Blackwood is almost as artful at making it seem plausible as Edgar Allan Poe. Poe’s stories are mysterious and terrifying, but for the most part they can be explained in perfectly rational terms. Blackwood’s, laden with monsters, ghosts, spirit voices and other fearful sights & sounds, are usually inexplicable.

Dried Milk Paid Better. Blackwood has been fascinated by what he calls “strange powers” since boyhood. The son of Sir Arthur Blackwood, K.C.B., and Sydney, Duchess of Manchester, he was sent to Canada about 1890 to make his living as a farmer. Apparently his prim Victorian parents had little hope for a son who, at 20, read the Bhagavad Gita and claimed to be a Buddhist. He settled near Toronto and bought into a dairy partnership, but the enterprise soon failed. For the next nine or ten years he drifted around Canada and the U.S., losing what little money he had left. He slept in public parks, took up with raffish friends, read occult works, underwent what he later described as “mystical, psychic” experiences. For a time he tried gold mining in the Canadian backwoods, and discovered at least the atmosphere later used in Running Wolf and The Wendigo. In Manhattan he made eau-de-cologne, reported for the Sun and the Times, learned something of the “accumulated horror” of the lower East Side.

Eventually he went home to England and into the dried-milk business. His first book, The Empty House (1906), was written, he says, simply for his own amusement. A friend read the stories and found a publisher who would bring them out. Blackwood, astonished, retired from trade and gave all his time to writing.

“If I’d stayed in the dried-milk business,” he said the other day in his London club, “I’d be rich. But I swore long ago that I would never have possessions. Now I have my clothes, a few books and one hamper. I can move any time.”

The Publisher. The stories in The Doll were written in Devonshire during the war, stuck in the hamper and almost forgotten. Blackwood dug them out when

Arkham House, publishers, wrote from Sauk City, Wis., to ask whether he had anything on hand. The presiding genius of Arkham House is 3 7-year-old Sauk City-born August Derleth, an avid writer of supernatural tales himself. Derleth has brought out upward of a dozen books under the Arkham imprint, all of them dealing with ghostly matters. Among his latest books, under another imprint: Who Knocks?, a Derleth-edited anthology subtitled Twenty Masterpieces of the Spectral for the Connoisseur.

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