Gazing into “The Willows” – a #NaNoReMo update

I’m just one chapter away from leaving “The Willows”, but I won’t do so without rambling about it some more, before the closing update of the overall experience. It begs to be talked about, and I’ll probably never get tired of saying how lively and convincingly disturbing Blackwood’s talent is. Fear is not the word I’d use; it’s more of a psychological thrill, a brain prickling dance with words and elements that tightens the chest and leaves one out of breath.

Now, I can’t do much credit to this haunting story without borrowing quotes and lines from it to deliver my fascination and observation of its development thus far.

I shared some thoughts on how the narrator was perpetually possessed with a sense of awe, while his companion, the Swede kept a rational attitude and regarded the haunted and primeval region with a great sense of realism.  As their stay prolongs and the river rises, the narrator begins noticing things that damage his sense of reality.  “I understood quite well that the standard of reality had changed,*” he says in one passage, whilst watching huge, inhuman, bronze-colored figures independently move within the tops of the bushes. His first reaction is to fall and worship with his entire being. His captivation with the supernatural rising from earth to heaven of those figures is soon perished when the wind takes away the dream-like state and leaves him vulnerable to fear and even fearful assumptions. Then he results to rationalizing the seen, something he so often does to try and defy the fact that the impossible might be possible, that there might be something outer in the willows. “The moonlight and the branches combined to work out these pictures upon the mirror of my imagination, and for some reason I projected them outwards and made them appear objective. I knew this must be the case, of course.”

It’s different than telling which is real and which is not. Blackwood did make sure to insinuate a strong feeling that there isn’t anything unreal or questionable. There’s almost this nudge at the back of my thoughts, a light pull that insists on disregarding the normality of things that come with the break of dawn for the narrator and the Swede. It’s a great manipulation that Blackwood wrote, almost inescapable, that no matter how much convincing the narrator or his companion do, they sound more and more uncertain and therefore there is no reason for the reader to believe them at all. There’s just the strong want for things to be explainable and to be named, but a want that fails times and times again. And I don’t mind that.

At one moment the sudden pattering in the night is attributed to either the wind, or a fallen tree, or a spirit, then in the next it has been a figment of the narrator’s imagination and the day is as safe as it can be. True, but all that until his eyes fall on the willows again, and we’re back to conspiracy and mild insanity. “Surely the bushes now crowded much closer- unnecessarily, unpleasantly close. They had moved nearer.” See his certainty here? The willows are deliberate in their movements, showing aggressive hostility, and that certainty, that belief in the unnatural intentions of nature is what terrifies the narrator. But he dares not speak out loud to the Swede. Why? This is a very interesting twist, one I especially loved, because it sort of delves in human psychology.

“An attack would come, and was coming.” So the narrator decides they should leave by the hour, only to find out his dear friend had had his own private, silent taste of the weirdness.

“Rather! If they’ll let us,” the Swede says.

Bravo, Mr. Blackwood! I cannot applaud any louder; I produce a jagged symphony of clicking noises by hammering my fingers down on the keyboard at 3 AM.

By “they”, the Swede refers to the gods, and something rather charming he says got stuck in my head: “The gods are here, if they are anywhere at all in the world.” Now imagine what a place that would be – in the same time sacrilegious and religious, chaotic and orderly. But ominous, always.

So then the roles change and the plot becomes a game of convincing either oneself or the other person of the normality of things. Saying “there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for this or that”, becomes a mandatory thing. The narrator fears the sudden shift of character of his friend in whom he swore absolute stability and firm grasp of reality. So he keeps finding logic where there is none. He even goes to the extent of blaming either one of them for the disappearance of their steering paddle and the dent in the canoe, both of which occur in the matter of hours. Thus, doubt. Thus, untrustworthiness. Sneaky watching one another. It kind of feels carnivorous. And possibly very dangerous.

Whoa, I got carried away! Stopping here, as I too don’t know what’s about to happen. Moving on to close the final chapter and leave “The Willows”.

What’s up with your #NaNoReMo reads? Do tell, do tell!

*All used quotes belong to Algernon Blackwood

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2 thoughts on “Gazing into “The Willows” – a #NaNoReMo update

  1. Oh that does sound a creepy story the sort that gets your mind wondering and looking at the shadows…… I’m almost done with Frankenstein but where I am right now I want to give Franky (that’s my tag for him) a good hard slap! ^_^

    • Wondering & wandering, exactly. It’s amazing.

      Yeah, poor old Victor did boil my nerves too at times. He’s just that kind of guy at times, I guess.
      Some long months after I read the novel, I went to see Danny Boyle’s stage adaptation of Frankenstein and it was brilliant. There are two version; actors switch roles, but in the one I saw, Benedict Cumberbatch was playing Frankenstein and he did so wonderfully. That “arrogant genius who is too consumed to note anything at all” trait of Frankenstein’s character was truly enhanced. A want for a good hard slap was evoked! Looking forward to your final judgment of the novel, Helen!

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