Are you willing to get inside one of the scariest modern horror stories ever written?
I must confess I love the woods, but I’m absolutely terrified by them. They're immense, mesmerizing, and overwhelming, all at the same time. But that’s not the reason why I think they’re imposing. As a matter of fact, these amazing places really make me cringe because of a book I recently read: The Willows by English author Algernon Blackwood. This novel from the early modern horror era gained such popularity in the 1900s that even H.P. Lovecraft considered it one of the best supernatural stories he had ever read. So, if you don’t particularly enjoy disturbing literature, I wouldn’t recommend you to keep on reading this article. Unless, of course, you’re willing to go into the woods in the night after reading it and challenge the hidden forces that lie within it.
The story deals with two friends who decide to go on a trip down the Danube River. After a very creepy encounter with a corpse floating in the river, the explorers continue their journey to their camping site, unaware of what they’re about to come across while staying the night in the surrounding nature.
Midway in my delight of the wild beauty, there crept unbidden and unexplained, a curious feeling of disquietude, almost of alarm. A rising river, perhaps, always suggests something of the ominous: many of the little islands I saw before me would probably have been swept away by the morning; this resistless, thundering flood of water touched the sense of awe. Yet I was aware that my uneasiness lay deeper far than the emotions of awe and wonder...
As time passes by, the river and the wind become more threatening than before. During the night, both friends realize there's something particularly weird about their surroundings. They feel like trees switch places while they sleep. Even the rivers and the wind seem to come to life, and as their fear increases, you as a reader start wondering, are they just paranoid, or is there really something weird and unexplainable in the untamed forces of nature?
Little do they know, nature hides a dark secret; it seems to be possessed by a mysterious energy that’s capable to constantly change and move the landscape. Unfortunately, these entities are not the most welcoming, but that’s not the worst part. There’s a huge gathering of scaring and menacing willows around the explorers that feel somehow violent towards them.
The willows connected themselves subtly with my malaise, attacking the mind insidiously somehow by reason of their vast numbers, and contriving in some way or other to represent to the imagination a new and mighty power, a power, moreover, not altogether friendly to us (...) It was something far different, I felt. Some essence emanated from them that besieged the heart. A sense of awe awakened, true, but of awe touched somewhere by a vague terror. Their serried ranks growing everywhere darker about me as the shadows deepened, moving furiously yet softly in the wind, woke in me the curious and unwelcome suggestion that we had trespassed here upon the borders of an alien world, a world where we were intruders, a world where we were not wanted or invited to remain—where we ran grave risks perhaps!
After several nights of disquiet sleep and random encounters with corpses appearing in the middle of nowhere, the explorers come to realize that they’re trapped in a spectral nightmare. Desperately wondering who or what’s behind this oddly dangerous forest, they try everything they can to get rid of it. But all of their attempts to free themselves from this negative ambient seem to be useless when nature itself is the adversary.
The Willows is one of those stories that clearly reflects the true meaning of “eerie”: that mysterious, dark, and somehow, attractive element that keep us reading and reading (while biting our nails). This novel is particularly appealing because of how it flirts with the obscure and macabre in both a creepy and unique way. I must say that, setting side characters like J.K. Rowling’s Whomping Willow from the Harry Potter series, I have never seen a frightening tree in literature, at least not one that had a life of its own. I mean, can you imagine Lovecraft himself having a sleepless night because of such a good example of supernatural horror? Man, not everyday you get to find out about this level of recommendation!
So if you’re looking for new literature this year (although this one is not particularly new), and you frequently indulge in intriguing stories, then I highly recommend you to give Blackwood’s The Willows an opportunity. I can assure it will make you think twice about your next camping trip.