[Short Story Review] The Willows (Algernon Blackwood, 1907) ★★★★★

cover Algernon Blackwood ghost stories

The Willows derives its horror from nature resulting in an utmost uncanny masterpiece.

The Willows is a short story written by Algernon Blackwood, whose interest in nature translates into a unique view on horror which makes the natural creepy, scary and uncanny. Combined with the supernatural that transcends our own consciousness and even our human existence, results in weird fiction that is visceral and doesn’t even scratch the surface of what horrors you may find lying beneath. 


An unnamed English narrator and his Swedish friend are peddling down the Danube in a small canoe. When they arrive in Hungary, the river gets more wild and secluded. When they land on a small island covered in willow bushes strange things start happening, especially at night.

Why you should read it

The story is an eerie tale about what nature can hide from us. The beautiful descriptions of nature leaves the narrator and the reader in awe. But the grandeur of nature can be frightful as well, when being all alone isolated from civilization. The adventurous trip soon turns into a foreboding ominous atmosphere. 

The narrator tells the story to us readers, intimately taking us with him on his nightly investigations on the small island to witness something that is as scary as is wonderful. While he holds on to his own rational thoughts and explanations it soon proves to be inexplicable. Their situation is a peculiar paradox, not knowing will make them vulnerable victims of the unknown presence, but them knowing about those entities will surely expose them.

Although the story plays out in nature, in an open space, it’s a very claustrophobic story full of tension. The rising water, the small island and the pitch black night give the serene environment suddenly a dangerous feel. Serene vastness turns into ominous loneliness.

The story has a structure that increases the tension and suspense and eeriness with each new discovery or small incident. It’s a horror story that combines weird fiction and psychological tension that ultimately will seize you, and crawls under your skin, to rustle up some ominous feelings just like the willows. 

My favorite part

The best part is when the narrator sees something he just can’t believe. It’s the epiphany that rational thought isn’t always superior to the ways of nature and what lies beyond our little earth. The unknown, and what is out there, the lack of understanding and inability to control it, is what scares him the most. It is therefore an intelligent horror story that not only addresses our deepest emotional fears but our rational fears as well. 

A favorite quote

These willows never attain to the dignity of trees; they have no rigid trunks; they remain humble bushes, with rounded tops and soft outline, swaying on slender stems that answer to the least pressure of the wind; supple as grasses, and so continually shifting that they somehow give the impression that the entire plain is moving and alive.

“When common objects in this way become charged with the suggestion of horror, they stimulate the imagination far more than things of unusual appearance; and these bushes, crowding huddled about us, assumed for me in the darkness a bizarre grotesquerie of appearance that lent to them somehow the aspect of purposeful and living creatures.”


Rating: ★★★★★

Scare factor: ★★★★☆

Surreal factor: ★★★☆☆

Originality factor: ★★★★★


The Willows is written by Algernon Blackwood and first published in The Listener and Other Stories in 1907. It has been published since then many times. It consists of 30-105 pages, it varies with each publication. 

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