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Ancient Sorceries and Other Stories Paperback – 27 Jun 1974

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Product details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd; New impression edition (27 Jun. 1974)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140029044
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140029048
  • Product Dimensions: 17.8 x 10.9 x 1.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,024,887 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Chris Hall TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 21 Feb. 2006
Format: Paperback
Here we have a collection of six short stories by the English writer of ghost stories and supernatural fiction, Algernon Blackwood (1869 – 1951). Blackwood was born in Shooter’s Hill, and after attending the University of Edinburgh, he enjoyed a varied life of farming in Canada, operating a hotel, mining in the Alaskan goldfields, and working as a newspaper reporter in New York City before moving to England and starting to write ghost stories. His tales became very successful, and he went on to write ten books of short stories and appeared on both radio and television to tell them. Blackwood’s passion for nature and the mysterious world around himself captured his imagination, which is reflected within many of his following short stories. H.P. Lovecraft once wrote about Blackwood “He is the one absolute and unquestioned master of weird atmosphere”. Never was a truer statement made.
This compilation contains six ghostly and harrowing tales that range in length from “A Case Of Eavesdropping” that is a mere 20 pages long, to the much longer tale “The Nemesis Of Fire” that runs for a total of 98 pages. The stories included are as follows:
The Empty House – written in 1906 (Taken from the book ‘The Empty House’)
Here we have a dark supernatural tale of an evil that has manifested itself into an old house that lies deserted in the middle of a street. A young man named Shorthouse decides to pay his Aunt Julia a weekend visit, which leads to them exploring the empty house in the middle of the night. The house turns out to hold terrible secrets, which torment the two curious onlookers. The story is a simple idea of a haunted house, yet holds an eerie undertone to it that keeps the reader gripped throughout the tale.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By grrr-woof-hoot on 25 April 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
From the back cover: "In his search to systematize the supernatural, Dr John Silence, Blackwood's psychic detective, confronts anything from the nocturnal cat people of a sleepy French village with a really sinister secret to a reincarnated Egyptian fire-elemental embodied in a bowl of hot blood. Fear becomes a thread drawn so tightly it jangles, but never snaps. But *you* might."

Thankfully the book is better-written than the blurb on the cover. This 1974 Penguin edition contains six stories, four taken from Blackwood's first book - his 1906 collection "The empty house and other ghost stories" (The Empty House, A Haunted Island, Keeping His Promise, A Case of Eavesdropping) and two others taken from his 1908 collection "John Silence - Physician extraordinary" (Ancient Sorceries, The Nemesis of Fire).

This is a reasonable selection of Blackwood's well-regarded early work, the stand-out story being 'Ancient Sorceries' which is included in many different collections of his work. I must admit I bought this particular edition mainly because of the rather stylish Penguin cover!

It can be a bit of a headache trying to collect Blackwood's short stories without getting the most same stories appearing multiple times in different collections. The Penguin volume "The Insanity of Jones" (out of print like this one but available second-hand) would make a great companion to this book as none of the stories overlap. However, for a single-volume collection I would recommend the Dover edition "Best Ghost Stories of Algernon Blackwood" instead of this one.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Ms. C. A. Deans on 4 Jan. 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I enjoyed this old book and once I got into the old fashioned and charming use of language it added to the atmosphere. These are "ghost" stories of the imagination, as a good ghost story should be. Not a lot of actual meeting doom but the escaping of physical harm while leaving the mind perturbed for ever more.
There was a certain sameness to the stories so it was good to pick up and read one story then have a break.
Also if one is interested in writing such stories this is a good style to follow. Get back to the chill and away from the overtly gruesome. I recommend it.
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1 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Rotgut VINE VOICE on 9 April 2003
Format: Paperback
I suppose with a name like "Algernon Blackwood" you would be more or less forced to become a writer of mysterious stories, it would certainly be a shame not to. Sadly, none of the fictional characters created here are as original or unusual as the author's own name.
Blackwood suffers, not uniquely, from comparisons both with writers who immediately precede and follow this case, Sherlock Holmes' mighty shadow falls over supernatural sleuth John Silence, and, more obviously, the slightly later weird tales of H P Lovecraft (another great name!) are constantly invoked in the reader's mind in the best of these stories.
Some of the pieces in this collection are very slight indeed, the longest feature Silence, a rather poorly defined magic wielding investigator. The title work is rather dull, a shaggy cat rather than shaggy dog story, were-cats stalk a French village to little purpose, Silence is involved only after the event.The best is "The Nemesis Of Fire" where our hero is called to investigate mysterious deaths in a cursed wood.
Hope Hodgson's "Carnaki the Ghost Finder" dealt with a similar premise in a more interesting way, but these stories of Blackwood's, while limited in scope are usually interesting, and, with the exception of "Ancient Sorceries" itself, are compact enough not to outstay their welcome.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 1 review
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
"The Daylight Might Suit You Better To Hear What I Have To Tell..." 13 Oct. 2009
By R. M. Fisher - Published on
Format: Paperback
Anyone with a name like Algernon Blackwood was born to tell ghost stories, and that's exactly what this writer did in the early 20th century. A master of building suspense and with a deep interest in the threefold relationship between mankind, spiritualism and the naturalistic world, Blackwood wrote hundreds of short stories throughout his writing career and could boast H. P. Lovecraft himself as an enthusiastic fan.

Like most great writers, Blackwood's gift was not in what was *in* his stories, but how he *told* them. In all cases, a person (often isolated in an atmospheric environment) gradually becomes aware of strange disturbances which gradually escalate into the unexplainable. In is in the reactions of the protagonists themselves that the real fear is to be derived, as well as the creepy supernatural situation that cannot be neatly explained and wrapped up at the end of the story. All the narrator can do is describe, not explain, and it is in this very sense of "unknowing" that Blackwood excels. I've never had an experience with the supernatural myself, but one thing that sticks out in *other* people's retellings of such things is their careful remembrance of details, and a sense that they had no idea what was really going on. This is what Blackwood captures in his own tales.

The problem with short-story writers is that often their work is split up over several anthologies, resulting in some doubling up when it comes to trying to collect their entire body of work. This collection has a somewhat eclectic mix of tales, (that *don't* include Blackwood's most famous works "The Willows" or "The Wendigo") and it might be a better idea for serious readers to get Complete John Silence Stories and Best Ghost Stories of Algernon Blackwood instead. You'll get more stories and less chance of overlapping this way.

As such, "Ancient Sorceries and Other Stories," contain the following tales:

"The Empty House": Jim Shorthouse and his elderly aunt gain possession of the key to a haunted house and propose to spend the night there. They only last a few hours.

"A Haunted Island" is about a solitary man studying for exams on a deserted island, only to feel a strong sense of foreboding whenever he enters his bedroom. Opting to sleep downstairs, he becomes even more perturbed by the sight of two Indians circling the island in their canoe, who seem to want something from the room he's just vacated.

"Keeping his Promise:" Another young student is studying diligently when his work is interrupted by a knock on the door. His old school chum Fields, whom he hasn't seen in years is at the door, completely dry despite the heavy rain outside.

"A Case of Eavesdropping:" Once again Jim Shorthouse experiences (or in this case, overhears) a traumatic event from the past when the inhabitants of the room adjacent to his boarding house begin to argue in German.

These four initial stories make great use of Blackwood's use of architectural space: particularly dark rooms and stairwells; the impossibly mundane that is infused with mystery and confusion. Likewise, don't expect any "clear" answers here, as Blackwood's skill is in keeping things back from the reader, whilst simultaneously drawing them in with his effective use of mood and setting. This may be frustrating for readers who are used to plenty of blood and gore and a neat wrap-up at the end; but that's not what Blackwood is trying to achieve, and not what should be expected here.

The final two stories are John Silence mysteries: the psychic-detective who listens, explains and solves mysteries that have a supernatural bent. In the first "Ancient Sorceries," Silence interviews a repressed forty-something man who impulsively gets off a train in order to stay at a strange village in rural France. Charmed by a beautiful young woman and loosing his sense of time's passage, the man is acutely aware that things are not what they seem in the sleepy community - but what happens when the "curtain" is drawn back and he glimpses the true lives of the inhabitants?

Lastly, the longest story of the collection is "Nemesis of Fire," in which Silence is called to an English farmhouse that seems to be surrounded by a haunted wood and several spontaneous combustions. Instantly realizing the source of the disturbance (but keeping it from the reader for a while longer) Silence sets up an experiment in order to deal with the spirit at large. This story amplifies what is best about Blackwood: his portrayal of the natural world and its primal, dark, dominant relationship over mankind. It's sure to have you eying the shadows and trees in your backyard a little suspiciously.

I've only recently discovered Algernon Blackwood, but am intrigued and rewarded enough by this collection to seek out further works. However, be careful not to get this particular volume mixed up with the similarly titled: Ancient Sorceries and Other WEIRD Stories. It's a completely different collection, and all things considered, the preferable one.
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