Colonial Haunting in “The Doll”

Yesterday I listened to EnCrypted Classic Horror’s audiobook of “The Doll” by Algernon Blackwood. I had been looking for an ebook of this (thanks to a mention by Mudpuddle!) but couldn’t find one. So, somewhat reluctantly, I settled on this reading, complete with sound effects and creepy music box tunes. 😮

A mysterious foreigner shows up at the door of Colonel Masters’s residence. He brings a package for the old soldier and leaves without explanation. As it happens, the package contains a doll, which ends up in the hands of the daughter Monica, overjoyed at this unexpected gift. So begins the reign of terror of the doll…

This story was not nearly as spooky as I expected. Maybe that’s a good thing, since the narration was top-notch (if a bit hammy) and the sound effects quite eerie. Plot-wise, I found it rather predictable.

The most enjoyable aspect of “The Doll” was the hint at a sinister backstory involving Colonel Masters’s time abroad. Though published in 1946, this setup gives you all the feels of an Edwardian tale preoccupied with matters of conscience and a decaying empire. While there’s something to be said for leaving it to the audience’s imagination, I personally wish Blackwood had developed this further. The ending also kind of ruined it for me, painting Colonel Masters as a figure more “romantic” than terrible.

Between this and his other work I’ve read, so far I would say The Wendigo is still the spookiest. But “The Doll” certainly has its moments, and as for the audiobook, I will likely be listening to some others from that YouTube channel.

Wilderness Horror in The Wendigo

A group of men are out hunting moose in the wilds of Canada. Having little luck, they decide to split up and search for their prey in smaller groups. A young cleric-to-be Simpson is paired off with Défago, a French Canadian guide. Far away from the rest of their group, Défago begins to succumb to his fears of the territory—something inexplicable but horrible, as Simpson soon learns for himself.

This novella started out poorly with some extremely dated racial language (including the n-word), and at that point I wasn’t really expecting much from it. But once we got past the cringe-worthy descriptions of Native Americans, Caucasian Americans, Scotsmen, and French Canadians—yes, a whole gamut of stereotypes—Blackwood started digging into the plot. Which was surprisingly good.

To say too much about it would be spoiling it, but basically, The Wendigo is something between a sasquatch story and a Native American mythology. Blackwood draws only loosely from the latter, using the name but coming up with his own mythos for the creature, which carries with it a foul smell and supernatural powers. The real wendigo legend involves cannibalism, primarily. Blackwood doesn’t go there, but I still thought his take on it was really creepy.

Blackwood’s writing borders on more “tell” than “show,” and some of his prose is a bit florid. In this respect, I prefer Arthur Conan Doyle or H. G. Wells, who don’t need to tell you something is horrid (over and over again). That said, I really enjoyed the mental space Blackwood was carving out in the story, especially in the way he comments on human psychology:

Simpson lit a last pipe and tried to laugh to himself . . . He did not realize that this laughter was a sign that terror still lurked in the recesses of his soul—that, in fact, it was merely one of the conventional signs by which a man, seriously alarmed, tries to persuade himself that he is not so.

Likewise, his sketch of the imperious Dr. Cathcart, who is an instant skeptic:

Like many another materialist, that is, he lied cleverly on the basis of insufficient knowledge, because the knowledge supplied seemed to his own particular intelligence inadmissable.

Blackwood highlights the anxiety of being the only eye witness to some strange occurrence and how society reacts when they don’t want to believe you. It seems that the truth is only what is agreed upon by a majority.

I gave this story just 3 stars on Goodreads, due to the ending being (in my opinion) unsatisfactory. But it was worth reading, especially if you’re looking for October spookiness. I recommend reading it at night. 😉

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