‘The Man Whom the Trees Loved’ by Algernon Blackwood

It was quite arresting, this way he had of making a tree look almost like a being – alive. It approached the uncanny.

Algernon Blackwood (1869-1951), the crease-faced and twinkly-eyed exemplar of a form that came to be known as weird fiction, has a large and varied output, ranging from the transcendent to the hokey. ‘The Man Whom the Trees Loved’ is one of his best, from a collection tellingly sub-titled ‘A Volume of Nature Stories’. Blackwood peddled his own brand of nature mysticism that could often be quite silly, but when channelled the right way gave us powerful work such as this, and iconic tales like ‘The Willows’ and ‘The Wendigo’.
The story articulates the latent feeling most people have that trees and woods are inherently frightening. A male artist begins to ‘listen’ to the trees in the woods beyond his house, much to the consternation of his wife, and, though we never fully know what happens to him, is somehow ‘taken’ by it. This is presented as both terrifying and somehow appealing; reflecting the feelings many people have towards the woods. We like them but we wouldn’t want to be lost in them forever.
First published in Pan’s Garden, Macmillan & Co. 1912

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