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October/November selection: The Willows

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Mr. P

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Re: October/November selection: The Willows

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Ok...I will start by saying I was not thrilled at all with this story and had to struggle through the first 10 pages of the print out. The beginning was way too drawn out for my tastes. I like less description and more left to my imagination in a story.Once it got to the meat of the story, it got a slight interesting, but the whole thing left me kinda dry...sorta like all pomp and no payoff. I did not feel any suspense at all and had not a 'tingle' that I like when reading a 'horror' story.That said...irishrosem:Quote:The natural imagery in Blackwood's writing is just stunningI can agree with this...his descriptive powers are very good...I could almost smell and feel the atmosphere. It reminded me of my camping days, which I miss terribly.Quote:Second I was disappointed that there was a body in the end. I would have much preferred if the whole mystery had stayed a mystery. I agree with you here. It kinda made the whole story come back into more of a reality. I was totally willing to go with the whole supernatural feel and be left with a total lack of closure on the deal. The body kinda made me feel fulfilled. I took the main idea of this story to be that of imagination gone awry...rational contrasted with irrational...that there was really nothing going on except for the minds of the two characters overloading after a long trip, familiar in that they have made 'many such journeys together', yet an arduous course in an unfamiliar setting. This reminds me of the saying that the scariest setting for horror is the 'familiar'. Did anyone ever look at a familiar scene and have unfamiliar, surreal thoughts? Like a twisted deja vu? I get that all the time...it can be fun when I can then control that and keep it building up. Sorry...back to the point...The main character seems to have been offered as a rational sort, able to explain everything as a natural occurence, and the Swede was presented as an unimaginative sort and maybe a slight stupid. In the end though, it seems to me we see the opposite in the characters, for even though the Swede gets wrapped up in an emotional state at the end, it is he who actually realizes what is 'going on'.Quote:I would have much preferred that the intention of the power described remained a mystery.I still do not say I know what this 'power' was after. It is still a mystery. As Mad says: Quote:They might have had just about any purpose in seeking out and killing the victim -- it might not have been their intention to kill him at all. Or maybe there was not even a purpose at all? Were these forces or beings looking for anything at all? Or just exploring? Were these three people (the protagonists and the dead body) just something of interest to these entities? Or was it just wild imaginings of the protagonists?Quote:It seems likely to me -- although this is an assumption never made explicit by the story -- that we're just as obscure to them as they are to us. I kinda think it was stated explicitly when the Swede stated that the less they think about 'them' and the more they could control their thoughts, the better their chance of escaping. It gave the impression that 'they' were casting about for something obscure. It also lends to my assessment that this was all in the characters minds.Mr. P. Mr. P's place. I warned you!!!The one thing of which I am positive is that there is much of which to be negative - Mr. P.The pain in hell has two sides. The kind you can touch with your hand; the kind you can feel in your heart...Scorsese's "Mean Streets"I came to kick ass and chew Bubble Gum...and I am all out of Bubble Gum - They Live, Roddy PiperEdited by: misterpessimistic  at: 10/27/06 11:37 pm
SolinaJoki

Re: October/November selection: The Willows

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I finished this story a couple of days ago and have sat with it since then. I was not captivated by it, though it was enjoyable. As mentioned repeatedly, his talent for description is wonderful. The discussion has really opened up the story for me though. I'm not one for horror or the supernatural, but the intangible elements brought to my attention by the discussion above are very interesting. For starters:As irishrosem said:Quote:"And a chief pleasure, in those early days of its irresponsible youth, was to lie low, like Brer Fox, just before the little turbulent tributaries came to join it from the Alps, and to refuse to acknowledge them when in, but to run for miles side by side" I love this image of the river being childish and petty, refusing to play with other rivers, or share its tide. So what do you think, outside of being stunning and enjoyable description, is the purpose, or effect, of attributing truly human qualities to the river?The quotation from the book that you have used was my favourite part of the description of the river. I think he has a real gift for imparting human qualities on inanimate objects. I think we find things much more tangible if they are protrayed with human characteristics. If the river is viewed as human, we are so much more able to understand its impulsiveness, changability, temper, gentleness, etc., than if it is a bunch of water running between two banks. Once he establishes the river as "human," he can accomplish much more understanding on our parts with far fewer words. I think it helps to foster the psychological terror rather than leaving the river's actions just in the realm of physical terror.
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Re: October/November selection: The Willows

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First, I'm glad others have jumped into the discussion.Avi:Quote:An explanation of some kind was an absolute necessity, just as some working explanation of the universe is necessary--however absurd--to the happiness of every individual who seeks to do his duty in the world and face the problems of life. The smile seemed to me at the time an exact parallel. (after the first night)I remember this paragraph caught my attention, is the author talking through the narrator or is a reflexion who tells something about the "rational character" of the story, I don't see the narrator as the rational character to begin with, what do you think?This is definitely the narrator's thought, whether Blackwood is speaking to his audience through the narrator, I don't know. I too had this sentence marked in the story. I had thought Blackwood had mingled, throughout his depiction of the rational and irrational, elements of science ("It [the wind] made me think of the sounds a planet must make, could we only hear it, driving along through space") and religion ("It was like talking out loud in church, or some place where it was not lawful, perhaps not quite safe, to be overheard.") But for me, he certainly never settles on which of the two is to be the rational. It's almost as if the story claims that any explanation that attempts "some working explanation of the universe" can be considered "absurd." If you think about the time, he's writing this short story less than 50 years after The Origin of Species. I imagine that "explanation" could be considered absurd to a lay reader in 1907. And if you view the narrator's reasoned explanations for all the occurrences, they do seem absurd. The story also ends with this unknown force never being identified or explained, but finally placated by a sacrifice. It was a metaphor that was drawn out throughout my reading of the short story. I hesitated to bring it up before because I didn't want to overreach. But boy does that quote really nail the metaphor for me.Solina:Quote:Once he establishes the river as "human," he can accomplish much more understanding on our parts with far fewer words. I think it helps to foster the psychological terror rather than leaving the river's actions just in the realm of physical terror. I absolutely agree. However, I had said in a previous post that the river doesn't really seem to be contributing either to the danger or the fear of the protagonists. Outside of the chipping away at the banks--a nice metaphor for chipping away at life, as Avi pointed out--it isn't really a threat. I haven't yet looked at the text with this thought specifically, but I have no memory of the Danube as a threat. Why do you think Blackwood doesn't take this opportunity, after attributing powerful, human-like attributes to the river, of implicating the river in the threat? It's all right there for him, perfectly set-up, and as far as my memory serves, he doesn't utilize it. I just can't think why.
MadArchitect

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Re: October/November selection: The Willows

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Having read your latest posts (welcome to the fray, Avi and Solinka), and given some more thought to the river question Rose raised earlier, it occurs to me that one effect of giving the river human attributes is that it gives us the impression of unpredictability. If you just say the word river we form a particular mental image, and you can modify that image with whatever adjectives you can provide to complicate that image, to make it more specific. But if you give it a human character, and leave that character somewhat ambiguous, then we start to consider that river as something of an unknown. It can have an intent, it can have a personality, it can (gasp) change its mind. So that's one thing.But then, what's the point of all that in relation to the story? As Rose points out, the river isn't really the antagonist -- it serves mostly to provide a set of limits on the protagonists' activity, but it isn't the threat that motivates them.The answer that occurred to me is, that it sets the stage for a more complex kind of natural world. The river is the stage, in a sense, that suggests the whole of the natural world -- and the natural world, in this context, can be summed up as whatever stands in contrast to human culture and civilization. So once we've wrapped our minds around the idea of a river that is more integrated as a character, more than just the sum of its atomic parts, we can start to envision the rest of the natural world in the same way. And that allows us to make the cognitive jump to a universe that can work against our best intentions, not merely as the result of mechanistic processes, but as a matter of intent. It's a universe that can take our struggle for survival and make it into a potentially immoral act. Which is, I think, rather unnerving.
SolinaJoki

Re: October/November selection: The Willows

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I felt that the physical presence of the river focused attention on the antagonists who were very ethereal, indefinite, otherworldly. The river on the other hand was very much of this world, a physical presence that would not let them get away from the otherworldly threat. And it was constantly increasing our focus but rising inexorably and chipping away at the small piece of physical ground the protagonists had for safety, their only remaining connection to this world. All other physical elements in the story, for example, the sand and the wind and of course the willows, seemed very much claimed/affected/influenced by the other world. I found the constant references to the river rising and the size of the island shrinking very much a contribution to the psychological terror, increased dramatically by the hole in the boat. I think that a horror story works differently for different people depending on where their raw nerves are. Aspects of a story can incite terror or remain benign, depending on one's own experience. The thought of the river slowly dismantling the island, where they could hear parts of the shoreline breaking off and swirling away downstream was really scary to me. I was always surprised when he "quantified" how much of the island had gone/remained. I expected it to be much smaller at each point. When the rent appeared in the canoe, that really upped the fear on my part. The idea of being confined, not being able to get away, regardless of the actual threat on the island gives me the creeps! Also, I don't like wind. I find it very unsettling. So it, again, was another aspect that worked at the terror for me. Anyone else have different aspects of the story that contributed to feelings of terror?
Avi Seldom

Re: October/November selection: The Willows

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Anyone else have different aspects of the story that contributed to feelings of terror?Returning to the familiar things as horror elements one aspect that contibuted was the story of this two men, they have traveled together a lot of times but in this island, at least before they admit the existence of the creatures, they are rivals. At first it seems that is the narrator who is going mad and you can see him as a menace to the swede but soon the author gives a turn to the story with "the sacrifice" and now it seems that the narrator is in danger and the swede is going mad.Another element of horror is the randomness of the creatures, you see them wandering like blind, you see their marks in the sand and keep thinking that maybe they won't be alive the next hour, the river adds to this situation at a higher time level making you think the island wont last, everynight they go to bed they're thinking, maybe tomorrow...That's the usual horror side of the story, the "time factor", seeing your frinends as rivals and having the exit at hand (the boat).oh, I forgot the unknown, it was a great hit that the swede seems to know what the holes in the sand are and don't want us to know because its sooooo horrible, that connects with the necessity of an explanation of some kind, --however absurd--to the happiness of every individual who seeks to do his duty in the world and face the problems of life.
MadArchitect

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Re: October/November selection: The Willows

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Well, the month-long period for this story's run as "official" selection is over, so I'm unpinning the thread. But feel free to continue posting about "The Willows" in this thread, and if you've stumbled on this discussion past it's tenure as official selection, don't hesitate to pick up the story and start the discussion anew.For my part, I think we managed to get a decent amount of mileage out of this discussion, and I'm pretty happy with the inaugural run of the monthly short story selection. I hope you guys enjoyed it as well, and play to play along in future discussions. If you're interested, the new selection is already up, and you're welcome to check it out.Thanks, guys!
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