Role-playing reviews

Reviews related to role-playing games, with a focus on Gods & Monsters, and a bit of superhero gaming.

Gods & Monsters Fantasy Role-Playing

Beyond here lie dragons

Algernon Blackwood’s The Empty House

Jerry Stratton, November 24, 2014

Algernon Blackwood: Algernon Blackwood and signature, from Best Ghost Stories of Algernon Blackwood.; Algernon Blackwood

Looks like he also inspired the Crypt-Keeper.

An elderly researcher sends a telegram to a potential psychic to investigate an evil house, now empty and unsaleable. I had thought that the basic plot line began with Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, but the similarities to Algernon Blackwood’s 1906 The Empty House were obvious from the first paragraph, when he starts describing how some houses, like people, can be evil.

Certain houses, like certain persons, manage somehow to proclaim at once their character for evil.

Of course, in his older style Blackwood goes on for a page and a half to describe what Jackson managed brilliantly in a single paragraph. The opening of The Haunting of Hill House is one of the best hooks ever, despite breaking rules about agency and obscurity.1

The Empty House is a short story, very short, really just a haunted house described by the two witnesses. Whether or not either of the witnesses are psychic doesn’t figure in beyond as a speculation as to why the effects of the house are so physical around them. Nor is the idea of psychic research expanded upon beyond being the impetus for the aunt wanting to enter the house with her nephew. But if you’re interested in the development of the Jacksonian haunted house, you’ll want to read Blackwood’s story.

I found it in Best Ghost Stories of Algernon Blackwood, which I recommend if you enjoy older horror, such as Lovecraft’s. Blackwood was an influence on Lovecraft as well as presumably on Jackson. Also among these stories are his John Silence character, a psychic detective who, with a bit of tweaking, could be a model for a haunted adventurer.

The stories are presented chronologically as written, according to the introduction2, and so the writing style improves as you move through the collection. If you aren’t interested in old stories for their own sake, you might start with The Wendigo or especially The Other Wing, which is where they really begin to turn eerie.

In response to Horror Houses: What to do when your house hates you? These movies will help you relate.

  1. Though the breaking of the rule of agency shows, in my mind, Jackson’s intention that the house itself has agency.

  2. They are definitely not presented chronologically as published, at least according to the copyright listing in the front section.

  1. <- Hell House
  2. The hauntings continue ->