The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Although Algernon Blackwood is remembered for his short stories, particularly “The Willows,” “The Wendigo,” and the occult detective stories featuring John Silence, his output includes books composed on a wider, more spiritual canvas. Leaving aside the deeply mystical novel The Centaur (1911), which was Blackwood’s own favorite, a more readily accessible work is Julius Le Vallon, which contains some of Blackwood’s best writing.

Julius Le Vallon was intended as the first half of a two-volume sequence. Although Blackwood began work on it in 1909, he did not finish it until a moment of white-heat inspiration brought him to the cosmic climax in February, 1911. The book was not published until 1916. Its sequel, The Bright Messenger, was not completed until after World War I.

The first volume can stand alone and is artistically superior to the second. It is narrated by John Mason, who could be a personification of Blackwood himself because the story follows Blackwood’s own educational route to Edinburgh University. Mason meets Le Vallon at a private school and immediately recognizes an affinity. Le Vallon has memories of past lives and locales, and he encourages Mason to recall. Flashes of memories return, but it is not until they meet again at Edinburgh University that Mason begins to remember a far distant life. At that time Mason was a being called Silvatela, Le Vallon was Concerighé, and there was a woman named Ziaz. Silvatela is undertaking his spiritual education and is learning about astral travel. On one of these occasions Silvatela has vacated his body. Concerighé and Ziaz are guarding the vacant bodies from spirit possession, but Concerighé seeks to experiment. He uses the vitality of the bodies to summon elemental forces. Silvatela returns to his body just in time, but...

(The entire section is 755 words.)