Analysis

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Julius Le Vallon was written at the same time as The Centaur and most of the stories in Pans Garden: A Volume of Nature Stories (1912), Blackwood’s most important collection. It shows Blackwood writing at the peak of his ability. Financial freedom had allowed him to live in Switzerland and to travel unhindered around Europe. He sought the more remote places where, under his own mental and psychic control, he was able to commune with the world beyond the normal compre-hension of human senses. Le Vallon was modeled on a student Blackwood knew at Edinburgh. Blackwood, like Le Vallon, had undergone spiritual and mystical training. This initially had been through his studies of Eastern philosophies, followed by ten years as a student of theosophy and then as a member of the Order of the Golden Dawn. He became well acquainted with occult practices. Unlike his contemporary Aleister Crowley, Blackwood moved from the occult toward nature mysticism, but he brought both aspects to bear in Julius Le Vallon, which is clearly a book written not only from the heart but also from a firm basis of occult understanding. His belief in reincarnation and the elemental forces of nature gives the novel an intensity of conviction unequaled in occult literature. Writing to artist Graham Robertson within hours of completing the novel, Blackwood said: “To most it must seem drivel, but to me it is very real.”

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Blackwood’s intention had been to create a study of a child of the elements. He believed that he himself could be a vessel for elemental forces, and earlier stories had strived to explore the possibility of earthly creatures being controlled by the powers of nature. Traces of this theme are found in “The Nemesis of Fire,” “The Sea Fit,” “The Willows,” and most spectacularly “The Wendigo.” He would explore it further in “Sand” and especially “The Regeneration of Lord Ernie,” which could have been a trial run for The Bright Messenger.

When he eventually completed The Bright Messenger, written almost ten years after Julius Le Vallon, it was something of a disappointment. Blackwood had passed his creative peak by the start of World War I, and the horror of those hostilities, in which he served for a period as a Red Cross searcher, numbed his creative faculties. He was never again able to produce the intensity of vision that powered his prewar writings. Although Blackwood explores the nature of Julian and in particular the human aspects relationship with the spiritual N. H., he reveals very little of the boys inner views. Instead Blackwood explores societys views of the boy and how the boy perceives society. In this way Blackwood portrays his own views of society. The years following World War I brought many changes that people in the upper classes found difficult to accept. Le Vallon serves as a mirror to reflect those changing attitudes. He is a creature who lives to a different rhythm of life, who has little concern for mundane events, and who finds it impossible to mix with society. He is an outcast, although he is attractive to women who recognize his inner power. Through this study of society, Blackwood conveys the simple message that the world would be a better place if people lifted their eyes from their humdrum existence and sought the grander possibilities beyond.

Because the novel lacks any real climax, it reads like the middle volume of a trilogy, though Blackwood had no intention of writing a third volume. The Bright Messenger was his last major novel for adults and was a summation of his views about the world and his place in it. Two years after completing it, he wrote his autobiography, Episodes Before Thirty (1923). By that time he believed he had written all he intended to, beyond journalism and reviews. Clearly The Bright Messenger was to remain the culmination of his lifes work on exploring the forces of nature and their effect upon humanity. It is unfortunate that it falls short of that, although its prequel, Julius Le Vallon, is without doubt one of the most successful works on that theme and deserves greater recognition.

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