Wednesday, November 27, 2013

"The Messenger" by Algernon Blackwood

I recently came across this overlooked short story of Blackwood’s and immediately realized that it read much like a Lovecraft tale. Of course, any Lovecraft geek knows that Blackwood was a strong influence on the younger author, so such a finding is not surprising. Nonetheless, this little tale has gone unnoticed as a possible inspiration for Lovecraft’s cosmic horror.

“The Messenger” is also very similar to Guy de Maupassant’s “Le Horla,” which is a known influence of Lovecraft. Both feature an otherworldly visitor. However, the messenger does not seem to be as malicious as the Horla, though the story ends before we know for sure what the messenger is here for. Also, the narrator of both tales could easily be insane, the entire thing a delusion of a fevered mind.

Due to its short length, I will reproduce the tale in its entirety below.

* * * * *



Algernon Blackwood 


Illustration by W. Graham Robertson from the original publication

I HAVE never been afraid of ghostly things, attracted rather with a curious live interest, though it is always out of doors that strange Presences get nearest to me, and in Nature I have encountered warnings, messages, presentiments, and the like, that, by way of help or guidance, have later justified themselves. I have, therefore, welcomed them. But in the little rooms of houses things of much value rarely come, for the thick air chokes the wires, as it were, and distorts or mutilates the clear delivery.

But the other night, here in the carpenter's house, where my attic windows beckon to the mountains and the woods, I woke with the uncomfortably strong suggestion that something was on the way, and that I was not ready. It came along the by-ways of deep sleep. I woke abruptly, alarmed before I was even properly awake. Something was approaching with great swiftness and I was unprepared.

Across the lake there were faint signs of colour behind the distant Alps, but terraces of mist still lay grey above the vineyards, and the slim poplar, whose tip was level with my face, no more than rustled in the wind of dawn. A shiver, not brought to me by any wind, ran through my nerves, for I knew with a certainty no arguing could lessen nor dispel that something from immensely far away was deliberately now approaching me. The touch of wonder in advance of it was truly awful; its splendour, size, and grandeur belonged to conditions I had surely never known. It came through empty spaces from another world. While I lay asleep it had been already on the way.

I stood there a moment, seeking for some outward sign that might betray its nature. The last stars were fading in the northern sky, and blue and dim lay the whole long line of the Jura, cloaked beneath still slumbering forests. There was a rumbling of a distant train. Now and then a dog barked in some outlying farm. The Night was up and walking, though as yet she moved but slowly from the sky. Shadows still draped the world. And the warning that had reached me first in sleep rushed through my tingling nerves once more with a certainty not far removed from shock. Something from another world was drawing every minute nearer, with a speed that made me tremble and half-breathless. It would presently arrive. It would stand close beside me and look straight into my face. Into these very eyes that searched the mist and shadow for an outward sign it would gaze intimately with a Message brought for me alone. But into these narrow walls it could only come with difficulty. The message would be maimed. There still was time for preparation. And I hurried into clothes and made my way downstairs and out into the open air.

Thus, at first, by climbing fast, I kept ahead of it, and soon the village lay beneath me in its nest of shadow, and the limestone ridges far above dropped nearer. But the awe and terrible deep wonder did not go. Along these mountain paths, whose every inch was so intimate that I could follow them even in the dark, this sense of breaking grandeur clung to my footsteps, keeping close. Nothing upon the earth familiar, friendly, well-known, little earth could have brought this sense that pressed upon the edges of true reverence. It was the awareness that some speeding messenger from spaces far, far beyond the world would presently stand close and touch me, would gaze into my little human eyes, would leave its message as of life or death, and then depart upon its fearful way again it was this that conveyed the feeling of apprehension that went with me.

And instinctively, while rising higher and higher, I chose the darkest and most sheltered way. I sought the protection of the trees, and ran into the deepest vaults of the forest. The moss was soaking wet beneath my feet, and the thousand tapering spires of the pines dipped upwards into a sky already brightening with palest gold and crimson. There was a whispering and a rustling overhead as the trees, who know everything before it comes, announced to one another that the thing I sought to hide from was already very, very near. Plunging deeper into the woods to hide, this detail of sure knowledge followed me and laughed: that the speed of this august arrival was one which made the greatest speed I ever dreamed of a mere standing still. . . .

I hid myself where possible in the darkness that was growing every minute more rare. The air was sharp and exquisitely fresh. I heard birds calling. The low, wet branches kissed my face and hair. A sense of glad relief came over me that I had left the closeness of the little attic chamber, and that I should eventually meet this huge New-comer in the wide, free spaces of the mountains. There must be room where I could hold myself unmanacled to meet it. . . . The village lay far beneath me, a patch of smoke and mist and soft red-brown roofs among the vineyards. And then my gaze turned upwards, and through a rift in the close-wrought ceiling of the trees I saw the clearness of the open sky. A strip of cloud ran through it, carrying off the Night's last little dream . . . and down into my heart dropped instantly that cold breath of awe I have known but once in life, when staring through the stupendous mouth within the Milky Way that opening into the outer spaces of eternal darkness, unlit by any single star, men call the Coal Hole.

The futility of escape then took me bodily, and I renounced all further flight. From this speeding Messenger there was no hiding possible. His splendid shoulders already brushed the sky. I heard the rushing of his awful wings . . . yet in that deep, significant silence with which light steps upon the clouds of morning.

And simultaneously I left the woods behind me and stood upon a naked ridge of rock that all night long had watched the stars.

Then terror passed away like magic. Cool winds from the valleys bore me up. I heard the tinkling of a thousand cowbells from pastures far below in a score of hidden valleys. The cold departed, and with it every trace of little fears. My eyes seemed for an instant blinded, and I knew that deep sense of joy which seems so “unearthly” that it almost stains the sight with the veil of tears. The soul sank to her knees in prayer and worship.

For the messenger from another world had come. He stood beside me on that dizzy ledge. Warmth clothed me, and I knew myself akin to deity. He stood there, gazing straight into my little human eyes. He touched me everywhere. Above the distant Alps the sun came up. His eye looked close into my own.

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Hammargren Home of Nevada History

Anyone who has even driven on Sandhill Road between Tropicana and Flamingo could not have missed the one strange wall with all sorts of things barely visible over it. Old casino signs, spaceships (some complete with little green men), and bizarre rickety structures are all visible in short bursts. Who lives there and what is all of that stuff, and—more importantly—who wouldn’t want to go inside and see what else is there?

The house, well actually it’s three houses morphed into one, belonging to Dr. Lonnie Hammargren, a retired neurosurgeon and former Nevada Lt. Governor. Yes, he really does live there. The concept of this Las Vegas landmark is to preserve Nevada’s history via Dr. Hammargren’s personal collection. He purchases anything and everything that catches his interest. Some of it may be invaluable to resale, but these are overshadowed by the incredible rare pieces that he has. For instance, the original Batmobile sits in his garage; the roller coaster from the top of the Stratosphere casino sits on his rooftop; numerous Liberace artifacts are littered throughout his collection. In other words, there is a lot to take in.

The whole thing began in 1971 when, after a night of drinking with the neighborhood’s developer, he was approved to build a second story planetarium in his home. Over the last 40 years, it has been continuously growing.

While his home is generally off limits to the public, once a year for Nevada Day he opens his doors to all residents or visitors of Las Vegas. I missed it the last few years; something always seemed to come up at the last minute and prevent me from attending. This year, however, I finally entered the Hammargren Home of Nevada History.

One of the first things you see upon entering through the main entrance way is the chapel. I'm not sure if actual services are performed here.

This is pretty typical of any nook and cranny of the Hammargren estate. Paintings, violins, flags and a mannequin, all in a five foot by five foot space. You could walk through the same rooms multiple times and find something new each time here. 

A view from the second floor loft in the main house. 

The outside of one of the three of Hammargren's houses.

This is an alleyway between two of the houses. 

A bridge connecting two of the houses.

Popeye and a statue possibly from Harrah's Casino adorn the side of Hammargren's backyard stage.

The old roller coaster that used to be on top of the Stratosphere casino now adorns this rooftop. 

One of the rooftop observatories. While you can't tell from this photo, the palm tree to the left should give you a gauge of how high this actually is.

An oversized hand of Lady Liberty sticks up out of the cluster below. On the ground, I never saw if there was more to the statue or not. 

This photo sums up the Hammagren house. I love contrast of the wall--on one side is a regular street, on the other a model of Hoover Dam, a swimming pool with a small submarine, an old casino sign and...and...and...

            This was actually used by NASA as a test capsule prior to becoming a UFO.

Either that's a dummy or some asleep on the job. I'm not sure what this is, but it looks like something that just landed on the roof. I believe it is more NASA scraps, possibly part of a satellite.

A dummy parachuting out of a plane.

Only in Vegas.

This miniature Abe Lincoln sits in his own reflection pool version of the Lincoln Memorial. Hammargren seems to favor both Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt. There are a number of paintings, curios, and books about these two presidents throughout the Hammargren houses.

Yes, Hammargren even has a T-Rex in his backyard. I estimated him to be about fifteen feet tall. 

I found this guy hidden in the bushes of one of the backyards. That's an elephant raring his trunk behind the palm bush.

This is a statue of Garuda, a bird-god from the Hindu pantheon. This one seems to be of a Balinese style. He is usually depicted with Vishnu, but not always. 

I found this Russian bear to b quite interesting. I don't know his history but he certainly belongs here.

A shelf of fascinating figurines and old bottles. 

This vintage 1932 Rolls Royce is a rare "boat tail" model. 

This is the iron lung that Hammargren will one day be buried in. He has a special Egyptian styled crypt built underneath his house, where he plans to spend eternity. Did I mention he plans to be pickled in Vodka within the iron lung? 


Pop’s Oasis. That brought back memories. It was the original casino in Jean, Nevada, before the Gold Strike or the now demolished Nevada Landing casinos were there. It was very small compared to them. It stood near where the post office and courthouse are now located. I grew up in nearby Sandy Valley, and Pop’s Oasis was the closest casino to us, and it had an arcade. Gambling tokens from Pop’s were dropped into the foundation of the Nevada Landing when they built it in 1989, one year after Pop’s closed down.