I have read a few of Algernon Blackwood's short stories and I must say, so far, I have enjoyed them. Unfortunately almost every writer has a story that does not live up to the reader's expectations. Well, I recently came across one such story by Blackwood. A Haunted Island was the name of the story and it was part of a collection of short horror stories.
The story in question starts with the same format as The Empty House. Thus, you have a main protagonist who finds himself in a secluded, scary-looking spot. There is build-up of suspense and then the main character faces up to something horrific. That's all good and well. Such concepts won't sound cliché he tackles the imagery rather well. And Blackwood, as demonstrated by The Empty House, has a flair for creating a tense atmosphere.
So what is my main gripe with this story? It started out with the way Blackwood built up the mood of the main character. For starters, there was the way he hinted at the haunting. The main protagonist was staying in a holiday cottage, on a secluded island all by himself. Every so often, this guy would describe an aspect of a room or the outer surrounds in what is meant to be a hint of impending disaster. At the very least, you feel that something frightening will happen soon. To be fair, Blackwood does an excellent job sketching out the isolated surrounds and creating a sense of helplessness (derived from such isolation). Unfortunately, when he starts voicing the main character's misgivings about the house, it comes across as a case of cabin fever. After all, the guy hears voices, sometimes calling his name. He imagines footsteps right outside the door. This is an angle that can work well for a horror story but, as a reader that expected a bit of rattling chains and ghostly ghouls, it was a disappointing development.
Then comes the second bit. Funnily enough, my previous complaint was taken care of with this new occurrence. What happens is, two strangers start roaming around the island on a canoe. That's not all; they actually follow him into the house after spying on him for a bit. Alright, so the 'creepy stranger' angle could very well make up for lack of ghostly apparitions.
There was one catch though. The bad guys, the ones with the nefarious intentions, were two Native Americans. Oh no, he didn't! That's right, Blackwood creates a sense of fear in the main protagonist by using the old 'unknown other' angle. Thus, he wasn't just scared of them because they were complete strangers eying his house. He was frightened witless because he had fallen back on weird prejudices and stories he had heard of the Native Americans. Well, that is what seems to be implied and that makes you cringe as you continue with the story.
I suppose you could argue and say that such a story reflected the mentality of its time period. That such a story was written before folks were more informed about cultural sensitivity. Unfortunately, that also means that the story no longer works in a modern setting.