“The eeriness of this lonely island, set among a million willows, swept by a hurricane, and surrounded by hurrying deep waters, touched us both, I fancy. Untrodden by man, almost unknown to man, it lay there beneath the moon, remote from human influence, on the frontier of another world, an alien world, a world tenanted by willows only and the souls of willows.”
Two friends decide to spend their summer canoeing down the Danube. While at first, they have a jolly time of it, it isn’t long before they start to feel that something is amiss. Masses of densely-packed willow trees lurk along the banks, moving as if they have a will of their own. At night, the pair catch glimpses of dark figures scurrying on the shore and hear strange sounds outside their tent. The river itself seems to have a vast, alien intelligence of its own and appears at times to call to the pair, to demand some unholy sacrifice from them if they want to survive their journey.
The Willows was a favourite of Lovecraft’s, and it’s easy to see why. It contrasts a world of outstanding natural beauty with a sense of uneasy malaise, a feeling that there is another, darker, world, just beyond the everyday. The landscape, the trees and the river all feel like characters in their own right, menacing the two men in their canoe but never manifesting as anything solid that can be easily dismissed or fought off. The language is full and descriptive, if verbose by modern standards. Check it out if you’re looking for an old-fashioned weird story, full of psychological horror and grandiose prose.
You can read The Willows here, or listen to an audio version here.