THE DEEP ONES: "The Doll" by Algernon Blackwood
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Discussion begins February 8, 2016.
First published in The Doll and One Other (1946).
SELECTED PRINT VERSIONS
Wolf's Complete Book of Terror
The Haunted Dolls
Tales of the Uncanny and Supernatural
It's not the same collection as Tales of Terror and the Unknown although they've been combined on LT...even stranger, they've managed to get linked to Faucet Fish as well!
There are many effective passages in the story. I found this paragraph perhaps the most gruesome, and yet also droll (a morgue humour to be sure):
A doll! But for the maternal suggestion, a doll was a pathetic, even horrible plaything, yet to watch a child busy with it involved deep reflections, since here the future mother prophesied. The child fondles and caresses her doll with passionate love, cares for it, seeks its welfare, yet stuffs it down into the perambulator, its head and neck twisted, its limbs broken and contorted, leaving it atrociously upside down so that blood and breathing cannot possibly function, while she runs to the window to see if the rain has stopped or the sun has come out. A blind and hideous automatism dictated by the Race, provided nothing of more immediate interest interferes, yet a herd-instinct that overcomes all obstacles, its vitality insuperable. The maternity instinct defies, even denies death. The doll, whether left upside down on the floor with broken teeth and ruined eyes, or lovingly arranged to be overlaid in the night, squashed, tortured, mutilated, survives all cruelties and disasters, and asserts finally its immortal qualities. It is unkillable. It is beyond death.
I think Hitchcock would have appreciated the excuse for so extensive a description of physical trauma and body horror. It's effective here, I think, because it foreshadows how lethal of a force the doll will prove to be.
On the back of Blackwood's popularity reading his stories on television, he was approached to make similar short films to be shown in cinemas. By all accounts his performances weren't as assured, but two complete films survive and have been uploaded to YouTube by the British Film Institute (BFI).
Here they are:
That was the standout passage for me as well. I'm afraid the story itself struggled to grip me. I think it's because none of the characters rose above the level of cliché (the superstitious Irish cook, and so on). It's true that the "Jamesian prose" disguises this to an extent, but there was a point at which I felt I'd "seen through it", and after that it rang false. It's a bit of a shame because I certainly came to the story wanting to enjoy it.
Edited to add: that final sentence is far too harsh. I did enjoy this story but felt that Blackwood's unconscious prejudices were a little too much on display, and it affected the story because it wasn't limited to a comment or two from the omniscient narrator, but fed into the nature of the characters.
I liked the development of Madame Jodzka into a protective maternal figure for the Colonel and even, in the midst of terror, realizing she is sexually attracted to him. I thought Blackwood handled that well.
>6 housefulofpaper: Both AB segments were charming! I'd read them previously but they certainly pop to life with that polka dot bowtie in the background! He looked very much at home. Lock Your Door seeps into your marrow and St. Jules boasts a rare funny twist. They remind me of the scratchy audio of Eudora Welty reading her famous 'post office' story, but no visuals there except the text.