The Human Chord

The Human Chord - Algernon Blackwood Back when I was a music major in college, I took a class in chamber music. We formed a woodwind quartet and our professor was a stickler for tone. We would practice one note for an hour and a half every week, tuning and playing, tuning and playing. We were about to mutiny when all of a sudden as we played that one C note, another tone in perfect harmony (the third interval E for you musicians) resounded in our ears as clear at if it was being played externally. We knew we all heard it from the shocked looks on our faces. The professor jubilantly exclaims "Now that's what I was listening for!". We continued to play that one note for the rest of the session marveling in the harmonic sound. The realization that our ears could generate perfect harmony from the playing of one perfect pitch was like a spiritual revelation...one of those mysterious yet enlightening experiences we rarely get.

So you must forgive me if I do not find Algernon Blackwood's assertion that sound is the key to the mysteries of the universe in The Human Chord all that far fetched. Chanting certainly has been used throughout history to find enlightenment and to become one with nature. Also, that one's true name is all-powering or that the true name of the gods hold vast powers if you know it and can harness it is another hypothesis resonating since ancient times. Blackwood uses these ideas in this enchantingly dark novel that pits the main protagonist in the choice between being like the gods or fulfilling more humble joys in the world as he knows it. Of the early 20th century writers of horror fantasy, I find Blackwood to be the most original because his horror is based on the secrets of the universe being awe inspiring and world-changing rather than the "Unspeakable horrors" of Lovecraft's ancient ones or Machen's ideas of nature as evil and decadent. Blackwood's own fascination with the occult plays heavily here but so does his love of nature and his interest in Zen and Cabalist thought. This is the first novel I've read of Blackwood's but I have read many of his short stories. As always, Blackwood relies on atmosphere rather than pure scare to disorient the reader's perceptions. The author's characterizations are also central to his tale. The three main characters embody different parts of our humanity. Spinrobin is the everyman who is dissatisfied with his reality but doesn't know why, Miriam is the embodiment of innocence, and the Rev. Skale (Scales?? I'm sure the pun is intentional) is a version of Captain Ahab, an obsessive seeker of a goal that can easily destroy him as well as make him equal to the gods. The Human Chord can work on many levels beside just being a good fantasy tale which is the very definitive of a classic in horror or fantasy.