Life and work
Blackwood was born in Shooter's Hill (now part of south-east London, then part of north-west Kent). Between 1871 and 1880, he lived at Crayford Manor House, Crayford and he was educated at Wellington College. His father was a Post Office administrator who, according to Peter Penzoldt, "though not devoid of genuine good-heartedness, had appallingly narrow religious ideas." After he read the work of a Hindu sage left behind at his parents house, he developed an interest in Buddhism and other eastern philosophies. Blackwood had a varied career, working as a dairy farmer in Canada, where he also operated a hotel for six months, as a newspaper reporter in New York City, bartender, model, journalist for The New York Times, private secretary, businessman, and violin teacher.
Throughout his adult life, he was an occasional essayist for periodicals. In his late thirties, he moved back to England and started to write stories of the supernatural. He was successful, writing at least ten original collections of short stories and later telling them on radio and television. He also wrote 14 novels, several children's books and a number of plays, most of which were produced, but not published. He was an avid lover of nature and the outdoors, as many of his stories reflect. To satisfy his interest in the supernatural, he joined The Ghost Club. He never married; according to his friends he was a loner, but also cheerful company.
Jack Sullivan stated that "Blackwood's life parallels his work more neatly than perhaps that of any other ghost story writer. Like his lonely but fundamentally optimistic protagonists, he was a combination of mystic and outdoorsman; when he wasn't steeping himself in occultism, including Rosicrucianism and Buddhism, he was likely to be skiing or mountain climbing." Blackwood was a member of one of the factions of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, as was his contemporary Arthur Machen. Cabalistic themes influence his novel The Human Chord.
His two best-known stories are probably "The Willows" and "The Wendigo". He would also often write stories for newspapers at short notice, with the result that he was unsure exactly how many short stories he had written and there is no sure total. Though Blackwood wrote a number of horror stories, his most typical work seeks less to frighten than to induce a sense of awe. Good examples are the novels The Centaur, which reaches a climax with a traveller's sight of a herd of the mythical creatures; and Julius LeVallon and its sequel The Bright Messenger, which deal with reincarnation and the possibility of a new, mystical evolution of human consciousness. In correspondence with Peter Penzoldt, Blackwood wrote,
My fundamental interest, I suppose, is signs and proofs of other powers that lie hidden in us all; the extension, in other words, of human faculty. So many of my stories, therefore, deal with extension of consciousness; speculative and imaginative treatment of possibilities outside our normal range of consciousness.... Also, all that happens in our universe is natural; under Law; but an extension of our so limited normal consciousness can reveal new, extra-ordinary powers etc., and the word "supernatural" seems the best word for treating these in fiction. I believe it possible for our consciousness to change and grow, and that with this change we may become aware of a new universe. A "change" in consciousness, in its type, I mean, is something more than a mere extension of what we already possess and know.
Blackwood wrote an autobiography of his early years, Episodes Before Thirty (1923), and there is a biography, Starlight Man, by Mike Ashley (ISBN 0-7867-0928-6).
Blackwood died after several strokes. Officially his death on 10 December 1951 was from cerebral thrombosis, with arteriosclerosis as a contributing factor. He was cremated at Golders Green crematorium. A few weeks later his nephew took his ashes to Saanenmöser Pass in the Swiss Alps, and scattered them in the mountains that he had loved for more than forty years.