I always like to think about the transgressions of the protagonists in horror stories. Something has to cause/invite the horror. In The Willows, the narrator and the Swede eschew human civilization and in doing so, they unwittingly enter into a forbidden territory: “we allowed laughingly to one another that we ought by rights to have held some special kind of passport to admit us, and that we had, somewhat audaciously, come without asking leave into a separate little kingdom of wonder and magic–a kingdom that was reserved for the use of others who had a right to it, with everywhere unwritten warnings to trespassers…”
As is usual in horror, despite the many warnings the protagonists receive, they arrogantly or naively persist in their journey. The narrator’s dismissive tone soon changes. The moral of this story appears to be that man has his place in the world, but there are some spaces/places that are not meant for him. The narrator and the Swede stumble onto what appears to be a conduit to another universe or realm. The forces of man and of alien cannot co-exist: one of them must be destroyed. Clearly, there must be areas left on earth that are unsullied by the human race: there must be some room allotted to The Other.
This is a masterly, chilling tale. It’ll certainly be considered a bit slow in its pacing by modern audiences; however, if they have the patience, they’ll certainly be rewarded.