Sunday, October 18, 2009

Ghost Stories of an Antiquary

For this Short Story Sunday I read Ghost Stories of an Antiquary by M.R. James which I absolutely loved.

Montague Rhodes James (1862- 1936) was a medieval scholar at Cambridge and Eaton who also delighted in writing ghost stories which he then liked to read out loud to his friends during the holidays. This is his first collection of ghost stories originally published in 1904. He is one of my favorite ghost story authors and his stories tell tales of scholars or gentlemen, often upon discovering an ancient manuscript or relic, who let their curiosity get them into much more than they bargain for. While dripping in gothic atmosphere M.R. James does not shy away from horror. “Malevolence and terror, the glare of evil faces, 'the stony grin of unearthly malice', pursuing forms in darkness, and 'long-drawn, distant screams', are all in place, and so is a modicum of blood, shed with deliberation and carefully husbanded.” M. R. James. "Some Remarks on Ghost Stories". The Bookman, December 1929. These are perfect stories to curl up with on a dark and stormy night. This book contains eight stories.

Cannon Alberic’s Scrap-book tells the story of scholar who buys an ancient manuscript and wishes he hadn’t. Lost Hearts is about an orphan who goes to live with a distant cousin and finds that he is not the first child to be taken in and then mysteriously disappear. The Mezzotint is one of his classic tales of a gentlemen scholar who excitedly purchases a Mezzotint that strangely changes before his eyes. The Ash Tree is one of my favorites about the revenge of a witch burned at the stake and scarey spiders. Many of his tales can provide you with invaluable lessons to follow in your life. Number 13 teaches you when staying in a hotel to not even take a room that could have been near unlucky room number 13, even if it does not exist. Count Magus is also one of my favorites about the dangers of hanging out in mausoleums and talking to the inhabitants. Oh Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad convinced me that if I ever dig up a whistle from an ancient archaeological site I will just put it back. And finally, The Treasure of Abbot Thomas is very clear that if you ever come upon a well with stairs leading down into it, no matter what wonderful things you think you might find down there, don’t go.

I cannot wait to read his next collection, More Ghost Stories. I down loaded Ghost Stories of an Antiquarian for free from but you can also read it online or down load it from Project Gutenberg. Moreover I think many of the individual stories are also on line. I am also curious to read some of Sheridan Le Fanu ghost stories as I understand that M.R. James admired them. If you like ghost stories at all M.R. James is not to be missed.

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