MR James' ghost stories

BBC4 are doing a bunch of stuff on MR James at the moment, and as usual it includes virtually everything one might hope to find on the man and his work.

(because there’s only me and a couple of guys on nightshift on Hull actually watching, you see)

Anyhoo, I’ve only once tried reading his stuff, and it is the only horror fiction that has ever actually thoroughly scared the shit out of me. So much so in fact that I threw the book out, which is a ridiculously “un-me” thing to do. It was entirely too much for me. I watched the television adaptation of “Whistle and I’ll Come To You” last night, with Michael Hordern, and once again I was turned to jelly. What on earth is it about this man’s work that makes it so terrifying?

All I know is, if I ever give in and write a horror story, I know who I’ll be ripping off. There was a documentary about the work afterwards and it mentioned that his stories are plotted with a distinctly psychological edge to them, which makes sense. The stories I read were certainly all about seeing things out of the corner of your eye and then letting that fear sink in slowly for the next couple of pages.

Since I began writing this thread I have got goosebumps again. Most excellently scary.

Sounds interesting. I think I’ll get me one of his books for Christmas.

You can read some of it online here:

And there’s an adaptation of The Treasure of Abbot Thomas on tonight on BBC4 if you happen to be in the UK.

Can’t wait until it crosses the Atlantic–James’ stories are great! I love spooky.

They’re not new adaptations, so I think that might put the kybosh on BBC America choosing to screen them. They’re just showing as part of the MR James season. But they’re dead good (sorry). The one with Michael Hordern was brilliant, all grainy black and white and dodgy angles. And wonderful about the elements, lots of windy coastlines, blustery days etc.

The season is profiled here: MR James Season. That page has links to all sorts of other stuff including a radio programme analysing the work. I think you can probably listen to it online if you follow the Muriel Gray links.

Project Gutenberg has a couple of volumes of M. R. James stories available for download. They’re Ghost Stories of an Antiquarian, Part 1 and Part 2 .
<runs off to download books and convert them to format readable on my Zire.> has some tales, too.

PDF. But also downloads for Palm OS.

(Check second column about halfway down the page)

Here’s the list:

M. R. James - The Ash Tree, Canon Alberic’s Scrapbook, Casting the Runes, Count Magnus, The Diary of Mr Poynter, An Episode of Cathedral History, Lost Hearts, Martin’s Close, Mr Humphreys and His Inheritance, The Mezzotint, Number 13, ‘Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad’, The Residence at Whitminster, The Rose Garden, A School Story, The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral, The Story of a Disappearance and an Appearance, The Tractate Middoth, The Treasure of Abbot Thomas, Two Doctors

Great stuff.

Oooh, I must see this show if it ever gets to the States!

“Oh Whistle…” is my favorite M.R. James story, and one of my favorite ghost stories of all. I think why it’s so effective is that James never entirely explains what that creature is or what it’s after… but the title has some rather disturbing implications.

I would say that the James stories that scare me most are the ones that remain not entirely explained, or leave the reader to put together a few lightly suggested elements to figure out what’s going on. Some of my other favorites in this respect are “The Rose Garden,” “An Episode of Cathedral History,” and “Number 13.”

If you want to see the adaptation you’d be best off with the DVD:

Well I’ll have to wait for BBC America to squeeze them in the rotation somewhere between What Not to Wear, Ground Force, and Changing Rooms.

I had thought BBC America only showed new stuff. Is it likely to screen an old one-off drama from 1968?

I read “MR James” (with whom I am not familiar) as “Mr. (Mister) James” and came in here expecting to read about Turn of the Screw*.

*or possibly the sequel, My Sexual Problem.