A Writer You May Never Have Read…But Should
King, Straub, Matheson, Campbell, Simmons, McCammon, Barker, Poe, Lovecraft, Shelley, and the list goes on. These wonderful writers have been providing chills and sleepless nights for years now, but I want to spend a brief moment to talk about one of the classic writers of the macabre that you may not have known about or read.
MR James b. August 1, 1862 d. June 12, 1936
Montague Rhodes James. He is widely considered the granddad of the modern ghost story. If you have a mind to, pick up Ghost-Stories of an Antiquary and read through it. I was first introduced to MR James when I was in junior high school. Through the years I’d find a story by this writer and, upon reading, it would never fail give me that sense of being in some study, smoking a pipe, drinking brandy in front of a crackling fireplace at midnight while the story was read to me with intense fervor. To me, that was the best way to read ghost stories, snug in the relative safety and comfort of a dark study where the macabre could sneak in unseen and unexpected. And that was the way that MR James started.
MR James was a scholar, a devout Christian, and a teller of frightening tales that professed that the stories meant nothing except to entertain. Any genuine reader, or a writer, of horror, should be checking all his stories out. If for nothing less than the entertainment value and to awe at the sheer imagination that went into them. Sure, the language and stories may be dated and sound stuffy when compared to our present-day short attention span standards. But damn, this guy was GOOD!
To believe that he did it completely for entertainment value is more than a bit naïve. In other words, I believe that is BS. He worked so strenuously and long on his stories that I don’t believe it could account for the driven nature of his fiction. I believe that he actually had incidents in his life that conflicted with his religious beliefs, and this conflict became an annoyance that produced these pearls of terrific stories. Any true connoisseur of the supernatural story should know this writer.
MR James stories for those who have never read him:
Canon Alberic’s Scrap-book
Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad
…and any other story of his you can get your hands on.
A word of warning. These are not action-packed stories with fast-moving plots. This is an Old English style of telling stories. Give them a chance to do what they were designed to do. Scare you.
For those of you who like your ghost to wear a bed sheet, I present the MR James British classic 1968 classic drama, Oh Whistle, and I’ll Come to You. It isn’t as faithful to the story as I like, but the feeling is there. The film is less than forty-five minutes, and it’s cool. And yes, I know, it is in black and white. Philistines.
For those of you who would prefer to listen to the actual story being read (my personal favorite way to get the chills) is here. Turn the lights down low. Also less than fifty minutes.
And for those who want a bit more on the subject about MR James’ fascinating life and why in particular he wrote his ghost stories, here is an entertaining documentary (1995). Less than an hour, and it’s also cool.
Have some fun discovering new stuff, Deadies.