One of the most intriguing figures of English supernatural fiction was M. R. (Montague Rhodes) James, whose ghost stories, frequently unfolding in sedate environments yet hinting at nightmarish menace, remain perennially popular.
James’s varied body of work includes not only such famous ghost stories as “Casting the Runes” (adapted into the film Night of the Demon by Jacques Tourneur in 1957), “A Warning to the Curious,” and “Oh Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad,” but also works of scholarship such as The Apocalypse in Art. Many books by James are available in UIUC’s collections.
In the essay Supernatural Horror in Literature, H.P. Lovecraft wrote that James was “gifted with an almost diabolic power of calling horror by gentle steps from the midst of prosaic daily life.” Lovecraft went on to write of James’s work:
“The art of Dr. James is by no means haphazard, and in the preface to one of his collections he has formulated three very sound rules for macabre composition. A ghost story, he believes, should have a familiar setting in the modem period, in order to approach closely the reader’s sphere of experience. Its spectral phenomena, moreover, should be malevolent rather than beneficent; since fear is the emotion primarily to be excited. And finally, the technical patois of ‘occultism’ or pseudo-science ought carefully to be avoided; lest the charm of casual verisimilitude be smothered in unconvincing pedantry.”
A new single-volume edition of James’s Collected Ghost Stories is due next month from Oxford University Press. Additionally, e-texts of James’s stories are freely available: take a look at Jack Voller’s page dedicated to James’s work at The Literary Gothic, or read the e-texts from the University of Adelaide’s collections of James’s stories.
Other resources in James’s work include:
- The homepage for the Ghosts & Scholars M. R. James Newsletter (also includes an extensive list of performances of James’s work on TV, radio and film – James’s stories have often been dramatized by the BBC)