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M.R. James

Montague Rhodes James OM, MA, who used the publication name M. R. James, was an English medieval scholar and provost of King’s College, Cambridge (1905–1918), and of Eton College (1918–1936). He is best remembered for his ghost stories, which are regarded as among the best in the genre. James redefined the ghost story for the new century by abandoning many of the formal Gothic clichés of his predecessors and using more realistic contemporary settings. However, James’s protagonists and plots tend to reflect his own antiquarian interests. Accordingly, he is known as the originator of the “antiquarian ghost story”.

Ghost Stories of an Antiquary: 8 tasty little nuggets of supernatural horror

Ghost Stories of an Antiquary by M.R. James

Ghost Stories of an Antiquary contains eight tasty little nuggets of supernatural horror that I found very satisfying. In each of them the story is told second or even third hand by a genial narrator whose acquaintances, who are themselves of a decidedly scholarly bent, have been the victims of supernatural intrusion into our world. Often the stories revolve around an ancient artifact able to invoke the otherworldly that is discovered by these particularly luckless individuals (though they often feel themselves lucky indeed when they first make their discoveries). The tales are all good, but my favourites were “Canon Alberic's Scrap-book”, “Lost Hearts”, “”The Mezzotint”, and “Count Magnus”. I found myself thinking of both H.P. Lovecraft (in James’ use of made-up man... Read More

SHORTS: Poe, Bradbury, Danvers, Mamatas, James, Parypinski

Happy Halloween from Fantasy Literature and SHORTS! Our column today has an extra-large serving of horror stories. 

“The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe (1846, free at Project Gutenberg)

Our narrator Montresor, an Italian nobleman, explains ― in a suspiciously vague way ― how his friend Fortunato has mortally offended and insulted him. Montresor sets himself on a course of implacable revenge ... but he wants to do so in a way that Fortunato understands that Montresor is the source of revenge, but without being caught or punished.

Montresor and Fortunato meet during a carnival festival ― which at first seems by chance, but then you find out that Montresor has set up the situation so that all of his servants are gone (he... Read More

More speculative fiction from M.R. James

fantasy and science fiction book reviewsThe Five Jars — (1922) M R James (1862 – 1936) was a writer and British medieval scholar. His well-known classic ghost stories have a Victorian Christmas theme. Although James is best known for his ghost stories, he produced many excellent scholarly works. He is also credited with cataloging libraries at Oxford and Cambridge. It is possible that the author is the central character in this ghost story written for children, but thrilling enough for adult readers. The 5 jars contain magic ointments that give the narrator special powers. Evil creatures try and stop him from using these powers. The creatures are able to assume normal and friendly appearances. As the narrator uses one jar per night he is able to interact more with animals. The cat’s thoughts are quite fun to read. The introduction suggests that this book was not as popular as James’s other ghost stories because it was too scary for children in that time. Today’s kids will have no problem with this.

fantasy and science fiction book reviewsMore Ghost Stories of an Antiquary — (1911) Publisher: The follow-up volume to “Ghost Stories of an Antiquary” collects seven more of Montague Rhodes James’s classic horror stories, including “A School Story,” “The Rose Garden,” “Casting the Runes,” and “Martin’s Close.” “…gifted with an almost diabolic power of calling horror by gentle steps from the midst of prosaic daily life, is the scholarly Montague Rhodes James, Provost of Eton College, antiquary of note, and recognized authority on mediæval manuscripts and cathedral history. Dr. James, long fond of telling spectral tales at Christmastide, has become by slow degrees a literary weird fictionist of the very first rank!” — H.P. Lovecraft

fantasy and science fiction book reviewsThe Complete Ghost Stories of M.R. James — (1931)