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Meddling with Ghosts: Stories in the Tradition of M. R. James [Hardcover]

Ramsey Campbell
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

30 Mar 2001
This collection offers some of the best stories from authors who influenced James, such as Sheridan Le Fanu and Augustus Jessopp, stories from his contemporaries, such as T.G. Jackson and "D.N.J.", and tales from more recent practitioners, including Fritz Leiber and Terry Lamsley. The collection also includes a checklist of writers in the Jamesian tradition.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: The British Library Publishing Division; First Edition edition (30 Mar 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0712311254
  • ISBN-13: 978-0712311250
  • Product Dimensions: 24.1 x 16.7 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 659,784 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
If you're a fan of M.R. James at all, then this is definitely the book for you.
Sadly, once you've read all of M.R. James stunning ghost stories, then it can sometimes prove difficult to track down any other ghost stories which can even come close to equalling the terror and dread which M.R. James' stories brought about.
So, say a big well done and show your appreciation to the editor of this book, Ramsey Campbell, and the kind publishers at the British Library for saving us the bother, and collecting a good selection of ghost stories for us with the exact intention for them to be similar to the writings of M.R. James.
The book is beautifully put together, with a lovely cover and the stories are all preceded by a note from the editor telling you about the author and why the story was selected.
The authors within the book range from those who wrote before M.R. James and maybe influenced him like J.S. LeFanu, to his contemporaries like L.T.C. Rolt and to those that succeeded him like Fritz Leiber. All are categorised into three easy to follow sections.
A well put together book, lovingly crafted for all us M.R. James fans everywhere.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.4 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Hours of boredom---minutes of shrill Terror. Worth it. 9 Sep 2004
By Dark Mechanicus JSG - Published on
Ghost tale anthologies are always a mixed bag: a few tasty, grisly chillers to spike an otherwise tepid punch bowl of lackluster stories included to plump up the book and appease the publisher. "Meddling with Ghosts" provides no exception to the rule, but British horror grandmaster Ramsey Campbell keeps an exceptionally tight focus to his collection and consequently serves up the a few rare, ghoulish treasures amidst the fodder.

Campbell ("Alone with the Horrors", "The Hungry Moon") is a horror-fiction giant in a landscape ridden with dwarves, and the best of his own writing has always drawn on the stylistic and thematic qualities of fellow English ghost-writer Montague Rhodes James, provost of Cambridge and Eton and a genius at crafting the true tale of the unsettling and bizarre.

James has no equal in English letters when it comes to brewing up a terrifying tale, and : a common theme is the scholarly bachelor loner who, drawn to some remote locale, or forgotten tome, or garden folly found in his newly inheireted country home, stumbles on some ancient, reticent, mouldering secret thing and unleashes something unpleasant. Unpleasant for the bachelor-scholar-hero, that is---but gloriously fun for you, tucked under the bedclothes with the cat in the wee hours of the morning. With that in mind, "Meddling with Ghosts" assumes the reader has ample affection for James; if you haven't gotten a taste of M.R. James yet, then at the very least go read "Count Magnus", "Oh Whistle and I'll come to you, My Lad" and "Casting the Runes" to get a taste for the Old Master before you fork over lucre for this worshipful collection.

Campbell sets up a few ground rules, all of them Jamesian: the stories in "Meddling" must involve malignant spirits, true horror, and an attention to historical detail. And James, more than any other horror writer, was a master when it came to conjuring up the truly unsettling, the brain-rattlingly wrong, with a minimum of prose. Stephen King has written "whenever possibly, I try to terrify---but when I can't terrify, I go for the gross-out." James never had to settle for the gross-out, for his writing never fails to terrify.

Campbell opens up with a puzzlingly brief introduction, which is terse but tastily creepy and appropriately sets the mood. "The Familiar", the first tale in the collection, is a rare piece by J. Sheridan LeFanu, but a few spooky bits aside was too dry to get my blood flowing. F. Marion Crawford's "The Upper Berth" is a rousing tale of spectral nastiness, but it really isn't very Jamesian, has been anthologized a million times, and you've probably read it by now. "Let Loose", "Death Mask", "The Red House", and "The Moon Gazer" are grindingly dull, and "Thurnley Abbey", while fleetingly spooky, is the ghost-tale equivalent of going out for Japanese food: 15 minutes later and you'll be hungry again.

But there are supple, scary treasures here. "Petey", by the inimitable T.E.D. Klein, is intensely Jamesian and frankly terrifying, and will have you making sure the curtains are pulled tight. Sabine Baring-Gould's "Glamr" is only scantly Jamesian, and yet is, in my opinion, not Jamesian at all, but I confess a weakness for terror tales from the Scandinavian mountains, and besides---once you read it you'll understand---as bad a troll as the awful Glamr is, how much more nasty is the unnamed dead thing that killed him out in the frozen wastes beneath the mountain?

The two best tales in "Meddling" are worth the price of admission alone: Campbell apprentice Terry Lamsley's "Two Returns" accomplished the twofold task of freezing my blood cold (his story is a masterwork of icy grue) and introducing me to his work, and Campbell's own "The Guide", omitted from his larger collection "Alone with the Horrors", is archetypically Jamesian, and centers on the all-too-curious author himself and---well, an *admirer*.

Campbell finishes off the collection with Rose Pardoe's scrupulously detailed bibliography of ghost-tale writers who have incorporated Jamesian elements, all tasty stuff to be sure and thoroughly researched.

So if you're still wrestling with yourself as to whether you should buy it, wrestle no further and give in. Settle in beneath the covers, turn down the lamp, listen to the wind howl and the tree branches fumble and claw at your bedroom window, and settle in to "Petey" or "The Guide". What's a few pence compared to a night of pleasant terror, anyway? You'll be glad you meddled.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Indispensable for those who love ghost stories 15 Jan 2004
By A Customer - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book is well worth the purchase price, both for the first-rate stories it contains and for the extensive, annotated bibliography it includes. The stories give a comprehensive overview of the "Jamesian" ghost story, and Campbell's brief notes before each are interesting and will be helpful to those who wish to read more by the authors. The bibliography that concludes "Meddling With Ghosts" would justify the book's purchase all by itself: it includes enough authors (many not well-known), and enough explanatory notes about the works of each, to keep the ghost story aficianado busy for years. Not a book for those whose main interest is explicit, gory horror, but anyone who enjoys classic ghost stories whose terror is more subtle and disturbing will love this book and return to it again and again.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A spiritually transcendent literary journey 11 Nov 2002
By Midwest Book Review - Published on
Knowledgeably compiled and ably edited by Ramsey Campbell, Meddling With Ghosts is an outstanding anthology of memorable short stories by a variety of talented authors, all of whom deliberately offer sumptuous and bone-chilling tales of supernatural horror in the literary tradition of M. R. James. From J. Sheridan Le Fanu's "The Familiar" (1872) to Terry Lamsley's "Two Returns" (1993), this compendium of spooky tales set in bygone decades ranges from the 1870's to the 1990's and make Meddling With Ghosts a spiritually transcendent literary journey through time as well as through the occult planes of the mind-chilling, spine-tingling unknown.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 16 stories in the tradition of M. R. James 27 Jan 2007
By E. A. Lovitt - Published on
The sixteen stories in this collection easily satisfy the criterion, "stories in the tradition of M. R. James (MRJ)" and who should know this better than the writer who selected and introduced them, Ramsey Campbell? Some of the stories such as "The Upper Berth" (1886) by F. Marion Crawford can be found in other anthologies, but others were completely new to me, e.g. "Petey" (1979) by T. E. D. Klein. Campbell also includes one of his own best stories, "The Guide" (1989) that actually uses a book by MRJ as a plot device.

This book also contains a bibliography of "writers in the M. R. James tradition" compiled by notable Jamesian scholar and editor of the journal "Ghosts & Scholars," Rosemary Pardoe.

These are the stories in "Meddling with Ghosts":

"The Familiar" (1872) by J. Sheridan Le Fanu--This Irish author was MRJ's favorite source of ghost stories. Sir James Barton returns to Dublin after a distinguished career in the navy and is pursued by a ghastly apparition that calls itself `the Watcher.'

"The Upper Berth" (1886) by Marion F. Crawford--A transatlantic voyager is disappointed to learn that he will have to share his cramped state-room with another passenger. Then on the first night of the crossing, his room-mate runs topside and throws himself into the ocean. This is the fourth time an inhabitant of that particular state-room has flung himself overboard. Furthermore, it seems as though one of the drowned men is trying to climb back inside through the state-room's porthole.

"Let Loose" (1890) by Mary Cholmondeley--A vampire is unwittingly let loose on a Yorkshire village where a young architect has come to study an old church fresco.

"An Antiquary's Ghost Story" (1896) by Augustus Jessopp--Conventional story of a man who sees a ghost in his friend's library.

"Glámr (1904) by Sabine Baring-Gould--The retelling of an episode from an Icelandic saga in which a hero battles with the undead. Gruesome surprise at story's end.

"Thurnley Abbey" (1908) by Perceval Landon--The new owners of Thurnley Abbey invite one of their friends to stay overnight, without telling him that he will be sleeping in the haunted bedroom. Believing the creature that appears at his bedfoot to be a hoax, the angry guest tears it apart bone by bone.

"The Red House" (1919) by T. G. Jackson--During the reign of George III, a young man turns to robbery on the King's highway to support his dissolute lifestyle. A friend of his uncle recognizes him and tries to reform young man.

"The Death Mask" (1920) by Mrs. H. D. Everett--A widower tries to remarry, but the death mask of his first wife keeps insinuating itself between himself and his fiancée.

"The Moon-Gazer" (1920) by D.N.J.--The dreams and temptations of a Cambridge University mathematician who is seduced by pagan magic. Lots of curious Latin formulae.

"Smoke Ghost" (1941) by Fritz Leiber--And now for something completely different. A ghost "with the soot of factories on its face and the pounding of machinery in its soul."

"The Mine" (1948) by L. T. C. Rolt--A disused lead mine called "Hell's Mouth" is the grim setting of this story of vanished miners, and a thing that came up out of the mine on top of the miners' cage elevator.

"The White Sack" by A. N. L. Munby--Some great horror stories are narrated by Alpinists and rock climbers. This one takes place on the island of Skye, where a young man is separated from his more experienced companion, then trapped by a sudden fog.

"Petey" (1979) by T. E. D. Klein--A house-warming party gone bad. Lots of creepy foreshadowing in this long story as we learn how the new owner came by his house in the woods. The climax is signaled, but still horrible.

"Echoes from the Abbey (1987) by Sheila Hodgson--This story began as a radio play, written as though M. R. James were the narrator. Our favorite antiquarian visits an acquaintance, who is headmaster of the failing Medborough Academy For Young Gentlemen, near the ruins of Medborough Abbey. One of the students who is staying with the headmaster over the Christmas holidays keeps seeing the ghost of a monk.

"The Guide" (1989) by Ramsey Campbell--Old Mr. Kew is on holiday with his children and grand-children but is made to feel like a nuisance. He buys a guide-book of the area and decides to visit a deserted Norfolk church by himself--one that supposedly had suggested a ghost story to M. R. James..."'James nearly saw, but he didn't believe,' said the figure by the altar, and stepped into the light that seeped through a pinched grimy window. 'But you will,' it said out of the hole that was most of its face."

"Two Returns" (1993) by Terry Lamsley--An old man out Christmas shopping is followed home from the railway station by a shadowy figure in a cape. He returns to his Victorian-era apartment, only to find the cape hanging on his coat peg.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Big on literary history, small on horror 18 Oct 2002
By Glenn McDorman - Published on
Campbell's collection is unique. He attempts to -- and does -- capture the the aura of M.R. James' horror work. He has collected pieces from before James, contemporary to James, and since James. Most of them are entertaining and well-written, but they do inspire terror in the reader. If you are looking for a collection of quaint ghost stories, you have found it. If you are looking for horror, look elsewhere.
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