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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Scholarly hauntings put under the microscope, 9 Feb 2009
By 
Gary Clarke "beeclarke2" (Ipswich, England) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Warnings to the Curious: A Sheaf of Criticism on M. R. James (Hippocampus Press Library of Criticism) (Paperback)
This book comprises four parts - `Some Notes on Biography'; `General Studies'; `Some Special Topics'; and `Studies of Individual Tales'.

The first section includes general biographical sketches as well as two fine pieces by Norman Scarfe and Michael Cox, `The Strangeness Present: M.R. James' Suffolk' and `M.R. James and Livermere'. The former explains and pinpoints the Suffolk settings of so many of James' tales and the latter describes the relationship James had with Livermere, the family home for over forty years.

The second section, `General Studies', encompasses general critical essays and picks out the evolution and sources behind the tales themselves. Simon MacCulloch's piece `The Toad in the Study: M.R. James, H.P. Lovecraft & Forbidden Knowledge' is excellent, although a touch heavy going, and raises some pertinent points on the theme of justice and retribution in James' fiction, plus James' troubled dichotomy between the Christian view of his upbringing and his private fascination with magic and the supernatural.

`Some Special Topics', the third part of the volume, includes a nice piece by Ron Weighell that is amusing and enjoyable. He makes some strong links between ancient myths and magic and James' stories but also some very tenuous ones.

Jacqueline Simpson provides one of the most accessible essays in the collection, `The Rules of Folklore in the Ghost Stories of M.R. James' where she states that James had "a particular interest in the development and persistence of local legends and historical memories, a good knowledge of traditional beliefs, and an interest in oral narration". However, she makes it implicit that James was not actually a folklorist and, indeed, that he even ridiculed folklorists in the figure of Mr. Karswell in `Casting the Runes'.

`They've Got Him! In the Trees'! by Steve Duffy is a rather lightweight, and some would say risible, paper that rather strays from its intended path of discussing James' tendency to use woods as having some connection with his ghosts. However, the book soon gets back on track with a study of the scapegoat figure in James' stories and an unusual, but rewarding, piece on the grammar James used in the stories.

The real bonus for James devotes are the specialised essays concentrating on specific tales which comprise the fourth section of the book and detail the construction, development and literary devices James used so successfully. In his essay, Jim Rockhill uses `The Residence at Whitminster' as an example of how James used "a variety of devices and shifting viewpoints to drive his narrative". This essay is particularly insightful analysing as it does the story almost paragraph by paragraph.

Very few critical studies have been written on supernatural fiction because the majority of critics and academics have dismissed it as genre fiction (even though a truly first rate ghost story is incredibly difficult to pull off). In light of this fact this volume should be welcomed by M.R. James fans and general supernatural fiction enthusiasts too.

The writing is generally accessible, although two or three of the essays are overly academic and dense, and the authors each try and back up their points by using a variety of well respected and reliable sources. The book includes a very handy Bibliography for those interested in further reading and an Index for those who want to focus on certain sub topics.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Impressive Collection., 29 Jan 2013
By 
Adrian Drew (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Warnings to the Curious: A Sheaf of Criticism on M. R. James (Hippocampus Press Library of Criticism) (Paperback)
The editors have been justly praised for this major contribution to literary criticism. This superb collection of essays provides many important insights into the work of Britain's finest writer of ghostly fiction. It is a considerable achievement and an essential purchase for both acolytes of this great writer and anyone with a serious interest in literature. I disagree with the previous reviewers thoughts on the "overly academic" nature of some of the reviews. If supernatural fiction is to be treated with the seriousness he feels it deserves how can an article be over academic? Surely it is the intrinsic quality of the writing which matters and the insights it provides however complex, profound or "academic". So congratulations editors on providing such an excellent mix of thought provoking articles - written in many styles and on many "levels"!
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