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43 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An infernal collection
It's surprising how many of these 30 short stories of ghosts, demons and other infernal trouble-makers seem familiar. I recognised over a dozen of them. "Casting the Runes" was the biggest surprise. It's just 18 pages long and easily recognisable as the original story that one of my favourite films from childhood (which I've been trying to get hold of on DVD for ages -...
Published on 15 Feb 2007 by T. Bobley

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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Kindle edition frustrating
The stories have the same appeal as they did when my father read them to me as bedtime stories from an old hardback copy in the late '60s, and brought back the images (particularly the boy & girl on the gravel) which had lain dormant in my head all these years.
The bad bits: 1) my Kindle edition doesn't have a table of contents, nor, so far as I've been able to...
Published on 12 Aug 2012 by Curmudgeon


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43 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An infernal collection, 15 Feb 2007
It's surprising how many of these 30 short stories of ghosts, demons and other infernal trouble-makers seem familiar. I recognised over a dozen of them. "Casting the Runes" was the biggest surprise. It's just 18 pages long and easily recognisable as the original story that one of my favourite films from childhood (which I've been trying to get hold of on DVD for ages - my old video copy of it having worn out) is based upon. The film is called "Night of the Demon" (1957). Several of these stories have been read on BBC Radio 4 and BBC Digital Radio 7 recently and others have been made into films for television. The film of "A View from a Hill" (a mere 7 pages long in this book) was shown on one of the BBC channels only a week or so ago. The films are all excellent, but they can't improve on James's writing. It's hard to put a finger on what is so terrifying about his spooks. Some of them crawl. Anyone opening a door or turning on a light and seeing some strange, cadaverous looking thing crawling down a corridor towards them should certainly scream or faint. Some are hairy with long finger nails. After living through the hairy 60s and 70s, hair holds no fear for me - but those finger nails are a different matter. Some are more along the lines of animated skeletons held together by scraps of mouldering flesh and others are toad-like. I wonder James didn't give himself nightmares -- perhaps he did. You really need to give your imagination free-rein to properly experience the delightful tingle of fear M R James was hoping to generate for his audience. These tales are almost entirely goreless. Readers who prefer the blood and guts sort of horror probably won't enjoy this book. There are no rabid psychos leaping about with veins and gizzards dripping from their teeth. This collection is far more subtle and interesting than that.
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36 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Leave your preconceptions at the door, 23 Nov 2004
By A Customer
Mr James was born in 1862. He was the son of a clergyman. He became a biblical scholar and vice-chancellor of Cambridge University. So you might expect from his life and his writing style that his stories are sedate things that the Victorian reader could read without too much upset. They would be free of troubling undertones, macabre inages, they would be comforting.
You'd be dreadfully wrong. The first story in this collection is Lost Hearts, a brutal and twisted story of scholarly detatchment, unethical experiments and gory murder. Going through the book we discover other classics showing just how physically and mentally violent James' imagination could be. There's the desperate attempt to shake the curse in Casting the Runes, the deadening claustrophobia of The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral, and the final story, Wailing Well, stuns the reader by beginning as a comedy and ending so blackly that few Hollywood horror films, shall we say, would dare to film it as written.
This is not sedate. It has an undeniable power that lingers after the book has been shut. I would actually put it above Lovecraft. There are weak points, it must be said; several times stories don't seem to get going before they end, creating a sense of anticlimax. But this does not detract from the achievements made in the other stories, and it's not going to stop me giving the collection five stars.
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Spooky Stuff, 10 Mar 2005
By A Customer
Having seen the short season of MR James classics on television at Christmas, I decided to keep the tradition of ghostly readings on Christmas Eve, I decided to buy this book and was not dissapointed,scared more likely.
It has to be said that out of the 30 or stories that are included, I was left a trifle dissapointed with perhaps about ten, but overall the content of the other stories were chilling and disturbing.
Reading these short tales whilst alone with just the sound of a ticking clock really takes you back to the time when most of the stories are told (1850's). Three stand out tales are 'Two Hearts,Whistle and I'll come to you and the atmospheric A Warning to the curious' are not for the faint hearted. In summary, I would decribe most of these stories as 'chilling classics from a bygone age' Enjoy
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A taste for Victorian Gothic, 26 Dec 2012
By 
Christopher H (Keilor, Australia) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Ghost Stories of M R James (Wordsworth Mystery & Supernatural) (Tales of Mystery & the Supernatural) (Paperback)
Readers will understandably be divided on these stories: some will prefer the tight early pieces, others the wordier later ones. The reason is that they were written over a lifetime, and thereby chart the writer's growing abilities in the craft of writing, and his changing outlook.

The narrator of most stories is an antiquarian bachelor employed in academia or the church, which gives them a sense of social insularity. A number of James's tales are heavily immersed in the culture of Anglicanism in the late 19th century, assuming that the reader understands what disputes were current within the church. This can pose a problem for current readers. For example, the splendidly crafted "An Episode in Cathedral History" relies on a knowledge of the Gothic revival that swept through the Church of England in the mid-19th century, as well as the frictions between Evangelical and Anglo-Catholic churchmen.

Also James was clearly a fan of Anthony Trollope, whose "Barchester Chronicles" novels (eg. Barchester Towers) have left an impression on some of the later stories with their colourful casts of eccentric clergymen and cathedral staff. One odd tale is actually titled "The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral". There are extremely convincing and well rendered portrayals of character types that hold up so well against Trollope, Charles Dickens and George Gissing - this is good writing.

Having said that, as stories of ghosts and supernatural events go there are some real gems in this volume: including "The Mezzotint", "The Ash Tree", "Whistle and I'll Come to You Lad", "The Treasure of Abbott Thomas", "The Haunted Doll's House'", "An Uncommon Prayer Book" and the gruesome "A View from a Hill".
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Invitation to the Curious..., 26 Jan 2007
By 
Eugene Onegin (Lincoln England) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)    (VINE VOICE)   
Ruth Rendell once remarked that she wished she had never read M.R. James so that she might have the pleasure of reading him for the first time, and I for one understand exactly what she meant. If you have not yet come across his work either in a complete edition or in anthologies then indeed a treat awaits you. The secret of James success lies not in the portrayal of apparitions but in the consequences of an invasion of the supernatural into the cosy, cloistered academic worlds of his dons and squires who exist very happily in their erudite comfort until that moment when their neat assumptions about the world are shattered by the appearance of the irrational. Although James can create monsters as shocking as anyone, they are always implicit rather than explicit, glimpsed for a fleeting moment as much in the brain as in the eye, the consequences of their presence far more powerful than the manifestation itself. The effect of two different dimensions colliding is all the more powerful here for James was steeped in the ideas and traditions of a nineteenth century scholar's world, and spent his whole life in the kind of parsonages, churches and collegiate institutions that provide the atmospheric setting for so many of these stories. Then there is the writer's flair for evoking character in a few short lines and the humour which emerges from a pen that might seem altogether too weighty to indulge in such levity. Everyone has their own favourite M.R James stories: for excitement my pick would be Casting the Runes, others argue the merits of A Warning to the Curious or Lost Hearts but then again I have a soft spot for An Episode of Cathedral History, as it is the epitome of the virtues listed above. Television has made a number of creditable attempts to adapt these stories but nothing beats the original texts. A pleasure not to be missed.
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20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars SPIFFING!, 8 Sep 2002
By 
DAVID BRYSON (Glossop Derbyshire England) - See all my reviews
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I wonder whether Mr John Major (remember him?) has read these stories. They are the English of the English (more than you could say for him I guess) and evoke the sort of idealised tranquil Albion that I suppose he was harking after when he tried to present a vision of spinsters cycling through the eventide and so forth. If he has I trust he found them not unsplendid, as I do. I myself am Scottish although I have lived most of my life in England, and I like to think that the peculiar sense of Englishness that I get from M R James is one that a semi-foreigner can feel with special force.
The mises-en-scene are cathedrals, canal boats, rural railways etc. It is partly these warm reassuring backgrounds that give the special thrill to James's glimpses of things old and sinister lurking in odd corners of the placid landscape. He never lays the effects on with a trowel as Lovecraft keeps doing, and to judge by other reviews I have read he is found all the more effective for that. I doubt that Lovecraft ever scared anyone, but for me James's Count Magnus is a candidate for the most flesh-creeping story I know, and when I told the story of Number 13 to my son aged c 7 or 8 at his own request and believing it to be innocuous, he forbade me for years even to mention it again. James's skill does not even depend on the degree of horror in the story. Count Magnus is horrific in the extreme, but what is probably James's best-known story? I would guess Whistle and I'll Come to You, where the story itself suggests that the apparition is one that only frightens not harms, and it frightens not a bit less for that. A lot of the trick is in introducing paganism into an ostentatiously C of E context, all archdeacons and vergers, and An Episode in Cathedral History is one of the best.
Get an edition that is absolutely complete. Some of the stories, like A Neighbour's Landmark, read like ideas for stories rather than the final article, but the magic is there already and there are too few of them in total for anthologising to be sensible.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Rational and the Uncanny, 21 Jan 2010
By 
J C E Hitchcock (Tunbridge Wells, Kent, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Ghost Stories of M R James (Wordsworth Mystery & Supernatural) (Tales of Mystery & the Supernatural) (Paperback)
Montague Rhodes James (1862 -1936) was in his lifetime a noted mediaeval historian and biblical scholar who became Provost of King's College, Cambridge and Headmaster of Eton College, but outside the academic community he is best remembered nowadays as perhaps the most celebrated author of ghost stories in the English language.

It has been said that the classic Jamesian tale generally includes three key elements, namely an atmospheric setting, often in a historic town or remote part of the countryside, a gentleman-scholar as protagonist and the discovery of an antiquarian object that acts as the focus for supernatural forces. Not all the tales follow this pattern- a collection of over thirty stories, every single one of which is constructed according to the same formula, would be very tedious to read. Nevertheless, some of James' best-known stories do indeed include all three of these elements; "Oh Whistle and I'll Come to You, My Lad", famously filmed for the BBC by Jonathan Miller in the sixties, is a good example. The protagonist, a Cambridge academic named Parkins, is that familiar figure from ghost stories, the sceptic who is forced to rethink his scepticism. During a golfing holiday on the Suffolk coast Parkins, a scientific rationalist, finds an old whistle while exploring a ruined church. Back in his hotel room he blows it, only to find that he has conjured up a malevolent spirit.

Several of the other stories follow this pattern, with variations. "A Warning to the Curious" is also set in Suffolk, the county where James lived from the age of three, although he was actually born in Kent. In this case the object is one of three ancient crowns, buried along the coast of East Anglia in order to ward off invasion, which is dug up by a young amateur archaeologist who subsequently finds that he too has inadvertently released dark forces. Whereas Parkins escapes with nothing worse than a bad fright, the young man pays for his curiosity with his life. In "A View from a Hill", set in Herefordshire, the object in question is a surprisingly modern invention, a pair of binoculars made by a local eccentric with a reputation for dabbling in witchcraft. When the hero uses them, he finds that they have the power to show him scenes from the past, although they mysteriously lose their power when he takes them into a church. "Number 13", set in the Danish town of Viborg, deals not with an object but a haunted hotel room which mysteriously appears and disappears.

Parkins and the young man in "A Warning to the Curious" are guilty of no more than curiosity or intellectual pride. Another group of stories, however, deal with the retribution which overtakes those who are guilty of more serious crimes. These stories are often set in the past and also often feature a scholarly academic whose researches uncover some dark secret. Thus in "His Neighbour's Landmark" a historian comes across a reference in an old pamphlet to "that which walks in Betton Wood", and his attempts to decipher the meaning of these words lead him to a legend- or more than a legend- of a former Lady of the Manor condemned to walk the Earth for her dishonesty in her lifetime. In "The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral" (a name James borrowed from Trollope) an ambitious clergyman is punished for having engineered the death of his elderly predecessor as Archdeacon in order to inherit the position. In "The Haunted Dolls' House" a bloody murder from the eighteenth century is re-enacted nightly in the dolls' house of the title, a model of the house in which the murder took place. (James wrote this story for the library of Queen Mary's Dolls' House; it is a variation on an earlier, similar tale, "The Mezzotint").

One reviewer complains that these tales are "decidedly not scary". That all depends upon what frightens you, and possibly also upon whether or not you believe in ghosts. James himself, in fact, never said directly whether he so believed; all he said was that "I am prepared to consider evidence and to accept it if it satisfies me". My views on the subject are similar to James', with the added proviso that I have never yet come across any evidence which has satisfied me as to the existence of ghosts. I did not, therefore, set out to read these stories in the expectation that I would be terrified by them; it is difficult to be terrified by something which may have no existence outside the realms of legend and folklore.

Moreover, one or two of the stories are quite genuinely frightening, especially "Lost Hearts", in which a necromancer murders two children in order to absorb their life-energy only to meet an equally grisly fate himself. Ghosts may be no more than legend; people prepared to commit murder out of superstition or fanaticism are undoubtedly real.

In reading these stories I was prepared to suspend my disbelief in ghosts, or to be more accurate my scepticism about them, as I have never come to an absolute conclusion that they do not exist. Anyone prepared to read them in the same spirit will find much to reward him or her. Certainly, there are weaknesses in this volume. I would agree that James' working class characters, who tend to be ignorant, garrulous and to speak a faux-Cockney dialect regardless of their geographical origins are far from convincing. Similarly, he seemed unable to create convincing female characters; the atmosphere of his tales is heavily masculine, which is not surprising given that he was a confirmed bachelor who spent most of his life in all-male educational establishments. Some of the stories, such as "A School Story", seem underdeveloped, and some such as "The Diary of Mr Poynter", with its supernatural fabric design, are downright weird even by the conventions of the ghost story.

At his best, however, James is a superbly atmospheric writer. He began writing ghost stories during the Edwardian era, and they are both of that era and yet also subversive of its values of order, reason and certainty. The balanced, ordered world of his erudite gentleman-scholars is undermined by the irruption into it of inexplicable and uncontrollable forces. Many of the stories do not contain a detailed rationale of these phenomena, and this ambiguity and lack of explanation only serve to increase their power. It is this contrast between the rational and the uncanny, between the familiar and the unknown, which gives James' writings their peculiar, unsettling, haunting atmosphere.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Just Don't Whistle, 17 Dec 1998
By A Customer
The fifty years before the Second World War were the golden age of the ghost story and MR James is the master. His superbly crafted tales are heavy with foreboding and peopled by unimaginable horrors imaginatively described and evocative of a bygone pastoral era. Many great ghost stories were penned before and after his anthologies appeared but for unalloyed spookiness the mild mannered scholar has never been bettered. This collection is all his macabre tales for less than pound, an essential buy for discerning readers.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sleeping with the lights on, 15 Aug 2001
By A Customer
M R James is far and away the greatest exponent of the supernatural tale I have ever come across. 20th century with a whiff of the Victorian, his urbane style makes the moments of pure horror even more effective. His tales, redolent of gothic pre-war England, generally hinge on the respectable,unsuspecting but slightly too curious unleashing primal, supernatural horrors. Amongst this stunning collection is 'Casting The Runes,' filmed in the fifties as 'Night of The Demon' and many of the stories were filmed by the BBC in the seventies. Christmas Eve tales to keep you up past bedtime!!
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The defintive horror, 9 Sep 2006
By 
J. Cooke "Morbid read" (London) - See all my reviews
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Modern tales of the supernatural contain inane levels of gore and attempt to terrify simply through excess blood etc. One reviewer compares one such author, Stephen King, to James, implying the Hollywood style King illicits more fear and excitement than the old scholar. But it is the very lack of obvious graphic blood letting that makes James infinitely superior. The subtlety is in the long, expertly crafted plots that build up to make James' final revelations all the more disturbing. His actual descriptions of supernatural beings are every bit as terrifying as any King invention and he has perfected the art of implying far more than he states. Sadly many of today's readers don't have the patience for James' intricate tales and need more instant gratification - it is however well worth the wait. James' is the darkest imagination in fiction, i would have been afraid even to pen such thoughts.
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