Thursday 27 October 2011

Review: MR James Collected Ghost Stories

It was late in the evening when I settled down to read the Collected Ghost Stories of MR James. I was alone in the house and the weather had turned chill, so I shut the curtains against the dark outside my window and took myself to bed to huddle under my quilt and be entertained by some tales of terror.

My book was the new edition of MR James' stories, just published by Oxford University Press. It is a lovely hardback with crisp pages, a soft ribbon bookmark bound into it and a suitably foreboding image on the front cover. This was just the right sort of book to be reading as Halloween approached, I thought.

I like classic horror fiction, but although two of MR James' short stories have been turned into films that I love - Oh, Whistle and I'll Come to You, My Lad and Casting the Runes - I had not read much of his writing.

I was expecting to enjoy the short stories. I was not expecting to actually be scared by them.

Yet, as I read - starting with Canon Alberic's Scrapbook, a tale in which a man suspects there is some hidden demonic creature in his bedroom - I began to feel somewhat ill at ease myself. I began to imagine that I could hear the sound of footsteps in my house, although I knew I was the only living thing in it. With a tingle both of fear and pleasure I realised that this is exactly what a good horror story should do. And I read on, late into the night.

If you haven't read any stories by MR James, I can thoroughly recommend this new volume. Although it is quite easy to buy the edition that originally came out in 1931, this new publication includes all of those stories plus three previously uncollected tales. It also has an introduction that explores James' conservative, donnish background and the character traits that contributed to his powers at ghost story writing; an appendix with the prefaces and introductions to James' individual story collections; and three short articles by James about the ghost story.

As the OUP website says about the book: "Stories that were first read aloud in James' study late on Christmas Eve have the power to haunt us still."

You can buy the book either through Amazonor Oxford University Press.

However, if you want to be in with a chance of winning a copy of Collected Ghost Stories by MR James, published by Oxford University Press, all you have to do is enter this competition and answer this multi-choice question:

What is the title of MR James’ most famous ghost story?

A) Oh, Scream and I’ll Come to You, My Lad
B) Oh, Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad
C) Oh, Text Me and I’ll Come to You, My Lad

Email your answer to me, the Bad Witch, at by the end of the day on Monday, October 31, 2011. There is one prize, which is a copy of MR James' Collected Ghost Stories in hardback.

Please include your name and postal address with your entry so I will know where to send the book.

The competition is open to people who live in the UK or anywhere in Europe. However, if you live in the US, Canada or Australia you aren't eligible to enter.

Links and previous related posts:
Collected Ghost Stories

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