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Collected Ghost Stories of MR James

MR James cover
I came very late to MR James, especially considering that I read Lovecraft and Poe back in my early teens. Somehow I missed one of the best English writers of ghost stories, but it's made finding James' work so much more enjoyable now. I became aware of his work from a review in a UK roleplaying magazine called 'The Black Seal', which is dedicated to modern-day Lovecraftian material for the Call of Cthulhu RPG. The review was of the BBC TV adaptation of 'Whistle and I'll come for you my Lad', and peaked my interest.

I bought the DVD (which the BFI had issued as part of its classic British Television series) and both Jill and I enjoyed it. This last Christmas, as we were waiting for the baby to arrive, I was fortunate enough to see another more modern adaptation on BBC 4, 'Number 13'. Both stories were extremely good at building a feeling of menace without the gore that you usually see in modern horror material. This made me decide that I had to read more of James' work, so I went into Wetherby and ordered the collection for the princely sum of £1.99! An absolute bargain.

All the stories are well written – although stylistically they are better if you read them out loud in your head as if you were telling them to an audience – and the plots of most are good at building tension and giving a subtle sense of horror. I think I may well recycle one or two into an RPG scenario in the future. The only issue I have with the collection is that the stories are best read (or should that be devoured?) in a single sitting, so it can take a while to work through the book if you're reading it late at night around a small child.

Since I read this, I've also been fortunate enough to watch 'A Warning to the Curious', another BBC adaptation of an MR James story. I whole-heartedly recommend that as well!