Collected Ghost Stories by M.R. James – Review
By Sarah Morgan
When it comes to ghost stories, nobody does them better than MR James – he’s a master of the art, and one that current horror writers can learn a lot from.
But does the world really need another collection of his tales? He died in 1936, so it’s not as if he’s produced any new material during the past 81 years. Plus, there are various anthologies featuring James’ work already out there. However, there is something rather special about this offering from Oxford World Classics.
Now, I know you should never judge a book by its cover, but when it’s beautifully cloth bound with an embossed skull and lettering, you can’t help but be impressed. This is simply a delight to behold, never mind delve into!
Over the years I’ve read many of these stories in different volumes, but all of James’ works in this field are here, including three missing from previous tomes – so, for the first time, this is a fully comprehensive collection, which fans should not miss out on.
I decided to read them back-to-back, and discovered to my horror (pun intended) that that wasn’t perhaps the best idea. They become slightly repetitive, and while it’s intriguing to spot themes running throughout, it can get a little tiresome to be confronted with the same kind of (usually hairy) villain.
Still, that doesn’t detract from the book as a whole, and the best of the stories contained within stand out anyway. Casting The Runes is a particular favourite, and was later turned into the seminal horror movie Night Of The Demon, which featured the line, “It’s in the trees, it’s coming!” later sampled in Kate Bush’s song ‘Hounds Of Love’.
Other tales have been adapted for the screen, most notably by the BBC’s A Ghost Story For Christmas, which ran in the 1970s and was briefly resurrected during the 21st century.
If you’re familiar with the likes of A Warning To The Curious and A View From The Hill, as I was, it’s interesting to compare the TV versions with the original tales.
But this new volume doesn’t just feature James’ works – there is also an invaluable insight into his life by editor Darryl Jones, which paints a portrait of a reserved, bookish man that makes the reader wonder where his terrifying visions came from.
What’s more, there is a collection of James’ writings on the subject of ghost stories, which are worth reading for his views on Bram Stoker’s Dracula alone.
This is a must for James fans old and new, particularly completists – just don’t try to read them in one go. And beware any hirsute hands that may come knocking at your windows at night…
‘Collected Ghost Stories’, MR James, £16.99