Books: Spooks

3 minute read

COLLECTED GHOST STORIES—M. R. James—Longmans ($3).

Since the Witch of Endor, rare are the artists who have raised a proper ghost. Bram Stoker raised one (Dracula]; Algernon Blackwood one (The Wendigo); Walter de la Mare, a few (The Return, On the Edge, TIME, Feb. 23): M. R. James several. Ghost-story addicts will welcome this collection of his four spooky books (Ghost Stories of An Antiquary, Afore Ghost Stories, A Thin Ghost and Others, A Warning to the Curious’).

A scholar, Ghost Man James knows how to link antiquity and horror: many of his spooks are harmlessly buried till a blundering antiquarian stirs them up. If the meddler survives, his invariable rule thereafter is to let sleeping ghosts lie. James sets the scenes of his stories with cunning realism, hearty plausibility; he never needs Bohemia or Walpurgis Night. Imperceptibly the shades thicken; something (it might be a rat) scuffles in a corner; something (it might be the wind) puffs out the curtains; and then—.

A collector for the Cambridge Museum buys an interesting mezzotint of an early 19th Century house. Next time he look’s at it it seems to have changed. And the next time, and the next. . . .

A holidaying professor at the seaside investigates the ruins of a Templars’ preceptory, finds a curious whistle, blows it. Soon he wishes he had not.

A schoolmaster tells his class of 16 to write him a future conditional sentence. Seventeen answers are handed in; the extra one reads: ‘Tf you do not come to me, I shall come to you.”

A gentleman inherits a country estate which contains a fine example of a maze, somewhat overgrown and neglected. He decides to restore it; after a few attempts he roots it up instead.

The Author. Montague Rhodes (“Monty”) James, Provost of Eton (TIME, June 29), famed Old & New Testament scholar (author of The Apocryphal New Testament, Lost Apocrypha of the Old Testament, Old Testament Legends) says his ghost stories are based on neither his own nor others’ experience. They were suggested mostly by reading, by places; once by a dream. If you were to ask him whether he believes in ghosts he would answer: “I am prepared to consider evidence and accept it if it satisfies me.” He thinks he will probably write no more ghost stories. These he made up mostly for his own amusement; one (“A Neighbour’s Landmark”) for an Eton periodical; one (“Wailing Well”) to scare the Eton Boy Scouts as they sat around their campfire.

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