‘He flew out of his chair with deadly, inconceivable terror clutching at his heart. The shape, whose left hand rested on the table, was rising to a standing posture behind his seat, its right hand crooked above his scalp. There was black and tattered drapery about it; the coarse hair covered it as in the drawing. The lower jaw was thin – what can I call it? – shallow like a beast’s; teeth showed behind the black lips; there was no nose; the eyes, of a fiery yellow, against which the pupils showed black and intense, and the exulting hate and thirst to destroy life which shone there, were the most horrifying features in the whole vision.’
M. R. James wrote, arguably, the finest supernatural tales in English literature, and this collection contains the best of them, including ‘Canon Alberic’s Scrapbook’, ‘Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come To You, My Lad’, ‘Lost Hearts’, ‘Casting the Runes’, and ‘Count Magnus’. James was something of an actor and gifted storyteller and read his tales aloud to select gatherings on many a Christmas Eve. His intention, he said, was to implant in his listener the idea that, ‘if I am not careful, something of this kind might happen to me!’
James (1862-1936) was an English medieval scholar and provost of King’s College, Cambridge, and then Eton College. His ghost stories are beautifully crafted, ranging from the insidiously unsettling to the totally terrifying; his characters may catch the slightest movement out of the corner of their eye or hear, in the depths of the night, an indistinct rustling from a neighbouring bed. His professional interest in antiquarianism pervades many stories. He uses everyday contemporary settings like houses, omnibuses, hotels, golf courses, schools, and beaches, making the intrusion of the supernatural that much more unnerving. For Magpie Audio, narrator Greg Wagland relishes the opportunity to raise a goose bump or two.
I really enjoyed Greg Wagland's narrations of E.F. Benson's stories, which led me here. These chilling stories are from James' 1904 book, "Ghost Stories of an Antiquary." Each is in the best British ghost story tradition. However, I also have the complete "Ghost Stories of an Antiquary" read by David Timson and Stephen Critchlow, which is better. If I had to choose, I would give this one a miss. Wagland is a good narrator, but perhaps not the best choice for M.R. James.
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