Tag Archives: M.R. James

More Than A Shadow for Christmas

A Warning to the Curious, A Ghost Story for Christmas  by M.R. James (1925)

December’s Short Story,  Tuesday, December 14, 2021

M.R. James  (Montague Rhodes James) is the master of British ghost stories. Five stars all the way.  No arguments. He is known as the originator of the “antiquarian ghost story.”

This story was written to be read aloud on Christmas Eve, like many of James’s stories were at the time. I love his style of writing because he often brings up the mysterious in a way that leaves you chilled to the bone with his supernatural manifestations. In his A Warning to the Curious,  A Christmas Story we have a multiple layered narrative that is creepy and unsettling— storytelling so smooth, you’ll be unable to stop reading. His skills in drawing in the reader by implication and suggestion of the malevolent  supernatural reach far deeper into the imagination than explicit horror narratives. He does write exquisitely in  “quiet horror,” which is my genre!

The setting is the wind-beaten coastal town of Seaburgh. Heaths, fir woods, a gorse, church tower, white windmills and cottages of bright red brick.  Quaint, yes, but buried here is an Anglo-Saxon crown (one of three holy crowns of East Anglia). An antiquary archeologist, Paxton (A James’ classic gentleman protagonist), is vacationing at the village inn and discovers where this crown is buried in “a mound in the woods” of Seaburgh . Dare he dig it up? He does, of course he does. And soon after Paxton begins to notice a “dim presence” following him … and waiting for him in secret places.

The theme is obviously curiosity but with tones of the attraction to fear. And as ghost story readers that we all are, attractions to fear are always at the core.


You can read it below, listen to the audio, or watch the 1972 film, which is vintage horror.

Read the full short story (35-minute read) at Gutenberg Australia


Listen to the audio on YouTube.com:


Watch the 1972 film broadcast by the BBC:



James’s ghost stories were published in a series of collections: Ghost Stories of an Antiquary (1904), More Ghost Stories of an Antiquary (1911), A Thin Ghost and Others (1919), and A Warning to the Curious and Other Ghost Stories (1925).

In the anthology Ghosts and Marvels, James is quoted: “Two ingredients most valuable in the concocting of a ghost story are, to me, the atmosphere and the nicely managed crescendo. … Let us, then, be introduced to the actors in a placid way; let us see them going about their ordinary business, undisturbed by forebodings, pleased with their surroundings; and into this calm environment let the ominous thing put out its head, unobtrusively at first, and then more insistently, until it holds the stage.”


As an extra treat, you might want to try BRIT BOX from your cable stations. They are showing MR James’ A Ghost Story for Christmas collection (available from 20th December 2021).

Based on the works of MR James’ chilling short stories, this collection of BBC produced adaptations of ghost stories is an extra special Christmas treat. These adaptations, which have a subtlety and style all of their own, have been a major influence on many contemporary British horror filmmakers and have come to be some of the most sought after British TV titles of all time by their legions of eager fans.

BBC’s classic M.R. James ghost stories coming to BritBox this Christmas



Don’t forget to view the INDEX OF AUTHORS’ TALES above of more free reading at Reading Fiction Blog. This is a compendium of over 200 short stories by more than 100 famous storytellers of mystery, suspense, supernatural, ghost stories, crime, sci-fi, romance, ‘quiet horror,’ and mainstream fiction.

 Follow or sign up to join me in reading one short story every month. 

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 Other Reading Web Sites to Visit

Kirkus Mystery & Thrillers Reviews

Books & Such    Bibliophilica   NewYorkerFictionOnline

      Monster Librarian     

For Authors/Writers:  The Writer Unboxed

Literature Blog Directory   

Blog Collection

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Discover Author of the Week posted on Mondays!


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A Thin Ghost from M.R. James

Rats  by M.R. James (1919)

Tuesday’s Tale of Mystery    January 2, 2018

Literary horror often has a subtleness. It has the capacity to frighten but not be blunt or horrific. Feelings of dread, creepy moments, the unsettling air, an indistinguishable entity that can make you shudder are the fictional worlds that writer M.R. James is masterful—creating fear from images and language at its very best.  As a writer and a reader, I am partial to “quiet horror” so Monty James is one of my favorite go-to authors when I’m looking for a solid ghost story.

In our story Rats, Mr. Thomson is visiting Suffolk and staying at the local Inn. On his daily walks, he finds a strange ‘square block of white stone’ on the heath, Thetford Heath to be exact. And inside the Inn, across the hall from his room is a locked room, which he decides he must enter and explore.  In the room is an iron bed … and something moving under the covers.




Watch the trailer here for the short film, directed by Stephen Gray and starring Craig Malpass at YouTube.com :







Watch the film Rats (20 minutes) by The Horror Vault:


Read the short story (20-minute read) at Thin-ghost.org:


Listen to the audio read by Jarvis Cockers on YouTube.com :



For more ghost stories by M.R. James, visit  http://www.thin-ghost.org/

Don’t forget to view the INDEX above of more free reading. This is a compendium of over 200 short stories by more than 100 famous storytellers of mystery, supernatural, ghost stories,  suspense, crime, sci-fi, and ‘quiet horror.’ Follow or sign up to join me in reading two short stories every month. Comments are welcome.


Other Reading Web Sites to Visit

Kirkus Mystery & Thrillers Reviews

Books & Such    Bibliophilica   NewYorkerFictionOnline

 Lovecraft Ezine   Parlor of Horror

HorrorNews.net   Fangoria.com   

Slattery’s Art of Horror Magazine   Chuck Windig’s Terrible Minds

HorrorAddicts.net     Horror Novel Reviews    HorrorSociety.com     

Monster Librarian      HorrorTalk.com 

 Rob Around Books      The Story Reading Ape Blog

For Authors/Writers:  The Writer Unboxed


Filed under classic horror stories, fiction, ghost stories, ghost story blogs, Gothic fiction, horror, horror blogs, literary horror, pulp fiction, quiet horror, Reading Fiction, READING FICTION BLOG Paula Cappa, short stories, short story blogs, soft horror, supernatural fiction, tales of terror

A Ghost Story for Christmas: M.R. James

The Tractate Middoth   by M.R. James (1911)

Tuesday’s Tale of Terror   December 16, 2014



Shadows, cobwebs, spiders. If ghosts have any presence in our world, these images will conjure up a few shivers. Every Christmas Monty James, as his fans know him (Montague Rhodes James), presented a new ghost story for the holiday at King’s College in Cambridge. James is probably the master of craft when it comes to ghost stories. He beguiled his readers with his scholarly expertise of medieval manuscripts and his clear understanding of fear.

images-1Antiquarian libraries are always mysterious and this story opens with Mr. John Eldred—who wears Piccadilly whiskers—inquiring in a library for a book titled The Tractate Middoth (The Talumud). Our main character is Mr. Garrett, an assistant librarian, who attempts to locate this book for Eldred. Garrett is a book lover and in his search for this book labeled 11334 (note the number) he encounters a frightening experience. So frightening that it causes him to become ill. But that doesn’t stop Garrett.




Noticing an odd smell of dust in the library stacks, Garrett does not find the book at first but he does find something else among the stacks: “ … His hat was on the table, and he had a bald head. I waited a second or two looking at him rather particularly. I tell you, he had a very nasty bald head. It looked to me dry, and it looked dusty, and the streaks of hair across it were much less like hair than cobwebs…”




A death, a will, a puzzle, family greed, a ghost, and a little romance for Mr. Garrett, this tale is perfect for a Christmas ghost story.

Read The Tractate Middoth it at Ebooks.Agelaide.edu.

Listen to the Librivox recording (scroll down to The Tractate Middoth)







Watch the BBC adaptation of The Tractate Middoth on Youtube, produced by Mark Gatiss.  This 36-minute film is well done!

Listen to A Podcast to the Curious, 2-hour discussion (with excerpts) of The Tractate Middoth (scroll down to stream button).


Other Reading Web Sites to Visit

Bibliophilica       Lovecraft Ezine     HorrorAddicts.net  

Horror Novel Reviews    Hell Horror    HorrorPalace

HorrorSociety.com       Sirens Call Publications

 Monster Librarian  Tales to Terrify       Spooky Reads

 Rob Around Books    The Story Reading Ape Blog

For Authors/Writers:  The Writer Unboxed

Don’t forget to view the INDEX above of more free Tales of Terror classic Authors.


Filed under Christmas ghost stories, fiction, ghost stories, horror, horror blogs, short stories, supernatural, tales of terror

Keep the Ghosts Off

 Oh, Whistle, And I’ll Come to You, My Lad  by M.R. James  (1904)

Tuesday’s Tale of Terror   November 12, 2014

If you’ve never read M.R. James’ Oh, Whistle, And I’ll come to You, My Lad you will find this to have all the classic elements of a good old-fashioned supernatural tale. If you’ve ever lay in your childhood darkened bed and shivered at the thought of some spook lurking about, this story will recall that heart-pounding fear and dread. M.R. James was a master of ghost stories and Oh, Whistle is thought to be one of his finest and most popular.


Do you really believe in ghosts? Do you believe that the human dead might retain their nature, their very essence in this world? If your answer is no, you might like Professor Parkins, a precise young man, scrupulously honest and polite, and a Professor of Ontograpy at St. James College, who does not believe in ghosts. Parkin’s scholarly pride prevails here: Ontograpy is the study of the nature and essence of things, specifically that which is concerned with the responses of organic beings to their physical environment.

SeascapeWhistleMRJamesProfessor Parkins takes a holiday to the shore at Burnstow, lodging at the Globe Inn. Desiring solitary walks along the cliffs and beach—and a bit of golf—tea and tobacco and the acquaintance of Colonel Wilson, the professor sets out to stroll by the ruins not far from the inn. These ruins are known to be the preceptory of the Knights of Templars. Parkins comes upon what was likely a church altar, broken mortar and bricks, and something else intrigues him. He digs up a metal tube of considerable age. He is certain of its historic value and pockets the odd piece.

Alone on the cliffs in the approaching night sky, the sea goes dim. Murmurings flow off the churning waves as a bitter wind kicks up. Is that someone behind him? A figure? A wavy figure? He might have imagined a childhood fantasy of a darkened figure with horns and wings. But no. This is just another lonely soul wandering the coastal cliffs. Or is it?

Once back in his room at the Globe Inn, Parkins examines the odd metal piece and concludes that this is an old whistle. He finds an inscription quis est iste qui uenitWho is this who is coming?

Who indeed, Parkins wonders and tests it out, not just once but twice he blows the whistle. What do you think emerges at such a call from a man who does not believe in spirits? And how will he spend the night in his bed, in a restful sleep or …?


Read the short story Oh, Whistle, And I’ll Come to You, My Lad here at Gaslight.

Narrations of James’ stories are a special treat. His stories lend themselves to read-alouds far more than most authors, I think, because they are written so fluently and create an intimacy that is irresistible.

For a full text narration of Oh, Whistle, you can read it here at Tales to Terrify. An excellent production, narrated by Jack Calverley. Sit back, close your eyes and let this narrative take you into the shadowy world of M.R. James.

For an adapted text version, the famous Robert Powell reads a very haunting version of Oh, Whistle from a traditional English study by lamplight and fireside. Very atmospheric if you want to see your reader telling you the story.  Listen to Part One here at YouTube and Part Two at YouTube (total time about 20 minutes)



And, you might like the 1968 film adaptation on YouTube,  by BBC TV directed by Jonathan Miller, staring Michael Hordern and Ambrose Coghill. Not a whole lot of dialogue going on here, but that haunting quiet adds to the spooky mood of the thrashing sea and descending winds, not to mention some fine photography of the eastern English coastline. At the inn, there is an interesting debate between the intellectual Parkins and  the Colonel on the survival of the personality at death. (run time is 42 minutes) Watch it here at YouTube.




Please post if you have other M.R. James’s stories that you would like to recommend. The Ash Tree is one of my favorites and is featured here in January 2012 archives.

Other Reading Web Sites to Visit

Horror Novel Reviews   Hell Horror    HorrorPalace

 Monster Librarian  Tales to Terrify       Spooky Reads

 Lovecraft Ezine      Rob Around Books    The Story Reading Ape Blog

GoodKindles.net      The Gothic Wanderer

For Authors/Writers:  The Writer Unboxed


Filed under classic horror stories, fiction, ghost stories, literature, quiet horror, short stories, tales of terror