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.
Antiquarian 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).
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