To me, Dear Reader, Mondays are a horror. They fill me with dread, chill me to the bone, and bring me low with despair. This being said, they inspired me to share with you one of my absolute favorite things in the entire world: Ghost stories. As wonderful as they are, few people did them as well as the Gothic-loving Victorians.
Meet Montague Rhodes James, aka M. R. James, born in 1862; medieval scholar, provost at King’s College, Cambridge and Eton College, and author of some of the scariest ghost stories I have ever read in my life. I mean, make-you-afraid-of-the-dark-as-an-adult-and-freak-out-at-every-little-sound-in-the-house scary.
Despite an impressive body of scholarly work on medieval and Biblical subjects, he’s primarily known for being one of the greatest ghost storytellers that ever lived. Stylistically, he’s credited with redefining ghost-story fundamentals, especially in regards to locating the settings of said tales not necessarily in the romantic and distant past, but rather in more realistic, contemporary settings so they may affect the reader through empathy and recognition of shared states of place, time, and mind. In James’ words, he had to “put the reader into the position of saying to himself: ‘If I’m not careful, something of this kind may happen to me!'” He also championed the works of Sheridan Le Fanu, another Gothic horror novelist favorite of mine who is credited with the further development of the genre in the 19th century. I’ll have a separate post on him later, since he’s the author of the fantastic novel Uncle Silas and Carmilla, a novella about a lesbian vampire that inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Yes, my thoughts exactly. But back to M.R. James.
One story in particular, entitled ‘Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad’ disrupted my sleep patterns for weeks with horrified imaginings of a ghostly figure moving about blindly in one’s bedroom late at night. I have chills thinking about it. If you dare, in addition to the aforementioned tale (available in full at the link, complete with illustrations), check out several of his stories here.
Sweet dreams and Happy Horror Monday.