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Episode 21 – The Story of a Disappearance and an Appearance

Story of a Disappearance and an Appearance image by Alisdair WoodIt’s Christmas Special time again! This year Will & Mike look at the one and only M.R. James story actually set during the festive season, ‘The Story of a Disappearance and an Appearance’.

This episode also features a Christmas Bonus in the form of an interview with film director Stephen Gray whose new adaptation of ‘A Haunted Doll’s House’ is available to watch online for a limited period only, starting Christmas Eve!

Our reader this week was Peter Ross and the accompanying artwork is by Alisdair Wood.

As mentioned in our interview, Stephen would like our listeners help deciding which story to film next! Please state your preference below.
Show notes

The image below shows the King’s Head/Arms inn which features in this story, as it looked in 1885.

The King's Head Inn, Bicester

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17 Comments

  1. A Rat In The Wall says:

    That is quite an impenetrable story, but I’m glad I have this podcast to help me!

    Two Doctors is…well, to be honest, awful. Should be interesting to see what you two make of it.

    And I gotta say, I would absolutely love to see The Willows adapted into a film, it’s perfect. I’ve never heard of Stephen Gray before, but I’m glad I have now – I would very much love see his adaptation of Rats, it’s one of my favourite stories (depsite the lack of any rats at all whatsoever).

  2. Ghughesarch says:

    Another excellent podcast. But Stephen Jones’ messing about with the punctuation in the otherwise excellent new “Curious Warnings” certainly does throw up some very irritating and unneccessary changes to James’ meaning. See the first sentence of the revised “Oh Whistle and I’ll come to you, my lad”, where an inserted full stop makes the remark of “someone not in the story” sound a bit patronising toward Parkins.

    • Will Ross says:

      I believe I read somewhere that Stephen Jones had returned to James’s original manuscripts to inform the punctuation changes he made, so in theory the new versions could be nearer to what James originally intended than the versions we are more familiar with. I say ‘could’, it is hard to know what part James had in the changes made between original manuscript and original publication, which could have been at his suggestion or his editors.
      One thing I do know is that James would not have approved of the omission of James McBryde’s illustrations, which he insisted on in the original publication of ‘Ghost Stories of an Antiquary’!

    • Genus Unknown says:

      Isn’t the whole story patronising toward Parkins?

  3. Genus Unknown says:

    Ah, at long last! I’ve been waiting for this episode ever since the podcast started, just to see if anyone can figure out just what’s going on here. Glad to see it puzzles the guys as much as it did me.

    I figured the puppeteers killed Uncle Henry, and that Uncle Henry came back at the end for his revenge. But the details and motive of the murder were left so murky and vague that I was sure I was missing something. Apparently not.

  4. lachlan says:

    Another fine episode,since the first program the backing music and various ambient sounds have been great and i have at times wondered what certain pieces are.
    The question i want to ask concerns the sounds at the beginnings of both christmas programs (Count Magnus and this one)right after the needle scratches of the records we hear a sort of rhythmical repetitive sound,this sounds to me like the start (after the titles) of Polanski’s “The Fearless Vampire Killers” when the polanski character and Jack macGowran are racing through the snow in a horse drawn sled on a moonlit night..Could i be right? I have wondered about this this the first Christmas show,
    Best Wishes Lachlan

    • Will Ross says:

      Hi Lachlan, apart from a few pieces in the first two episodes when we were just finding out feet, all of the music has been created by me! There is a soundtrack album on the way, I’m just struggling to find time to finish it along side working on stuff for whichever episode is coming next.
      In answer to your question about the christmas sound effect, sorry to disappoint but that is a looped ‘sleigh bells’ sample I found on some public domain sound effect website!

  5. Andrew Slater says:

    I really enjoyed this episode. I had read the story several times struggling get to the bottom of it, and you’ve certainly helped me appreciate it more. I also had no idea it was set in Bicester, which is close to where I live.

    I think this story (Disappearance and an Appearance) would make a great animated short. Any adaptation by necessity involves some rewriting, and this story would benefit from more explanation. The Punch and Judy scenes, especially the dream scene, could be very creepy if done in the style of Jan Svankmajer.

  6. Charlie says:

    A agree that this one is tricky to follow, but always found “Two Doctors” fairly straightforward. Looking forward to you guys doing “An Experiment”; that’s the one I find tough to understand.

  7. Matt says:

    I simply took the Punch and Judy men to be part time robbers and thieves who had happened across wealthy uncle Henry and done him in as part of a robbery! It was after all this period that led to the formation of the Metropolitan police, the first organised police force in the country. The Bow Street Runners and parish constables were not up to the job of protecting people in an increasingly violent period; after the return of battle hardened soldiers at the end of the Napoleonic Wars many of whom turned to robbery and violent crime as a result of a lack of employment for them.

    Further to this, dare I say that some travelling folk in history have plied both a “legitimate” trade of entertainments of some kind coupled with criminality, the ability to move on as part of that trade acting as a useful way of avoiding the local law enforcers such as they were, particularly in the period the story is set in.

    As a side note I do find the dream scenes deliciously dark and malevolent, really bizarre and disturbing.

  8. Yes, it’s a curious one, isn’t it? Not his best in terms of structure, but some of his most extreme moments of creepiness.

    Listening to your podcast I thought of another possible interpretation, which is that rather than having cut Uncle Henry’s throat, possibly Kidman and Gallop had him savaged to death by their dog? After all, the story does make quite a lot of play out of the dog – it’s mentioned as important before we ever see the show, our narrator notices that it’s absent from his dream, it then runs away when the ghost of justice seems about to show up, and as his throat is described as ‘horribly mangled’, that sounds like a maul. Since the story keeps mentioning the dog, maybe it was trained to do more than do tricks in the show…

  9. mark says:

    Derek Jacobi’s audio book of this story really brings the innkeeper to life.

  10. Joyce says:

    One thing that interested me was the ambiguity about how many men fled from the Punch and Judy show-box. W.R. says:

    “The whole show-box fell over backwards; kicking legs were seen among the ruins, and then two figures–as some said; I can only answer for one–were visible running at top speed across the square and disappearing in a lane which leads to the fields.”

    Apparently enough people got the impression of two running figures that it takes a while for everyone to realize where the other performer is when he isn’t in the chalk pit. This left me with the idea that Uncle Henry pursues the running guy into the chalk pit. In some of M.R. James’ other stories the lower classes seem to have more perception of supernatural things, so that could be why W.R. completely misses the suggestion of a second figure pursuing the fleeing man.

    Great podcast! As Mr. Punch would say, “_That’s_ the way to do it!”

  11. This is a creepy one. It helps that I’ve always considered Mister Punch something of an infernal feature, with his curly twisted had and hook nose and curving violent chin, and his “I just did something unspeakable with your dirty laundry” expression. It doesn’t help that there’s a baby-eating crocodile and a cheery cast of pals like the skeleton, the hangman, and Satan himself.
    The puppet show is part of society’s twinkle-eyed endorsement of male violence.

    Plus those puppets are just so effin creepy. ._.

    So yeah, not very far to go in order to make this terrifying and creepy.

    I assumed, motive-wise, that the performance had driven the men “art-crazy” and that they’d become so obsessed with the violent performance that they took to reenacting it with live humans.

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