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Stories that inspired M.R. James

Twelve tales of terror recommended by the master of the genre!

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Episode 80 – The Sundial by R.H. Malden

Nine Ghosts book coverThis Halloween Mike and Will stroll out into the garden to take a look at The Sundial by R.H. Malden. But who is that lurking in the bushes?

Thanks to Kirsty for providing excellent readings for this episode!

Show notes:

  • Nine Ghosts by R.H. Malden (Project Gutenberg Australia)
    Malden only wrote one volume of ghost stories, and it is available to read in its entirety on the Project Gutenberg Australia website.
  • R.H Malden (Ghosts and Scholars)
    This G&S article by Richard Johnson provides some biographical details about Malden, as well as some commentary on his stories. More biographical information can be found at Wikipedia.
  • Scrinia Reserata (Google Books)
    In the introduction Malden tells us that the manuscript that makes up most of The Sundial was found tucked inside a copy of this book, a biography of Archbishop John Williams.
  • The Rose Garden by M.R. James (Wikisource)
    It is hard to discuss The Sundial without repeatedly coming back to its clear inspiration, The Rose Garden by M.R. James.
  • Why were people who died by suicide historically buried at crossroads? (HistoryExtra.com)
    This brief article explores the history of crossroad burials, as well as touching on the publics changing attitude towards suicide as a result of the death of Lord Castlereagh.
  • Croxton, Cambridgeshire (Google Maps)
    The unnamed author omits the location where The Sundial takes place, but provides enough small details throughout the story to fairly confidently identify Croxton Park in Cambridgeshire as the most likely real-world location. As with the house in the story, Croxton Park is 60 miles north of London, and close to a mainline railway station. The house was built around the same time mentioned in the story, and has the site of a medieval hamlet within its grounds. In the story the house lies between the villages of ‘Abbotsley’ and ‘Farley’. Croxton Park is bordered by Abbotsholme to the south west and Eltisley to the east. See here and here for more details on the history of the house and park, including historical maps.
  • Nightjars (Legendary Dartmoor)
    There are many superstitions concerning Nightjars (or Goatsuckers, as they are sometimes called!). This is likely due to their nocturnal habits and unusual cry.
  • Sundial mottoes (wikipedia)
    Malden doesn’t explain the exact motto that the narrator puts on his sundial, but this list of sundial mottoes will give you a flavour of the sort of thing that adorned ornamental sundials of the period.
  • Spirits of Solomon (Fandom Demopedia wiki)
    At the conclusion of the story Parker, the ex-sergeant of marines and butler, purchases a picture of ‘King Solomon issuing directions to a corvée of demons‘. It is most likely a version of the picture in this article, which also list all 72 of the spirits/demons that King Solomon was said to have commanded!
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Episode 79 – The Seventeenth Hole at Duncaster

PanToday we head to East Anglia for a round of golf in the company of enthusiastic James fan H.R. Wakefield. No whistling ‘ere though – you might just wake up something nasty…

  • Wakefield published seven volumes of ghost stories between 1928 and 1961, but also wrote three detective novels and two non-fiction ‘true crime’ studies.
  • He served in the military and as a private secretary to his father, a bishop, before moving to the publishing industry, where he spent most of his working life and which is reflected in a lot of his stories. He was also a keen sportsman, reflected in his stories which feature a lot of golf!
  • Much of his personal life was opaque until recently, when Barbara Rodin tracked down a living relative. The picture she painted of Wakefield was not entirely endearing. Barbara’s introduction to the Ash Tree Press edition of Old Man’s Beard, Wakefield’s third volume of ghost stories, sets out this more intimate biography (trigger warning for the tormenting of small children and cats).
  • M.R. James wrote that Wakefield’s first volume of ghosts stories, They Return at Evening “gives us a mixed bag, from which I should remove one or two that leave a nasty taste. Among the residue are some admirable pieces, very inventive.”
  • True to this description, many of Wakefield’s ghost stories contain brash and depressing misogyny. This is especially so in those stories written after his first volume and, perhaps as a result, we can’t find any of his collections in print. Ash Tree Press editions of his volumes of ghost stories are however available as ebooks and include Rodin’s honest assessment of his writing.
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Episode 78 – Brother John’s Bequest by Arthur Gray

Arthur Gray - Tedious Brief Tales of Granta and GramayeThis episode Mike and Will travel back to 16th century Cambridge to get acquainted with a rather unsavory guest at Jesus College in ‘Brother John’s Bequest‘ by Arthur Gray. Booze, burials and bell-book-and-candle are the order of the day here, with a side order of spitting. Eww.

Big thanks to Kirsty for providing the excellent readings for this episode!

Notes

  • Arthur Gray (Ghosts & Scholars)
    This excellent Ghosts & Scholars article by Rosemary Pardoe provides biographical information on Arthur Gray, as well as plot synopses for all the stories in ‘Tedious Brief Tales of Granta and Gramarye’. It also contains the poem that we mention in this episode, published in 1911, which speculated about the identity of the then-mysterious ‘Ingulphus’!
  • Ingulf, Benedictine abbot of Crowland (wikipedia)
    The 11th century monk Ingulf (or Ingulphus in Latin) is where Arthur Gray borrowed his pseudonym. Ingulf’s writings were studied extensively by historians but his name became a byword for unreliability when the works were found to be a forgery, written long after his death!
  • Arthur Gray and the Ghost Club (anilbalan.com)
    This blog post discusses Gray’s most famous story The Everlasting Club, mentioning how it quickly came to be part of the lore of Jesus College.
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