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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 27 – There was a man dwelt by a churchyard

'There was a man dwelt by a churchyard' by Les Edwards (copyright Les Edwards)In this episode Mike & Will don their funeral garb and shuffle mournfully into ‘There was a man dwelt by a churchyard‘ by M.R. James.

A big thanks to Robert Lloyd Parry for giving us permission to use readings extracted from his excellent CD ‘Curious Creatures: The Shorter Horror of M.R. James‘, available to purchase from his website nunkie.co.uk!

An equally big thanks go to Les Edwards for giving us permission to use his gorgeous artwork inspired by this very story, just one of the many illustrations Les did for the recent M.R. James collection ‘Curious Warnings: The Great Ghost Stories of M.R. James‘. »

You can buy a print of this painting as well as many others from his website lesedwards.com

Show notes:

  • A Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare (wikipedia)
    This title of this story comes from a line spoken by young Mamillius in Act 1 Scene 2 of Shakespeare’s ‘A Winter’s Tale’. Our audio extract came from the BBC’s lovely Shakespeare Animated Tales version of the play, available to watch on YouTube.
  • Brass rubbings at Oddington, Oxfordshire (White Winds Brass Rubbing)
    In this episode M.R. James refers to an ‘old brass in a church with a figure of a person in a shroud’. While it may not be the exact brass James was thinking of, the shrouded figure at Oddington Church is certainly of a similar kind to the one he refers to.
  • Ghosts & Scholars story notes (Ghosts & Scholars)
    Rosemary Pardoe’s notes on this story throw some very helpful light on some of the more perplexing parts of this story.
  • John Poole, playwright (wikipedia)
    We forgot to mention it in the episode, but it is likely that M.R. Jame’s choise of the name ‘John Poole’ is a nod towards the English playwright John Poole (1786–1872) who was famous for this Shakespeare parodies.
  • “‘I seen it wive at me out of the winder’: The Window as Threshold in M.R. James’s Stories” by Rosemary Pardoe (Ghosts & Scholars Newsletter 4)
    This is the essay Will mentions in this episode which explores how James uses the window as a reoccuring feature of this ghost stories. Sadly the essay is not available to read online.
  • Will-o-the-wisp or corpse lights (wikipedia)
    In this story the smith asks John Poole if he has ever seen any ‘lights’ in the churchyard. Rosemary Pardoe suggests that this is a reference to ‘corpse lights’.
  • Ghosts & Scholars Survey (G&S)
    This story has an unenviable reputation for being voted one of the least popular M.R. James stories with readers of Ghosts & Scholars!
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