Stories that inspired M.R. James

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

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Episode 71 – An Antiquary’s Ghost Story by Augustus Jessopp

Augustus JessoppThis episode Mike & Will kick off Season 3 with ‘An Antiquary’s Ghost Story’ by Augustus Jessopp! Scroll down for a full list of the ‘James Gang’ authors we will be covering over the next 15 episodes.

Big thanks to our reader for this episode, Debbie Wedge!


Show notes:


Season 3: The James Gang

Over the next 15 episodes we will be looking at stories from ‘The James Gang’, the group comprising authors which were either personal acquaintances of M.R. James, or whose stories were directly inspired by his work. The authors we are covering are:

  • Augustus Jessop
  • Adrian Ross
  • Arthur Benson
  • Robert Hugh Benson
  • E.F. Benson
  • E.G. Swain
  • Ingulphus (Arthur Gray)
  • H. Russell Wakefield
  • R.H. Malden
  • M.P. Dare
  • Andrew Caldecott
  • L.T.C Rolt
  • A.N.L Munby
  • Christopher Woodforde
  • Noel Boston

Episode 40 – The Experiment

Bishop John MooreThis week Mike and Will attempt some foul necromancy with MR James’ little-known tale ‘The Experiment’.  Ghosts and Scholars described it as “weak and difficult”  story: can your hosts revive it from the dead?

Story notes

  • Rosemary and Daroll Pardoe’s invaluable notes, from Ghosts and Scholars
  • Bishop Moore: a hardcore bibliophile after James’ own heart, his manuscript collection doubled the size of the Cambridge University Library when it was purchased in 1714.
  • Was the murder of the rector of Rockland St Peter on Twelth Night in 1608 one of James’ inspirations for this story?
  • Will and Mike also investigated some spooky goings on at Mill Hill Surgery: do check out the Halloween special of BBC soap Doctors before it disappears from iPlayer.

Episode 30 – A Warning to the Curious – Part 1 of 2

'A Warning to the Curious' by Alisdair WoodThe waiting is over, it’s finally time for Mike & Will to tackle what is arguably M.R. James’s masterpiece – A Warning to the Curious! It’s a biggie, so we will split our coverate of this story over two episodes. Our examination of this story will conclude in episode 31.

To assist them in their task, Mike and Will are joined by Tom Baynham, whose article ‘A Return to Seaburgh’ sheds much light on the real-world locations which feature in this story.

Once again big thanks go out to Alisdair Wood for providing the awesome artwork. You can now purchase a set of eight postcards featuring Alisdair’s great M.R. James illustrations. Snap them up while you can from Alisdair’s online shop.

The excellent readings which accompany this episode were provided by Lewis Davies.

Show notes:

  • Story locations
    In his introduction to ‘Collected Ghost Stories’ M.R. James explained that he based the town of Seaburgh on Aldeburgh in Suffolk. The actual locations featured in this story have been explored in a few articles in Ghosts & Scholars: ‘A Visit to Seaburgh‘ by Darroll Pardoe (G&S 15), ‘Cambridge and Suffolk: A Perambulation of Two Counties’ by Brian J. Showers (G&S Newsletter 14 – not available online) and ‘A Return to Seaburgh’ by Tom Baynham (G&S Newsletter 23 – not available online). See also the White Lion Hotel. To see the locations features in this story on a map, visit Monty’s World, our M.R. James map.
  • Snape Common Anglo-Saxon Cemetary (Wikipedia)
    The idea of buried Anglo-Saxon treasure was probably inspired by the real archeological finds uncovered at nearby Snape Common during the 19th century. The story also mentions the crown found at Rendlesham, a reference to the real crown found at the famous burial mounds at Sutton Hoo, near Rendlesham.
  • ‘”No Thoroughfare” – The problem of Paxton’ by Mike Pincombe (Ghosts & Scholars 32)
    This fascinating article (sadly not available online) explores the implications of a wartime setting for ‘A Warning to the Curious’. For an entirely different take on the character of Paxton, see Pincombe’s very entertaining essay ‘Homosexual Panic and the English Ghost Story‘ (G&S Newsletter 2)!
  • ‘Lay of a Last Survivor- Beowulf, the Great War, and M.R. James’s “A Warning to the Curious” ‘ by Patrick J. Murphy and Fred Porcheddhu (not yet published)
    This article reveals the connection between this story and Beowulf, and elaborates on Mike Pincombe’s suggestions about the importance of WWI to the understanding of this story.
  • ‘”The Rules of Folklore” in the stories of M.R. James’ by Jacqueline Simpson (Warnings to the Curious, Hippocampus Press, 2007)
    This essay mentions various possible precedents to the myth of the Three Crowns, including the legend of Bran the Blessed and Drake’s Drum.
  • The name ‘Ager’ (Surname Database)
    It seems that ‘Ager’ is indeed a local name of some pedigree in the Suffolk and Cambridge area.

As if a bumper 2-parter on ‘A Warning to the Curious’ wasn’t enough, we have also produced a short video comprising footage taken on our recent visit to Aldeburgh, and featuring locations from the story such as Aldeburgh Parish Church, the White Lion Hotel (‘the Bear’ from the story), Wyndham House (home of M.R. James’s grandparents), the Martello Tower, Sluice Cottage (the likely site of William Ager’s house) and even a spot which matches James’s description and location of the mound where Paxton finds the crown!

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