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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 61 – The Open Door by Margaret Oliphant

Colinton Castle, EdinburghThis episode join Mike and Will as they don their kilts and sporrans and head north of Hadrian’s wall for some Scottish horror (no, not the midges) as we explore ‘The Open Door’ by Margaret Oliphant!

Big thanks to Kirsty for chilling us to the bone with her readings for this episode.

Show notes:

  • Margaret Oliphant (Wikipedia)
    Margaret Oliphant (1828 – 1897) was a prolific and very popular author in her day, and M.R. James describes ‘The Open Door’ as one of only two ‘… really good ghost stories I know in the language wherein the elements of beauty and pity dominate terror.’
  • Colinton House, Edinburgh (oliphantfiction.com)
    Brentwood house’ in the story was mostly likely inspired by this house, where Oliphant stayed on a number of occasions as the guest of her friend William Blackwood III, publisher of Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine in which this story was first published. The house, now a school, features a picturesque castle ruin in the grounds, complete with open doorways leading to nowhere.
  • Lasswade, near Edinburgh (Leedstrinity.ac.uk)
    While the house in the story is almost certainly based on Colinton House, the adjoining village of Brentwood is more likely to be based on the village of Lasswade, where Oliphant grew up. Like Lasswade, the village in the story is described as being a centre for paper-making. This article by Rosemary Mitchell also provides some fascinating analysis of the religious symbolism in the story.
  • Margaret Oliphant and the Romantic Novel (dangerouswomenproject.org)
    This essay by Laura Witz, subtitled ‘Subtle subversions of Victorian gender conventions’, argues that Oliphant was a feminist whose fiction struggled against the restrictive gender norms of the time. Not that you see much of that in ‘The Open Door’, sadly.
  • The Margaret Oliphant Fiction Collection (oliphantfiction.com)
    This website contains not only a bibliography of Oliphant, but also plot synopsis for all her published fiction. The ‘Stories of the Seen and the Unseen‘ section will be of particular interest to fans of the ghost story.
  • Bogle (Wikipedia)
    A ‘bogle’ is a uniquely Scottish ghost of folkloric creature, one which the stable-master Jarvis is particularly keen to insist he is not afraid of in this story!
  • Mass Hysteria (Wikipedia)
    The doctor is keen to attribute the multiple ghostly sightings as an example of mass hysteria. The wikipedia page on mass hysteria  contains some fascinating examples of this, from mewing nuns in the middle ages to modern forms of viral mass hysteria reportedly spread by the internet.
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Episode 58 – The Familiar by J Sheridan Le Fanu

The Familiar - Illustration by M. Grant Kellermeyer

Illustration by M. Grant Kellermeyer

In this bumper episode we examine M.R. James’s favourite story by his favourite author, ‘The Familiar’ by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu! Praise doesn’t get much higher than that, but is it all it is cracked up to be? If you are a fan of owls, diminutive, angry men in fur caps and incredibly long sentences, then you are in for a treat.

This episode also features an interview with noted Le Fanu expert Brian J Showers of Swan River Press and readings by Debbie Wedge.

This episodes artwork comes curtesy of M. Grant Kellermeyer of Oldstyle Tales Press.

Story notes

Also mentioned in this episode

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Episode 57 – The White and the Black by Erckmann-Chatrian

Émile Erckmann and Alexandre Chatrian

Émile Erckmann and Alexandre Chatrian

This episode Mike and Will pop across the channel for some booze-heavy French/German shinanigans in ‘The White and the Black’ by Erckmann-Chartrian.

M.R. James says this writing partnership “produced some quite first-class romances”, but this tale of murder and mayhem is no love story!

Show notes:

The following also get a mention in this episode:

  • Nunkie Theatre (nunkie.co.uk)
    Robert Lloyd Parry is releasing another of his excellent M.R. James performances as a pay-to-stream release before Christmas.
  • Haunted Advent Calendar (moorereppion.com)
    To entertain lovers of the strange and horrible over the festive season, authors Leah Moore and John Reppion have produced this highly enjoyable advent calendar, packed with weird and horrifying tit-bits.
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