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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‘. ยป

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 (1786โ€“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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Episode 17 – The Diary of Mr Poynter

'The Diary of Mr Poynter' by Alisdair Wood (woodnart.blogspot.com)This episode Mike and Will recoil in horror from some fearsome home furnishings in ‘The Diary of Mr Poynter’ by M.R. James.

Big thanks to our reader for this episode, the mighty Paul Maclean (@ysdc on Twitter). You may know Paul from the ‘Call of Cthulhu’ RPG hub Yog-Sothoth.com and it’s Lovecraftian publishing wing InnsmouthHouse.com. He is also one of the presenters of the News from Pnakotus and The Silver Lodge podcasts, both required listening for weird fiction and RPG fans!

Also big thanks to Alisdair Wood, the massively talented artist who provided us with the awesome specially-created ‘Diary of Mr Poynter’ artwork you can see above. You can find more exciting James-inspired artwork at Alisdair Wood’s website.

Show notes:

  • Rendcomb Manor, Gloucestershire (Monty’s World)
    While in the story Rendcomb Manor is said to be in Warwickshire, the real Rendcomb Manor is in Gloucestershire. Now home to Rendcomb College, it is not clear if James had this ancient estate in mind when he wrote the story.
  • Anti-vivisection movement and the Brown Dog Affair (Wikipedia)
    Miss Denton is an advocate of the Anti-vivisection moment, which was gathering momentum in the decade before this story was published.
  • William Poynter, Bishop (Wikipedia)
    M.R. James borrowed the name of his diarist from an English bishop who published various religious tracts during the early 19th century.
  • Dr Arthur Charlett, University College Oxford (Wikisource)
    Mr Poynter’s diary states that the famously hirsute (and presumably fictional) Everard Charlett was of the same family as Dr Arthur Charlett, who was Master of University College Oxford for 30 years until his death in 1722.
  • Thomas Hearne, Antiquarian (Wikipedia)
    James mentions in the story that William Poynter argued with English antiquarian Thomas Hearne (1678 โ€“ 1735).
  • Dr Robert Plot, Naturalist (Wikipedia)
    Mr Poynter’s diary suggests that there may be precedents for the strange death of Everard Charlett to be found in the work of Robert Plot. Plot English naturalist whose works mentioned strange natural phenomena such as the ‘double sunset’ at Leek in Staffordshire, a giants femur bone etc.
  • Feast of St Jude and St Simon (CatholicCulture.org)
    James mentions that the curtains are finally delivered on the Feast of St Jude and St Simon, the 28th October. In his book Suffolk and Norfolk M.R. James notes that stained glass images of Jude and Simon can be found in the parish church at Denton in Norfolk, although his use of this as a name for his protagonist could be a coincidence!
  • Thomas Philips, Antiquarian (Wikipedia)
    M.R. James mentions in the story that prior to purchase by James Denton, Mr Poynter’s diary was part of the ‘famous Thomas collection’ of manuscripts. Thomas Philips was an antiquarian and obsessive book collector who left a collection of around 100,000 books and manuscripts at the time of his death in 1872 which were auctioned off over a number of years.
  • Ghosts and Scholars postcard (Ghosts & Scholars Website)
    Ghosts and Scholars are selling this rather scary bookmark featuring an image of Everard Charlett’s hairy coffin!
  • Shakespeare authorship question (Wikipedia)
    In the story Mr Cattell makes a reference to ‘Hercules and the painted cloth’, which Rosemary Pardoe suggests may be a hint towards the argument/conspiracy theory that someone else may have written Shakespeare’s works.
  • The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkin Gilman (Wikipedia)
    There are parallels between this story and the short story ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ by American Writer Charlotte Perkins Gilman which was published in 1892. This story was also recently examined in detail by the HPPodcraft.
  • Game of Bear Story Competition (thesuffolkcoast.co.uk)
    Suffolk Coast are running a competition for under 16’s to write an ending for M.R. James’s unfinished story Game of Bear. Closing date is 1st November, the winner will be selected by author Susan Hill.
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