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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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