Stories that inspired M.R. James

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

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Episode 33 – Mark Gatiss’ The Tractate Middoth

In this special Christmas Bonus episode, Mike and Will give their thoughts on Mark Gatiss’ adaptation of ‘The Tractate Middoth’ by M.R. James, which aired on UK TV last night along with Gatiss’ documentary ‘M.R. James: Ghost Writer’.

Please note that this episode contains spoilers about both programmes so if you are planning on watching either then make sure you do so before listening to this episode!

Hats off to Mr Gatiss for providing us with a thoroughly enjoyable evening’s entertainment!

If you want to learn more about the original story then look no further than our own Episode 11 which examined The Tractate Middoth in detail.

Finally, if you enjoyed Robert Lloyd Parry’s bravura performance as M.R. James in the documentary, don’t forget to check out his tour dates or buy a dvd over at his website


Episode 11 – The Tractate Middoth

The Old Library at Cambridge UniversityIn this episode Mike & Will whip out their library cards and prepare to crack the spine of ‘The Tractate Middoth’ by M.R. James.

Questions addressed in this episode include: Does Mr Eldred like MC Hammer? Did Sir Jimmy Saville make a pact with the devil? Is Miss Simpson a slamming hotty or merely a comely wench? And is it even politically correct to call someone a wench in this day and age?

Show Notes:

  • The Lost Will of Dr Rant (1951) (
    This American television version of ‘The Tractate Middoth’ was part of the ‘Lights Out’ mystery series, and stars none other than a young Leslie Nielson!
  • Cambridge University Library (
    The real world location of this story was the university library at Cambridge, though the current library is no longer housed in the same building as it was in James’s time.
  • Bredfield, Suffolk (googlemaps)
    The likely real-world location of Dr Rant/Mr Eldred’s house, Bredfield in Suffolk. Note Melton station about three miles to the south east (or shorter if you go across country!).
  • E.W. Pugin (1834 – 1875) (Wikipedia)
    Information on E.W. Pugin, who may or may not be linked to this story.
  • The Real Tractate Middoth (google books)
    More information on the real book can be read in ‘A history of the Mishnaic law of Holy Things, Volume 2’, available on Google Books.
  • Squire Toby’s Will by J. Sheridan le Fanu (
    The plot of this story by M.R. James’s favourite author of ghost stories bares some resemblance to the plot of ‘The Tractate Middoth’.
  • Piccadilly Weepers and More (
    Information on Piccadilly/Dundreary Weepers and other fabulous contemporary facial hair styles can be found here.
  • Tractate Middoth Postcard & Bookmark (Ghosts & Scholars)
  • Burial of William McKenzie (
    Liverpool architect and builder William McKenzie (1794 – 1851) was supposedly buried sitting up in a pyramid-shaped tomb to trick the devil, to whom he had sold his soul in exchange for luck at cards.
  • Burial of Sir Jimmy Saville (
    We were slightly mistaken in the podcast, Sir Jimmy Saville was not buried sitting up but propped up at a 45 degree angle so he could ‘see the sea’!

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