Stories that inspired M.R. James

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

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Episode 94 – Exploring Eleanor Scott with Vicky Margree and Dan Orrells

This episode we speak with two experts to better understand Eleanor Scott and her story Randall’s Round, Dr Vicky Margree and Prof Dan Orrells. We discuss what’s known about Eleanor Scott, her time at Oxford University in the early 1900s and the role of gender, folklore and imperialism in her writing.

Vicky is a specialist in literary fiction and feminist theory. Her book British Women’s Short Supernatural Fiction, 1860-1930: Our Own Ghostliness looks at stories by Margaret Oliphant, Charlotte Riddell, Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Edith Nesbit, Alice Perrin, Eleanor Scott and Violet Hunt.

Dan focuses on the history of the interpretation of classical literature. He’s interested in the Greeks and Romans in the Victorian imagination, including how these inspired Gothic and ghostly tales at the turn of the 20th century.  He co-edited with Vicky a study of Richard Marsh, a fascinating late-Victorian author who wrote about “shape-shifting monsters, morally dubious heroes, lip-reading female detectives and objects that come to life.”

In our conversation we learn more about the folklore revival, Edward B Tylor’s ideas about primitive cultures and notions of “survivals” amd the experience of women at Oxford and Cambridge (Dan recommends the Dorothy L Sayers novel Gaudy Night!).

Massive thank you to Vicky and Dan for being such engaging and insightful guests and sharing their expertise with us!  If you want to read ahead, we’ll be back next time with The Weird of the Walfords by Louisa Baldwin.


Episode 93 – Count Magnus Awakens

Mr Wraxhall - BBC
A BBC Ghost Story for Christmas is thankfully as traditional as quaffing eggnog and leaving out a carrot for Rudolph. And what a treat, as this year Count Magnus made the Black Pilgrimage onto our screens.  But has Mark Gatiss been naughty or nice? We give you our verdict.

Show notes



Episode 92 – Randalls Round by Eleanor Scott

A black and white woodcut of some people dancing around a tree

This episode Mike and Will explore freaky folk-dance, village-based villainy and Cotswold chicanery in Eleanor Scott’s awesome Jamesian folk-horror tale Randalls Round!

Big thanks to Kirsty Woodfield for providing the readings for this episode.

Show notes:

  • This article contains some biographical information as well as plot summaries of the stories that appears in Randalls Round, her only collection of ghost stories. You can also see a photo of her here.
  • Helen Leys started using the Eleanor Scott pseudonym  when she published this controversial novel that exposed the dire experiences of teachers and girls within the English high school system.
  • Eleanor Scott was a student at this ladies college in the days before women were allowed to take degrees. The Somerville website contains some charming photos that give you a sense of what life was like for students at the time.
  • At the start of Randalls Round, Heyling and Mortlake discuss the folk dance revival that was then in full swing. This article describes that revival. Note the reference to the Headington Morris dancers who get a special mention in this story!
  • This 1921 book popularise Murray’s witch-cult hypothesis, the idea that the people persecuted as ‘witches’ in Europe may in fact have been involved in a survival of a pre-Christian pagan religion. Although her ideas were widely dismissed by historians, the ideas of ‘hidden’ folk/religious practices enduring in England, hidden away from the eyes of religious authorities, captured the public imagination and sparked the sort of debate that Heyling and Mortlake are having at the start of this story.
  • Aaron Worth suggests that the ‘volume of a very famous book on folk-lore’ that Heyling reads in this story would be The Golden Bough, Frazer’s influential multi-volume study on comparative religion, first published in 1890.
  • Morris Dance as Ritual Dance, or, English Folk Dance and the Doctrine of Survivals (
    This article by Chloe Middleton-Metcalfe explores the origins of the idea that folk dance originates in a survival of pre-Christian belief.
  • In this episode Mike mentions the Broad, a Cotswold folk custom that bears some similarity to the activities that Heyling witnesses on the village green.
  • We found it hard to discuss Randalls Round without repeatedly returning to this iconic 1973 British horror film!
  • The village of Randwick in Gloucestershire is at the top of Will’s list of possible real-world locations that may have inspired the fictional village of Randalls. As well as having a similar name and large mound to the north west, it even has its own curious folk celebration known as the Randwick Wap!
  • This Instagram account celebrates the weirdest (or should that be wyrdest?) elements of folk customs and traditions. This group of Morris men parading a strange, monstrous effigy seems particularly reminiscent of the events of Randalls Round!
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