Stories that inspired M.R. James

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Episode 6 – Count Magnus

December 23, 2011 | Episodes | Comments (12)

Image of Varnhem Abbey, the site of the mausoleum of the real Count Magnus Gabriel de la Gardie.In this Christmas Special* Will and Mike get stuck into Count Magnus by M.R. James, and explore some startling questions:

  • What is the connection between Count Magnus and Ghostbusters 2?
  • Will sewing your corpse into the carcass of a deer save your soul from the devil?
  • Would Mr Wraxall prefer to have been shot in the balls by Robocop?

Answers to these questions and much, much more can be found in this bumber festive edition of the greatest and only M.R. James podcast! This episode features readings by Chris Savory.

Show notes:

* This edition may or may not feature Mike and Will singing an exclusive acapella rendition of ‘Oh Come All Ye Faithful’, accompanied by the choir of King’s College, Cambridge (spoiler alert: it doesn’t).


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  1. Bryan says:

    Just wanted to drop a line and say how much I enjoy your podcast. I hope you will do more!

  2. GB Steve says:

    Jack Parsons was an actual rocket scientist at JPL so the fulminate of mercury was probably for that purpose rather than for his magical experiments. He was a pretty interesting guy, as was the whole California magic set.

    Crowley didn’t have sex with a goat. He tried to get it mate with his girlfriend, and then strangled it when it wouldn’t cooperate, not that that’s any better. Also it’s Crow-ley, not Cr-ow-ley, and Korazin not Ch-orazin.

  3. optionfour says:

    Thank you so much for making this podcast!

    I love and adore M.R. James, and when I stumbled upon this blog, I really thought I’d die from happiness. Each of the episodes is so entertaining, and you’ve researched things quite carefully! Thank you for also including the links at the end. I always enjoy checking them.

    And Count Magnus… omg. This particular story is so terrifying (at least to me… that hooded familiar thing is so horrible!! (>_<)) that I'm grateful to you both for injecting some humour into it. Favourite episode so far!

    Please continue the wonderful work, I can't wait to hear more.

  4. Richard Leigh says:

    I think that the two figures repeatedly almost seen by Wraxall on the boat, and then seen from the coach, are the two figures on the sarcophagus: the One Who Hunts and the One Who Watches (capitals seem appropriate here).Also, perhaps the Count has been waiting for someone to free him, and Wraxall calling to him is a bit like the unexplained impulse to whistle up the lamia in “An Episode of Cathedral History” – and also like the whistling in “O Whistle…”

  5. KCB says:

    Firstly, I wanted to let you guys know I have just recently discovered your podcast and I enjoy it very much. It is nice to know there are other people out there who appriciate M.R.James’ influence on weird fiction as well as the more traditional ghost literature as much as I do.
    I am also am very impressed with the further details and links posted on your website.

    Secondly, I think Wraxall didn’t ask the decendants of Count Magnus about him because it just might seem impolite to ask your hosts to bring up a nefarious ancestor. I can imagine it like this–

    So…eh…I understand your ancestor was a black magician and all around evil bastard?

    (awkward silence)

    Uh, what I mean is, he flogged villagers and then went on some sort of, uh, holiday…

    (more awkward silence)

    Um…uh…anyone up for some golf?

  6. Satrap of Saturn says:

    KCB, very well put!
    Will and Mike, thanks to you two I loaded up my phone with Trollope’s Barchester books, as well as his North American travel book. It is exactly the sort of chatty book much concerned with hotel accomodations and the condition of roads that James describes, with the exception that in lieu of racy innkeepers, Trollope reports political opinions. He picked 1861 to make his American journey, the year our Civil War broke out. and

  7. Alex Wilcock says:

    I’ve been very belatedly listening to your podcasts and greatly enjoying them (having found you after a post-Tractite Middoth adaptation search), so thank you!

    This one’s one of my favourite James chillers – perhaps it’s something about the three padlocks, like a very slow medieval version of a countdown, followed by the very slow and methodical version of a chase sequence as what’s left of Wraxall’s mind disintegrates…

    Anyway, thanks, and it was great fun. A couple of quick thoughts: though you talk about James as just unable not to come across an old church without describing it, which is of course fair, I think there’s more to the descriptions this time. Alerted to the significance of the north side of churches by the previous stories you’ve covered, I noted some foreboding clues before we even get to the padlocked coffin with no cross – primed by the images of “strange and hideous last judgment,” the next thing we hear is that the mausoleum was, suspiciously, chosen to be built next to the north aisle, and the walls “were staringly white,” making it literally a whited sepulchre. “To this mausoleum there was no access from the church” – you don’t say (and probably a double meaning of The Church, as in ‘it’s cut off from God’). I’d not thought of the Lovecraftian overtones, though when you mention it, there are a lot of them, aren’t there? Perhaps had Lovecraft written it, Wraxall would be himself a lost scion of the De la Gardies and their corrupted strain would be what’s whispering to him through his ‘tainted’ blood, and it would be Magnus himself with the tentacular appendages rather than externalising them (oh, and while it’s probably too late to do anything about it, your Chorazin link goes to Berkeley again).

  8. Daniel Lönn says:

    Hey guys! Just wanted to say hi from a not-so snowy Sweden, needless to say I enjoyed this episode perhaps more than some others… 😉 Just wanted to say hi and keep up the good and entertaining work! I know this episode is a bit old, though.

  9. mark says:

    No one seems to ask what will The Two do now that Wraxall is dead. Meekly return from whence they came? Of course not. But who shall next feel their malevolence?

  10. Daniel D Stanisic says:

    It occurred to me that if an aural companion to the story — and one quite as unsettling at that — were needed, the appositely titled track found below ought to suffice:

    Coph Nia, ‘Lord of the Air’ (Shape Shifter, Cold Meat Industry, Sweden, 2003)

    I find another, possibly even more disturbing, piece to be entirely in tune with the sinister character of Count Magnus; if one were to imagine him making a [sardonic] confession, this is how it might run:

    Coph Nia, ‘The Hall of Truth’ (Shape Shifter, Cold Meat Industry, Sweden, 2003)

    Further details available here:

  11. MarkB says:

    Just in case anyone reads through this thread: There’s a great silhouette-puppet version of Count Magnus on Youtube.

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