Stories that inspired M.R. James

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Reading – ‘Sredni Vashtar’ by Saki

March 12, 2013 | Episodes | Comments (6)

Polecat WoodcutDue to illness we haven’t managed to record the next full episode yet, but in the meantime here’s a little something we hope you’ll enjoy, an exclusive reading of ‘Sredni Vashtar’ by M.R. James’s literary contemporary Saki (aka H.H. Munro). This reading was recorded specially for the podcast by Hamish Symington! Thanks Hamish!

If you enjoyed this reading then many of Saki’s short stories are freely available on Project Gutenberg. Also, for some thoroughly excellent podcast readings of Saki’s other stories check out the website of Richard Crowest.

Join us in a couple of weeks for the next full episode on ‘The Haunted Dolls’ House‘ by M.R. James!


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  1. A Rat In The Wall says:

    That certainly a curious little story. I’ve heard of Saki before, but have never really read any of his work because the humour I’ve heard was in his work (which is a weird, almost hypocritical statement coming from a fan of M.R. James) because I prefer my horror to be, well, horrible. Listening to this episode has made me want to track down a collection, though! I thoroughly enjoyed this, but I would have thought you’s would have chosen a James story instead, like Rats, it being a very short piece.

    This is certainly a different beast to James. No frightened scholars or clergymen to be found here, or hideous hairy ghosts or pink sweaty demons, cathedrals or haunted beaches. This little boy creating and worshipping a god seemed at first like a sly poke at religion, but then it seems imply that Sredni Vashtar has answered the boy’s prayer. Or perhaps it was a child’s view of a caged animal attacking an unwary person. Either way, it’s a great weird tale (and maybe still a sly poke at religion, but that’s up to interpretation) because it leaves the ending vague in the way a weird tale should.

  2. I thought it was a great idea to listen to a bit of Saki for a change. He was surely one of the all time great short story writers. For a comic ghost story, I strongly recommend his ‘The Open Window’.

    & You were right to save the M R James stories, even the minor ones, for when you’re both there to talk about about them – look at how much you got out of the Fenstanton Witch. But what will you do when you get through them all? Maybe you could put in one or two of the Sheridan Le Fanu stories that influenced him?

  3. RogerBW says:

    I regard Saki as primarily a (darkly) humorous writer rather than an author of horror or weird fiction, but certainly I can see the two fields blending together here – and perhaps also in Laura, another of my favourites. One of his great virtues is that he never wastes time with padding: he has confidence in the ability of his core idea to deliver the wallop on its own, and doesn’t feel the need to spend ages building up to it.

    (As you guys doubtless spotted once it was too late to fix, World War One. As I have been known to comment, if he died today it would be classified as “smoking-related disease”.)

  4. lester ness says: has audiobooks of all Saki’s stories.

  5. Dave C says:

    This is easily my favourite tale of Saki’s and makes a nice little digression from MR James. Even if not horror in the strict sense, or even a ghost story, one still has a feeling of the bachelor author casting his eye over the strange behaviour of people in society and introducing a non-human element to shatter their world.

    I recall a short film made for the BBC in 2007 which dramatised this along with ‘The Storyteller’ and ‘The Lumber Room’, using the device of a Saki-like narrator meeting two children with their stuffy aunt on a train and entertaining them with yarns designed to undermine their reverence for adults. It was called ‘Who Killed Mrs. DeRopp?’ and is well worth seeing. Last time I checked it was still available on YouTube.

    Anyway, looking forward to your next episode!

  6. emtave says:

    I really loved this reading of “Sredni Vashtar”: it’s the best I’ve heard (including the Tom Baker one). Very well done to Hamish Symington, and thank you Matt and Will for recording it!

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