Stories that inspired M.R. James

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

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Episode 32 – An Evening’s Entertainment

December 15, 2013 | Episodes | Comments (21)

The Unsearchable Way - by Paul WarrenIn this semi-Christmas episode, Mike and Will don their druid costumes and head down to rural Dorset for some pagan goings-on in ‘An Evening’s Entertainment‘ by M.R. James!

Big thanks to Paul Warren for providing the artwork to the right, titled ‘The Unsearchable Way (A Warning to the Curious)’. For more of Paul’s artwork visit Paul’s Website.

This episode also features readings from the talented Debbie Wedge. Thanks Debbie!

Show notes:



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  1. It really bugs me that, despite the explicit promise of the preceding narrative, we never got any “saucer-eyed specters”.

  2. Mark says:

    Hi guys, just leaving a note to remark that the link you posted to the Black Mass radio show doesn’t seem to go to its intended location. It lists instead an “Error 404” message!

  3. A Rat In The Wall says:

    Whereas I can absolutely agree it can be read that naughty goings-on seem to be somehow subtly hinted at. But knowing James (who didn’t write like E.F. Benson) it seems to be more two men, one a strange outsider looking for an isolated place with nearby subjects, the other a servant or thrall, staying near this ancient pagan monument in the wilderness to study or conjure or commune with pagan things (to the ire of the proper, superstitious God fearing villagers who would likely see this carven image as a godless idol, as is mentioned) more than two blokes going out to practice some delightful sodomy.

    Honestly, our modern eyes and minds seem to be too drawn to any hint of sexuality in a story, so much so to make it some kind of focal point away from what the story is actually about. I think this is what James was getting at with sex in stories – adding it in detracts from the horror, people are drawn more to the sauciness than the creepiness if both are present. And seeing as James was a fervent, traditional, staunchly Victorian Christian, yeah, he probably didn’t want people thinking he was something he wasn’t, as most people do. But to chalk his beliefs about ghost stories to him being gay? Come on, Mike Pinceombe, this Freudian analysis can go a little too far.

    I mean, from one single hint, you guys went on about bondage and kinkiness and sex in a story by a guy who was all about making you uncomfortable, not exciting you.


    And congratulations to Mike and Kirsty! You should probably name her Magnus. Magnus Taylor, you know you love it.

    • RogerBW says:

      Yes, I’m inclined to agree; I have little time for the trend of regarding anything cryptic or shameful in a story as a metaphor for homosexuality.

      I do see a certain amount of the Dee/Kelly relationship here, though it’s not so much one taking advantage of the other as a general welter of destruction…

      • Dave C says:

        Only this morning I found a link to an article about traditional xmas ghost stories (on the New Statesman website) in which the journalist John Sutherland states that MR James “was, it is now assumed, gay”. Assumed by whom? And yes, a Dee/Kelley relationship seems more likely than a love affair. I’ve always taken the view that what Mr Davis and his young man were up to was simply a bit of old fashioned black magic.

        Anyway, congratulations to Mike and Kirsty! Have a great Yuletide and I look forward to the 2014 episodes of my favourite podcast!

  4. David Ronayne says:

    Was it just me or did the reference (introducing the Black Mass bit) to “the Village People rushing in” make anyone else think of a flash-mob doing Y.M.C.A?

    On a somewhat cock-eyed related note – I do remember an old comedy radio show that claimed that the Cerne Abbas Giant was simply the neolithic equivalent of a postcard: “Been out clubbing – having a great time…”

  5. Rich Johnson says:

    Burying at the crossroads happened until surprisingly (surprising to me, at any rate) recently; the alleged culprit in the Ratcliff Highway murders of 1811, John Williams, was buried at a crossroads, according to Thomas de Quincey:

    “The procession then advanced to St George’s Turnpike, where the New Road [now Commercial Road] is intersected by Cannon Street Road. Those who accompanied the procession arrived at a grave already dug six feet down. The remains of John Williams were tumbled out of the cart and lowered into this hole, and then someone hammered a stake through his heart.”

  6. lemuel gonzalez says:

    I liked this story very much. I like it when an author breaks out of the kind of thing his readers expect of him, and delivers a new kind of experience. The wild intrusion of sex and violence is thrilling…of course, I am American.

  7. nominil says:

    I’ve always liked “An Evening’s Entertainment”, but some of that might come from the framing story. I had grandparents who told me scary tales, so there was something cozy and familiar about it.

    Have you read rbadac’s “pretense”, which is a modern retelling of the story? It makes me laugh and laugh.

  8. Paul Warren says:

    Thanks for the mention on the Podcast ,and the link to the site .Great stuff .Finally i find a home for the picture !it couldn’t have a better place to rest !.Again ,another excellent podcast .

  9. ray barr says:

    Though I am probably in a minority of one, this has always been my favourite. I love the sort of music hall characters in it that James does so well. I have waited with some anticipation for this episode and you guys didn`t let me down,well done.

  10. optionfour says:

    Dear Will and Mike, congratulations on your 32nd episode! It seems just like yesterday that you released the first one. In the time since you started it, this podcast has become something very dear to my heart. No matter what’s happened during the day, it’s been so nice having this here to listen to. Thank you for making it! I hope it’s still as much fun for you two as it is for the listeners.

    I was super-excited to hear this episode, because this story has always held a special place in my heart due to the mysteriousness of the druidical (?) goings-on. But I’d forgotten just how bloody it was… The excerpt from that radio-show made it even more terrible! (Q_Q)

    Still, the story is so intriguing because we never do find out just what these men were up to! (And I don’t mean this is any suggestive way.) Now I want to visit Cerne Abbas myself, although I’ll probably just stand there giggling since I have a mental age of about five (^^;)

    Mike, a huge congratulations to you and Kirsty! This is such exciting news! I hope everything goes well. Your daughter will be so lucky to have a father who appreciates ghost stories (trust me on this one). I wish you and Will a lovely Christmas and happy new year.

  11. Carol M says:

    I agree that at first this story seemed to be one of the lesser tales. However, I obtained an audio reading of the tale (from Audible) and the story grew on me from that point – maybe because it felt like I was being told the story, in the same way as the two children. The burial of the two men is the standout scene for me.
    Congrats to Mike and Kirsty; I hope you are going to introduce MRJ to your daughter as soon as possible. Maybe starting with The Five Jars…

  12. Abbot Thomas says:

    I am part of the minority who regard this story as simply wonderful.
    It is not as honed and reserved as “Oh Whistle,” but I don’t think it was intended to be. Rather I believe it was meant to be just what James said it was – a reflection on what a story at the fireside with Granny might have been like. It is a bit lurid – as children would expect it to be – and it is rough around the edges – as a spontaneous tale would be.
    I think the good Dr. James pushed himself outside his usual format. Good for him; lucky for us.

    Thanks for a fine program and I cast my vote for “Magnus” as well.

    • Matthew Michael says:

      I agree: love this one, definitely one of the strongest from the later years. More explicitly full-blooded and gory than usual, too.

      One thing to pick up on in the Podcast – Will and Mike are a bit dismissive of the flies buzzing off when earth is poured over the bloodstain – but surely the point is it’s consecrated soil from the churchyard, and it’s this which defeat’s the demon flies?

  13. Richard Leigh says:

    Whatever the two men were up to, it seems odd to me that Mr Davis picks him up on market day, when everyone will be there to see them, as if he were a parcel from the post office.
    It’s a bit dubious to come up with explanations which are not even hinted at by James; but even so, since it seems unlikely that the pale young man could wield an axe to such effect, someone else must have done it (and then hanged the young man). Maybe the same chaps as objected to Baxter boiling their bones? There’s nothing like being buried in a barrow for centuries to make you irritable – or so I imagine.

    • solar penguin says:

      Markets were the usual place for hiring new staff in farms and villages. (See the “Far from the Madding Crowd” for a good example.) It would’ve looked a lot more suspicious if Davis hadn’t picked him up on market day.

  14. Lisa W says:

    Am I the only one who upon reading about the wheel thought “By Crom!” in a Austrian accent?

  15. Richard Leigh says:

    I wonder what texts would have been used in those days, for schoolboys beginning Latin. It’s certainly hard to imagine that they would be about English myth and legend.

  16. TheLeninist says:

    Beelzebub was originally a more benevolent pagan deity I believe but was turned into just another name for the devil by Christians.

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