Stories that inspired M.R. James

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Episode 36 – Suffolk and Norfolk

May 23, 2014 | Episodes | Comments (18)

Suffolk and Norfolk by M.R. James (1930 Edition)This episode Mike & Will take a look at M.R. James’s East Anglian guidebook ‘Suffolk and Norfolk’. It’s got churches, lots and lots of churches, but also murder, mayhem, mermen, giants, green children and much more!

Show notes:


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  1. A Rat In The Wall says:

    Yes, a new podcast! Gotta say, I’ve missed you guys. It’s been a while, I’ve been listening to older episodes a lot lately.

    I wasn’t expecting you’s to do this book til the stories were finished. All the same, you’ve made it sound very intriguing. I love folklore and local legends, shame James didn’t like it so much, because he clearly had such a good knowledge of the area he could have compiled a few. I just wish there was more!

    I actually picked up the 150th anniversary edition of ‘Curious Warnings’ recently and that’s got just about everything in there BUT this book. All the more reason to go out and buy it!

  2. Jay W. Watson says:

    Really great to have you back guys; you were missed! Another very informative and (as always) FUN podcast. I actually now want to read this East Anglican guidebook. 😀

  3. Jay W. Watson says:

    still laughing (I love your “out-takes” and asides :D) at “beat a giant to death with a lusty miller”

  4. mark says:

    There is a children’s book by Kevin Crossley-Holland called The Green Children about the Woolpit pair.
    The Guide would be a great book for you to discuss as it has a few ambiguities. Was James spared on condition he lured others into the trap?

    Don’t be away so long; I’ve missed you.

  5. Richard Leigh says:

    Welcome back, and I hope the holidays were worthwhile. I’ve tried (naturally) to find the M.H.James book. There’s a copy advertised on ebay for hundreds of pounds, and it seems that there are copies in only seven libraries in the world. It would be interesting to read it, but I suppose I must resign myself to not doing so. It’s hard to see, though, why MRJ and his brother would have felt the need for a pseudonym, for this book or for the index to “Suffolk and Norfolk”.
    That’s an impressive collection of links at the head of your podcast! Thanks – months of work, now, following them up.

    • Three Crowns says:

      They possibly picked a pseudonym because there were two of them and maybe it looked awkward for a book to have two authors, maybe it was the publisher’s idea. If it was Monty and Herbert then M. H. James isn’t a far cry from M. & H. James. But I think the better reason is they didn’t want the stigma of publishing a book about ghosts and goblins to affect their careers or social standing or embarrass their families. When MR James later started publishing ghost stories under his own name, he was already in.

    • Francis Young says:

      I am currently in the process of preparing a new edition of M. H. James’s Bogie Tales of East Anglia, so it should soon be available to all

  6. Joyce says:

    Thanks for another excellent podcast!

    If you enjoy “The Guide” by Ramsey Campbell, you might also like “The Face” by E.F. Benson:

  7. Mike says:

    Thanks for all your comments guys! Glad you liked the episode. Fingers crossed less of a wait for Wailing Well.

  8. Rick Kennett says:

    When you’re finished with Monty’s opus a Jamesian work you might like to take a look at is Fritz Leiber’s novel Our Lady of Darkness which also has Lovecraftian elements. Or if a novel is too long there is a shorter version titled The Pale Brown Thing. Just a thought.

    Love your show. Keep up the wonderful work.

    Rick Kennett

  9. mark says:

    Will you be discussing ‘The Experiment’ before you finish his ghost stories? It’s easily overlooked as the only place Ive found it in is David Collings’ Complete Ghost Stories audiobook.

    • Will Ross says:

      Yes we certainly will! We are going to leave no stone unturned when it comes to James material to cover.

  10. Richard Leigh says:

    I looked up Belchamp St Paul’s in the index to “Suffolk and Norfolk” – no luck, of course. But there is an entry for the Bell Inn, Thetford. No reference to this appears, however, on the page referred to. Maybe it’s elsewhere in the book, which I have yet to read thoroughly. I wonder what sort of story MRJ could have based on this ghost reference ? In the copy of the book which I bought in a second-hand book shop, there is a leaflet, published by Trust Houses, about some historic Inns “in they parts”, including The Saracen’s Head. There are, or were, rumours about a former landlord who doubled as a highwayman. I can imagine a prelude to “Rats” in which Mr Thomson’s researches into just such legends has led him (unavoidably?) to the unnamed inn in the story.

  11. Richard Leigh says:

    Now I’ve read the whole book, a few things occur to me. There are names which MRJ used elsewhere: John Eldred, Gawdy, and Wayland, or Wailing Wood. But I suppose it’s just the names which he used, and nothing more.
    Also, the book reads as if it had been compiled in a hurry from his own notes (sometimes made decades earlier) and details from guidebooks, etc. There’s a definite feeling that he was obliged to condense, and to omit a great deal. Also, I get the feeling that the publishers might well have edited his manuscript, as there are places which seem too abrupt and sketchy to represent his intentions fully.
    I am as puzzled as you as to why he wrote the book, as I have the impression that he’d rather not see his beloved Suffolk and Norfolk disfigured by tourists. Was it perhaps his version of the “Defence of Episcopy”, on the basis that the devil makes work for idle hands, so he’d better keep busy ?

  12. Tenacious says:

    Hickathrift the Giant Killer has a Wikipedia article.

  13. Richard Leigh says:

    Sorry, it’s me again. I can now say that I HAVE seen (and indeed read) M.H.James’ book “Bogie Tales”. I don’t think there’s any Jamesian interest. It consists of a few anecdotes of ghosts, some of which are dogs, mostly related in an attempt at “yokel” which has none of MRJ’s ability to reproduce rustic speech. There are no stories which resemble anything in MRJ. The second half of the book abandons the ghosts completely, and is a collection of rather feeble love stories. Alert to even the faintest echo of MRJ’s style, I found none at all. It would, I suppose, still be of interest to learn something about the author; but all my dreams of uncovering some apocryphal MRJ have now been extinguished.

  14. Joyce says:

    There’s even more on Hickathrift in this collection of chapbooks at Project Gutenberg.

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