Stories that inspired M.R. James

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Episode 43 – The Malice of Inanimate Objects

February 8, 2015 | Episodes | Comments (12)

Malice of Inanimate Objects by Alisdair Wood

In this episode Mike and Will batten down the hatches and prepare for the onslaught of ‘The Malice of Inanimate Objects‘ by M.R. James.

Readings for this episode are taken from Curious Creatures, Robert Lloyd Parry’s excellent audiobook which features a selection of lesser-heard M.R. James stories. Many thanks to Robert for giving us permission to use them! The full CD can (and should) be purchased from

Thanks to Alisdair Wood who provided the awesome artwork that accompanies this episode. Head over to for more M.R. James inspired artwork for sale.


  • The Malice of Inanimate Objects by M.R. James (Ghosts and Scholars)
    This story can be read in full online at the Ghosts and Scholars website. See the notes at the bottom for links to the various translations of the Brothers Grimm’s story about the unfortunate, or very wicked, Squire Korbes.
  • Resistentialism and Animism (wikipedia)
    Think that objects are out to get you? You’re not alone, as Paul Jennings discussed in his humorous 1948 Spectator article on what he coined ‘Resistentialism‘. But attributing human attribute to non-human entities is nothing new, see this wikipedia article on Animism in religion.
  • The Malice of Inanimate Objects short film (Youtube)
    Want to see a man crack an egg on his own face, and worse? This M.R. James short by Youtuber Alan OW Barnes takes it’s inspiration from M.R. James and the tale of Squire Korbes mentioned in this story.
  • Death Bed: The Bed that Eats (Youtube)
    Cited as ‘a strong contender for worst movie ever made’, this 70’s horror movie caught Mike’s eye as example of the inanimate object idea being taken to places it probably shouldn’t. Warning: contains bad acting.

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  1. Sam Tyler says:

    Great Penultimate Episode Guys, it’s hard to believe your almost through the stories.

    I enjoyed your discussion but after rereading the story, I have a different interpretation.
    Is it possible that the Malice of the title is directed toward Wilkins, and Burton is just collateral damage?
    This is based on the interpretation of two phrases.

    We know that the two men were fighting over a will, could some of Wilkin’s property have shadily gotten into Burton’s hands?
    If so, then Wilkin’s razor cut his throat, then Burton collected Wilkin’s affects earlier (his death is said to “from a few days back”) and was not surprised when informed of Wilkin’s suicide. The description of his reaction is “more than a little excitedly”. Maybe he is over acting , and is feeling guilty at already getting Wilkinson’s belongings.

    Secondly, the handkerchief at the end does not have implicitly bloody letter. They could just be red stitching similar to the kite (which could have been ignored and uncollected by Burton) which also elicited an overdone shocked response from Burton.
    So the stitching simply tell us that the handkerchief belonged to Wilton which is why Burton died the same death.

    Thus the Malice killed Wilkins, then when the items passed to him it, they chose Burton as the next target.

    Like most M. R. James, the facts can fit numerous possible scenarios. Thanks for nudging me toward finally reading this terrific author!

  2. A Rat In The Wall says:

    The kite shouldn’t have been in the least bit scary – a kite with eyes painted with I SEE YOU shouldn’t be at all frightening, but it works, and I can’t really explain why.

    I have a little suggestion for Five Jars coverage – cover each chapter as a separate episode. There’s five I think? Each episode could be a chapter, or if some are a little less podcast friendly, 2 episodes a chapter.

  3. Elliott James says:

    Well the BBC did do an inanimate object story with a mask based on the unfinished tale; the Backward Glance.

    8 days left to listen as of 9th February 2015

  4. Ed Kent says:

    I’ve always enjoyed this story. A bit slight I guess, but a nicely built sense of dread and a brilliantly macabre conclusion.

  5. RogerBW says:

    While it’s obviously possible that Paul Jennings had come across this story, I think it’s unlikely; his article on Resistentialism is very much of a piece with his other work. I do strongly recommend that work, if you can find it; an awful lot of other writers have more or less blatantly imitated him, because he was a comic genius of the first order.

  6. Daz Nugent says:

    Hi Will, Mike, and any other M R Jamesians attending the conference – I look forward to seeing you all there.

    It will be a scream.

    Are we meeting up for a drink the night before or straight after the event?


    • Mike says:

      Hi Daz, come and find us – we’ll be there all day, and (most importantly!) for the drinks reception after the seminars finish!

  7. Spencer says:

    I, for one, really enjoyed the Squire Korby insert. Maybe it was the tone of the reader in the audio version I got from audible, but it added a real sense of strange, irrational menace to the tale and snugged in nicely with the overall tone. “To squire Korby’s we are going, for a visit is oweing!” is just so childishly sinister.

    The story itself, and the story within a story, tap into something I think of as Animistic Paranoia. I’ve always found the idea that all the unliving things have a spirit or a conscious will to be a deeply disturbing one. My affection for this story mostly comes from its capacity to capitalize on that Deep Dark Fear.

  8. H. Holland says:

    Not ‘Malice’ related, but an interesting piece from February this year, looking at the illustrations that featured in James’ published works. As you’re covering the ‘Five Jars’ soon, the article has several of the Gilbert James illustrations that accompanied the story.

  9. H Holland says:

    Not ‘Malice’ related, but an interesting article on the illustrations that featured in James’ published works. As you’re covering ‘The Five Jars,’ there are several of Gilbert James’ pieces which accompanied that story.

  10. Paul M. Hasbrouck says:

    So much fun listening to each pod cast, I am jumping round a bit, listening to my favorites first. More on that later. My favorite inanimate object is the Uncommon Praybook, James skill at creating a sense of history, that makes the story seem grounded in the real, until the unworldly reaches out.
    Now I must recommend a s/s by Jack Ritchie: DAVENPORT-with a nasty piece furniture.
    I will keep listening, again thanks.

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