Stories that inspired M.R. James

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

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Episode 46 – The Five Jars, Part 2

May 2, 2015 | Episodes | Comments (4)

The Five Jars - illustration by Gilbert James

In this episode Mike and Will delve into the middle third of M.R. James’s ‘The Five Jars’ and encounter talking owls, two flavours of sinister old women, and all manner of supernatural trickery and tomfoolery!

Readings this week are once again extracted from Peter Yearsley’s excellent Librevox recording of this story, with added help from Debbie Wedge.

If you don’t have a copy of The Five Jars in your collection, you can read the whole thing online at

Also, Letters to a Child, extracts from M.R. James’s highly entertaining correspondence with the young Sybil Cropper can be read online at the Ghosts & Scholars website.


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  1. Carol M says:

    Hi Guys, excellent podcast as usual. Two thoughts; surely MRJ’s nickname for Sybil Cropper (‘Billy’) comes from the second syllable of her christian name?
    Also, I have never read The Five Jars and had no idea that it contained so many potentially creepy elements. The scene where the suitcase is nearly stolen reminded me irresistibly of William Hope Hodgsons’ The House on the Borderland. Dark indeed! Maybe I’ll check out this novel after all…

  2. Michael Dura says:

    The more I ponder this piece, the more I see it as an antiquarian ghost story in much the same vein as James’ other stories. It is centered around an object from antiquity like most of his other tales; in this case the box containing the five jars. Some might think of talking animals as a departure, but as you’ve pointed out, there is a precedence for that in PLAYING FIELDS, and as far as being written for children goes…well, WAILING WELL was written for Boy Scouts. I think what makes this story different is that the antique object is benevolent and needs to be protected, whereas in his most of his other stories it is malevolent and needs to be buried, returned or destroyed.

  3. GB Steve says:

    I saw a copy of this today near Portobello Rd. They wanted £70 for it.

  4. Saklani says:

    I finally read this novella, all from learning about it here. Thank you for introducing me to so many new things through this podcast!

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