Stories that inspired M.R. James

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

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Episode 47 – The Five Jars, Part 3

July 7, 2015 | Episodes | Comments (9)

In this episode Mike and Will cover the concluding third of ‘The Five Jars‘, M.R. James’s little-read children’s book. Expect earwig racing, bat balls, dragons and horseshoe mayhem!

The readings for this episode once again come from the excellent Librevox audiobook of The Five Jars, read by Peter Yearsley.


Contemporary children’s novels with a similar touch of the weird:


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  1. Diane says:

    A brave attempt guys, but the story was truly shocking. I listened, as ever, with great interest to the Podcast, but I would have loved to hear the off tape comments you made about this most monstrous of Monty’s tales. I can think of no redeeming features.
    Any ideas of your next plans which we all eagerly await?
    Edgar Allen Poe perhaps?
    Thank you so much for the months of entertainment. If I win the lottery I will give you a handsome grant to continue your research. The world is a better place for your efforts. Thank you.

  2. Michael Dura says:

    You two really got me thinking with this one. The matter of whether or not a story for children can succeed if the central character is a middle aged man came up a few times. I tried rethinking the story with a 10 year old boy as the lead character. What I got was more like a story for grown-ups with a child at the center. You see, the boy would be living in a really oppressive environment and he delves into all the magic around the jars as an escape. In the end he would decide to stay and live in the village with the little people, and the Roman gent comes back to give him even more lessons in white magic, which would unfold in sequels to this story.
    Of course maybe Monty wasn’t writing for any particular audience, but was recounting events that really happened to him, but that’s probably just me going nuts, lol.

  3. A Rat in the Wall says:

    Interesting journey, gentlemen. I suppose there is something to be said for the socio-political angle, but let’s just thank Monty for being imaginative enough to not turn it into a distasteful polemic. At least he kept it on topic, eh?

    But on a more serious note, does this mean that next time is ‘A Vignette’? Because I am very interested to hear about that, as well as the future of the podcast.

  4. Eric M. Heiden says:

    Hi guys,

    Love the work you do.

    In my opinion, the two most unforgivable things about “Five Jars” are (1) that the effects of the fourth jar in no way tie into the main conflict and (2) that the final chapter barely explains anything; I don’t mind that James kept the story going after the fight with the Bat-Ball, but I DO mind that he didn’t use that closing chapter to answer the questions he raised. Is this M.R. James or J.J. Abrams?

    I’m still glad I read it, though. Yes, it has clunky structure and a disappointing finale, but it also has laughs, action, scares and a truly otherworldly atmosphere. I even enjoyed the first chapter, believe it or not; I liked how strange it was. I’d even call it a little eerie since, at that point, you don’t know whether the voices guiding James mean him well or are trying to lure him into a trap; in fact, it almost reminded me of Arthur Machen’s “The White People.”

    All in all, I agree with your assessment. It’s for the James fan but not the children of the James fan.

    Another weird children’s book from that period was J.R.R. Tolkien’s Roverandom. It wasn’t published until 1998, but it was written in the 1920s and has a similar feel to some of those other stories you mentioned. I think it works better for a young audience because the main character is a cute talking dog instead of a grown man.

    Anyway, those are my thoughts. Take care, and thanks for the work you both do.

  5. Laurence Cornford says:

    The obvious next step when the James stories run out, is to move on to the works of the “James Gang” — those writers who have worked to produce Jamesian stories. While it would be harder to “read along” with many of these, who are still in copyright, I, for one, would listen to such reviews.

  6. Gladium says:

    Thank you for your very good podcast.

    Have you thought of exploring the suggestion that M.R James knew about or heard about the Rennes-le-Château mystery on his trips around Aude?

  7. H.Regalis says:

    I came up with a few examples of media that has adult protagonists but is meant for kids: the old E.C. Comics line (❤️ these; if your library has the horror ones, definitely give them a go), super hero comics like the ones put out by Marvel and D.C., Dr. Doolittle, Mr. Popper’s Penguins, and the Hobbit.

    Aside from the oogy socio-political, ridgid class structure undertones, I think this story at least started out all right. The parts with the antagonists disguising themselves in their attempts to get in the house and get the jars were my favorites because of the idea of horror invading your daily environment in the guise of innocuous things, like the advertising in “Casting the Runes,” but overall I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who’s not a James completist.

  8. Kim says:

    Hi, guys — this following-enthusiastically-from-episode-one listener is really wondering what’s happened? Surely the horror of covering The Last Story(tm) hasn’t deterred you? Hope all is well, and that we’ll get to hear from you both again soon.

  9. Serenanocturna says:

    Regarding Ur collective disdain about girls being able to become invisible at will: what utter bollocks! Who wouldn’t want a defensive shield of invisibility in the face of danger? One could surreptitiously grab a weapon and bash the would-be assailant! Even the overly idolized Harry Potter had a cloak of invisibility that aided him in his adventures. What PC/BS you two demonstrate! Must be the result of all that European multi-culti brainwashing Uve both been marinating in all Ur lives!

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