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Episode 52 – Eton and King’s, part one

May 22, 2016 | Episodes | Comments (14)

M.R. James by Alisdair WoodIt’s back to school this week as Mike and Will pack their tuckboxes and top hats and join Monty for the first part of his memoir “Eton and King’s: recollections, mostly trivial”.  How will James deal with the traditions and quirks of Eton?  Will he avoid a midnight wedgy?  And who exactly is the mysterious Goat Sucker?


  • Eton and King’s is readily available from Ash Tree Press as an ebook.
  • Mike and Will at Temple Grove School (it’s changed a bit since Monty’s day).  More on his prep school in our episode on “A School Story“.
  • A glossary of Eton terms, for the initiated.
  • HE Luxmoore was an Eton master for 44 years.  He was MRJ’s tutor and perhaps the biggest influence on him besides his father.
  • Our cover art by, of course, Alistair Wood  – do have a look at his new website!

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  1. Luke says:

    I think you guys are scrapping the bottom of the barrell now. Seriously, do the last couple of James stories left and then move on to other ghost story writers who are like James or influenced him, like JS LeFanu etc. I love your podcast but I miss the stories.

    • Mike says:

      Hi Luke, sorry to hear that you’re missing the stories. We miss ’em too. There’s only one left, ‘A Vignette’, and we’ve always wanted to say goodbye to James with that one. In the meantime I hope you enjoy the first half of Eton and King’s – there’s a special reading of MRJ’s first ever published ghost story in the second half of the show. You may be reassured to hear that we’re not going to cover his ‘Apocryphal New Testament’, though there’s probably some wild stuff in there.

      • Luke says:

        Oh great Mike you finally respond to me and it’s because of a criticism!. I do love your podcast but I feel like there’s this dragging out process. I would much prefer you did A Vignette (and if anything really good comes up about James do it later), and move on. I don’t want you guys to stop your podcast, I just think it would be much better if you moved on to other M.R James era ghost story writers that influenced him, that he was friends with too. Anyway keep up the good work (I really do still like the podcast).

    • Kim says:

      I both agree and don’t with Luke. I don’t think the boys are scraping the bottom of the barrel; the intent was made clear from the outset to be thorough and complete, and I (at least) enjoy the biographical-bibliographical episodes.

      On the other hand, I do attribute a certain foot-dragging to the last year or so, with the “one last story” becoming weightier and weightier on the horizon. At this point, I’d really prefer to get it over with: cover the last story, wrap it up with a summary or retrospective episode if they like, and finally close out the MRJ coverage.

      At that point, yes, I’d really, really like them to follow in the HPPodcraft footsteps and rejig themselves to cover similar topics they’re interested in (other “Jamesian” style or era writers certainly gets my vote); but I’d also think well of the podcast if it just ended there. Whether it turns a new page, or gets wrapped up and filed on a dusty, neglected shelf to suprise some later, unsuspecting, archivist — it’s all good.

  2. Kim says:

    Just downloaded but haven’t even listened yet to the episode. I’m just so glad to have you back on the air!!!

  3. Richard Leigh says:

    I’m pleased to see that you’re still casting the pods; and I don’t think you’re scraping the barrel at all – there are several hundred items in the bibliography still awaiting your attention!
    As for the lack of personal matters in “E&K” – the book was just the latest in a long line of memoirs about Eton life, and was, I imagine, commissioned as such and never intended to be a baring of MRJ’s inmost soul. I remember seeing, in a large second-hand book dealer’s, several rows of ancient tomes of just such a kind – couldn’t bring myself to buy any of them. But I suppose the books were intended for old Etonians and their families, and probably not expected to be read by anyone else – hence the cryptic nature of the texts, which were aimed at people who didn’t need footnotes. I wonder if Eton memoirs are still being written, and what they are like, if so.
    I’m intrigued by all the books he mentions: maybe scholars are already investigating them for signs of influence. There’s plenty still to be done; and no doubt Messrs Murphy and Porcheddu are pursuing their researches even now.

  4. Hi Will & Mike,
    You mentioned “The Shaving of Shagpat” as one of James’s favourite childhood books. Well, I’ve got it in my little collection of vintage fantasy, and it’s a quite entertaining and very clever pastiche of The Arabian Nights. Written by George Meredith, it has stories within stories within stories, like the original Persian tales it plays with. But it does have an over arching story about a brave barber, who finds a personal epic quest in his ambition to shave the most hirsute of all Eastern gentlemen, the mighty Shagpat. He is aided in his mission by a sorceress, who might know that there’s more to Shagpat’s hairiness than meets the eye.

  5. Mark says:

    Re: the “goatsucker”, I suspect (given the choral context) that it was nickname given in respect of perceived similarities between the singing abilities of the chorister in question, and those of the European Nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus); this bird (as the genus name implies) was once thought to suckle goats by night, leaving them bereft of milk.

    The nightjar’s song is sort of repetitive “churring” (which you can hear here:

  6. MarkB says:

    ‘Oppidan’ refers to town – in Latin, of course.

  7. Dan says:

    I am slowly working my way through your podcasts and have just completed the two Eton & Kings installments… I’ve got to be honest and say that they were my favourite! This is probably because for many of the stories, actually reading them, listening to them or watching them performed on stage or screen is preferably to hearing them dissected (though of course you do a great job of that) whereas the more autobiographical works are probably quite dry to read directly whereas you both bring to life his whole persona and the environment in which he flourished. I also have an increasingly grudging sense of the past being superior to the present and in that I feel a certain kinship with MR James (however absurd this notion is given that he was born over a century before me!)

    Anyway, I am thoroughly enjoying the podcasts and am completely supportive of any ways you can find to offer up new material / different angles on this great author!

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