Stories that inspired M.R. James

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

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Episode 62 – The Upper Berth by F. Marion Crawford

November 26, 2017 | Episodes | Comments (7)


Mike and Will take a cruise across the pond in the good ship Kamchatka – but who’s hiding in The Upper Berth?  Joining us to narrate F. Marion Crawford’s classic tale is reader Rupert Simons, who tells us that he’s found a cheap cabin for his trip from The Hook to Harwich next week…

Show notes:

  • F. Marion Crawford was a very successful writer who penned comparatively few ghost stories and as chiefly known for his historical novels.
  • The Upper Berth was originally published in “The Broken Shaft: Tales in Mid-Ocean”, an anthology of tales told by passengers on a stranded ocean liner.  Friend of the show Dewi Evans (whom we interviewed at JamesCon in Episode 51) has written an excellent post about this collection on his blog.
  • Ruthanna Emrys and Anne Pillsworth have written an excellent essay on this story, mentioned in our show.  Anne suggests that “Bertie” is the ghost of a man who justs wants the bed for which he paid!
  • There is a short film adaptation of ‘The Upper Berth’ by Mansfield Dark. You can watch it online but it’s also available as an extra on the DVD ‘The Story of a Disappearance and an Appearance’.
  • Our fabulous cover art came from illustrator and designer Mike Godwin, whose website is full of wonderful things and links to his Etsy shop.

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  1. A Rat In The Wall says:

    Great episode of a great story, lads!

    The horror for me comes from the setting of a bed, a place of rest, relaxation and extreme vulnerability being invaded. I mean, there’s very few places where you’re as vulnerable as you are in bed, completely and generally literally unconscious of what’s happening around you. And now there’s a ghost. It’s the same reason I generally discount a lot of the Freudian stuff around slasher films – dumbass teens are generally going to be very unaware of their surroundings while doing it, being drunk or getting high. Prime time to get shanked by Jason, I think, you’ve no way of defending yourself properly.

  2. Paxton's Spade says:

    Enjoyed this one. I can see why MRJ liked it – good visceral protagonist with some good descriptive conjuring of the dank, salty drownee. No new ghost stories on TV this Christmas I note, but for anyone without a copy of the BFI GSFC collection, BBC4 are showing the Mark Gatiss documentary, Tractate Middoth, Number 13, Signalman and two Christopher Lee readings on Christmas Eve. There is also a short piece in Radio Times on the pleasure of Christmas Ghosts and decrying the lack of new adaptations.

  3. Spencer says:

    This is one of my favorite ghost stories of all time, and in that sadly neglected and under-represented subgenre, the Nautical Ghost Story. The isolation, strangeness, and atmosphere of the sea is so well-suited to ghostly tales.

    Not quite sure what the allusions about the bunkmate where, but my best guess is that he was a disreputable type involved in light criminal enterprise? That seems to be the connotation of people hanging around busy areas with no clear reason for being there.

    The haunting presence might be the first suicide, but he might have just been the victim of some malignant sea spirit. We’re not even sure it ever was human, only that it has the shape and appearance of the drowned man. One thing making it unlike an M. R. James story is there is no identification trick, no clergyman’s bands or scar under the eye or such. That sense of uncertainty and ambiguity really ads to the terror.

    Discuss sexual connotations if you will, but please, go easy on “Freudian”. Freud was, and is, an utter failure who got everything bass-ackwards. We don’t follow the plumb pudding model of atomic structure, so don’t dignify Freud.

    • MarkB says:

      Agree on the Freud. Within the world of science, he was downgraded if not ignored fairly quickly. Unfortunately, in the arts and literature world he was taken seriously for long after his sell-by date passed. This is probably because he was – and still is – recognized as a story-teller. Scientists would call him a fraud, but the arts aren’t so fussy.

  4. Amanda StJohn says:

    It would be a great story, but the hosts keep interrupting it with commentary, which I find extremely distracting, as I have never heard this particular story before.

  5. Belinda says:

    I was given a book of ‘Ghost Stories for Children’ when I was about ten, which included ‘The Upper Berth’ – in fact, it was also illustrated on the front cover. I don’t think I’ve read it between then and now, which is [mumble] years, but who on earth thought that was a suitable story for children? I can clearly remember being absolutely terrified, for precisely the reason that A Rat In The Wall suggests: a ghost in the BED? I mean, everybody knows that the ghost can’t get you if you go to the bottom of the bed with the covers over your head, and then suddenly… it’s in there with you…

  6. Gunnjón Gestsson says:

    When I first read it I took Brisbane’s comments about the other passenger to be anti-Semiti. Mostly due to the association with Wall Street and the implication that the man was involved in these fairly high society situations yet always a bit outside I thought he was drawing on negative Jewish stereotypes involving finance but I guess the homosexual angle fits better.

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