Stories that inspired M.R. James

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

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Episode 77 – The Man with the Roller by E.G. Swain

May 7, 2020 | Episodes | Comments (10)

E.G. Swain

This episode Mike and Will put on their dancing shoes and head out to the lawn, only to encounter The Man with the Roller by E.G. Swain!

Massive thanks to podcaster Jim Moon of for letting us use extracts from his reading of this story in the episode! You can listen to the full reading, as well as all Jim’s other E.G. Swain readings here.

Note: we realised after recording that the repeated references to dancing on the lawn ire probably a bit of black humour regarding Andrew Birch who, being hanged, clearly did some ‘dancing’ of his own in relation to his activities on the lawn!


  • E.G. Swain (Wikipedia)
    There is rather scant information about E.G. Swain available online, but his wikipedia page is a good place to start.
  • The Stoneground Ghost Tales (Project Gutenberg)
    This story and all the others in the volume can be read and downloaded for free here.
  • Stanground (Google maps)
    The real-world Stoneground can be found just outside Peterborough. The church is much as Swain would have known it. The rest of the village, not so much, but these historical maps can give you a good idea of what it was like before the modern housing and industrial estates took hold.

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  1. A Rat in the Wall says:

    ‘Inspired heavily’ is a bit of an understatement, I’d say! But nonetheless, it’s a good story, and I’m glad you two chose this one. I read ‘Bone to his Bone’ as well, and it’s a very cozy little story, I liked it quite a bit, but it’s not very spooky. However I was disappointed nothing really happens once the ghost vanishes, same thing happens on Mezzotint, but that story’s haunted picture had the added element of a skeleton monster kidnapping a child to make it horrible. A man with a roller somehow lacks the impact.

    Now, the evil, suffering, indescribable face, I imagined the mouth pulled into a teeth-bared grimace, sort of in the way your mouth can curl up in a moment of shock, which if held still, would like a horrible smile, if that makes sense. Being the face, too, of a dead murderer, I suppose it just ‘looks’ evil or malignant, perhaps drawn or sunken or even rotted.

    I think the big difference between this and Mezzotint is certainly the human element. Like in all James stories, the spook in the mezzotint itself is removed from humanity, just like Ager, Count Magnus, or Canon Alberic’s demon, the crawling skeleton has passed over into another, decidedly non-human state of being, or was perhaps never human at all. But the ghost in Groves’ photo is human, it shows suffering, pain and remorse, and this suffering is so strong it unsettles you in the way an actual image of torture would unsettle you. I think James knew that humanity took away from horror, no great horror icon is truly relatable or pitiable, which is why The Mezzotint works more as a creepy episode (lack of peril aside, it actually doesn’t bother me), and this is merely a cute, albeit well-written, riff. I do like the idea of these tendrils of the past reaching out, history coming alive and being alive in this place, though. You’ve made me interested to try his stories now.

    And I would like to throw in my vote (even if there isn’t a vote) for Ingulphus’ ‘The Everlasting Club’, that’s a good one!

  2. Sarah Totton says:

    Great podcast. Keep up the great work, guys.

    The dancing on the lawn reference reminded me of an old poem, “The Dancing Cabman” by J.B. Morton:

  3. SRebInNH says:

    At first I thought the roller would be an asphalt roller and the man would be with a road crew. The breakdown lane of a rural highway *might* be a good place to hide someone you’ve been embezzling from, but then you’d have to get rid of all your coworkers. What a mess.

    I wondered on Twitter if there’s a Google Earth version of this theme, but now I think it would be even better to have someone examining infrared satellite imagery of “Stoneground” (studying vegetation health or whatnot), and they blow up a series of .tiffs and realize, to their horror, there’s still this mournful little guy down there, rolling the lawn.

  4. John says:

    So what happened to Episode 76?

  5. Lemuel Gonzalez says:

    Good episode with good commentary!

    I’m glad to hear any of Swain’s work discussed. No, he is not exactly frightening, but his stories are entertaining,and he created an affable central character ( a film adaptation might have had Miles Malleson, or Donald Pleasence in the role ) to follow.

    I have an edition of Swain’s ghost stories that includes six additional Stoneground stories by Michael Cox. I found them engaging, and true to the original collection.

  6. laura says:

    If it’s the equation chiller, Jr’s David Rowlands wbo wrote the further tales. You can also find them in an Ash Tree press book The Executioner ( I think you can get this as an e book now. Very Jamesian collection.
    Gentle stories very much in keeping, I always imagine them as an Ealing film

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