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Stories that inspired M.R. James

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

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Episode 83 – A Room in a Rectory

March 6, 2021 | Episodes | Comments (14)

Church 2 by Garry Platt

This episode Will and Mike hitch up their cassocks, pack their prayer books and head to ‘Southshire’ to open ‘A Room in a Rectory’ by Sir Andrew Caldecott!

Big thanks to Kirsty who provided the readings for this episode, and to Garry Platt who provided the photo that accompanies this episode. You can see more of Garry’s photos at his Instagram account.

Show notes:

  • Sir Andrew Caldecott (wikipedia)
    You can find out about Caldecott’s life and exalted career in the Colonial Office at his wikipedia page.
  • ‘Not Exactly Ghosts’ (Project Gutenberg Australia)
    While Caldecott’s stories are not quite out of copyright in most countries, you can still read the volume of ghost stories that ‘A Room in a Rectory’ comes from in its entirety online at Project Gutenberg Australia.
  • St Michael defeating Satan (wikipedia)
    If you are trying to visualise the stained glass window that features in this story, head over to this wikipedia page where you can see a number of artistic interpretations of this very scene.
  • Hymns Ancient and Modern (37mb PDF)
    This story features a crackingly devilish inversion of a hymn from the hymn book ‘Hymns Ancient and Modern’. You can read the original version in this PDF, hymn number 335.
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14 Comments

  1. Christopher Martin says:

    Great to see you both back with a detailed analysis of another ghost story albeit one I have not yet read. Looking forward to your take on LTC Rolt, an author of whom I have been fond for a long while.

    • Helen Williams says:

      Absolutely cannot wait either for your LTC Rolt episode – probably my favourite author of spook stories after MRj

  2. Robert Maity says:

    Oh I don’t know, I think the place names are fun.

  3. Joe says:

    Great podcast! I enjoyed the story and need to look up more Caldecott. I do feel like you guys may have missed an opportunity, though; surely the Bishop of Congia and the other bishop’s chaplain traveling together for the exorcism constitutes a Posse of Parsons? 🙂

  4. David Malcolm Sommer says:

    Thank you for turning me on to Caldecott’s ghost-ish tales. This one reminds me of the story “Two Black Bottles” by H.P. Lovecraft and Wilfred Blanch Talman:

    “It was whispered about that the Reverend Johannes Vanderhoof had made a compact with the devil, and was preaching his word in the house of God. His sermons had become weird and grotesque—redolent with sinister things which the ignorant people of Daalbergen did not understand. He transported them back over ages of fear and superstition to regions of hideous, unseen spirits, and peopled their fancy with night-haunting ghouls. One by one the congregation dwindled, while the elders and deacons vainly pleaded with Vanderhoof to change the subject of his sermons. Though the old man continually promised to comply, he seemed to be enthralled by some higher power which forced him to do its will.”

  5. A Rat in the Wall says:

    I have to give this story a resounding ‘it was alright’ honestly. Read more like a detailed synopsis than the actual events themselves. We were never really there in the moment with the Rector experiencing the things he was experiencing. There was always some distance, it softens the impact of what does work and makes for an overall very mild story. And there is good stuff in here, the solid shadow in his study and the disturbance in the air behind Phayne were effective bits of creepy description. It’s something I could see James really working on. I absolutely loved the demonic hymn and the Rector’s evil sermons. Had they had been preaching about demons and sorcerers every Sunday when I was growing up I’d still be going! I don’t think I’m entirely sold on Caldecott yet but he’s got promise.

  6. Ben Schultz says:

    I agree with yall that there are some major thematic and plot level differences between Andrew Caldecott and M R James, but I think he is the most like the master for a reason that wasn’t touched on as much in the podcast – authorial style and voice. The sentence complexity that never runs into pedantry or showiness, the dry sense of humor of the narrator, the gentle poking fun at local yokel type characters (especially the use of phonetic dialect at times) – all those flourishes remind me of James on a much much deeper level than any of the authors you have covered so far. I personally love Caldecott and hope you circle back to him again – I think “Grey Brothers” would make a great episode, especially given all the spider imagery in James and how Caldecott plays with those tropes

  7. Andy E says:

    Regarding the use of exorcism in the Anglican Communion – it’s called “Deliverance Ministry”. It’s not exactly the most well known part of ministry, but is probably more used than one might imagine. During my training as a priest, I am awaiting an attachment to a DM team.

  8. Steve Dempsey says:

    A fun story if, as you say, overlong. But I’m very glad you covered it. I have one small you request, brought about by having to sit through many, many presentations at work, to the extent that I often keep a count of them. Would you mind watching your “kind of”s and “sort of”s? There are over 100 of these in this cast alone.

  9. David McGarry says:

    Hey Will, I noticed the comment font seems to grow really large… if you remove line 865 from style.css

    This one : #main-column p,

    It will fix the comments getting really large font sizes…

    Cheers and thanks for all your work, I love the show and can’t believe this Sept will be your 10th anniversary!

    David

  10. Patricia W says:

    I have finally caught up since I discovered this podcast many months ago. I love it. Thanks for producing it, Mike and Will. Although now that I’ve caught up, I can no longer binge listen.

  11. Gotta say, as somebody from across the pond, the town names all struck me as completely plausible. Then again the bar for “too silly” English town names is set somewhere in the ionosphere. You could tell me you came from Dorkington Flibbershire by way of Cockbutters in the Lesser Fartswallace region and I’d be completely taken in.

    This was the story in the anthology that told me I was really in for a good time. While the themes and references are there, the biggest appeal for me is the authorial voice being so very Jamesian, as James Shultz said.

    As far as Caldecott’s other work, my favorite that I’m hoping you cover is “In Due Course”.

  12. Helena B says:

    Branch Line to Benceston must have driven you both wild – I’m thinking of the bit where the narrator looks up the mysterious town of Benceston only to discover – my God! – that there is no such place! Horror of horrors. Well, now he knows how we feel when we have to read about him taking the three-thirty from St Euston’s Cross…

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