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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 88 – Canon Alberic’s Scrap-Book Revisited

March 22, 2022 | Episodes | Comments (14)

Illustration from the Codex GigasJoin Mike and Will for a special 10th anniversary (give or take a few months) special in which your now-aged hosts look back over a decade of M.R. James podcasting and return to the story that started it all, Canon Alberic’s Scrapbook! You can listen to when we originally covered this story all the way back in episode one. Will the quality of our story commentary have improved? Listen and find out!

Big thanks to Debbie Wedge who returns once again as the reader for this episode.

Notes:

  • Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges (Google Maps)
    Some lovely 360 degree photography of this story’s real-world locations have been added to Google Maps since the last time we covered this story. You can now explore the town, the cathedral interior and even spot the famous stuffed crocodile!  st’s name f   ro
  • Read about the turbulent life of the read Saint Bertrand. No mention of the crocodile incident sadly.
  • Christopher Plantin (wikipedia)
    In the story, Dennistoun was singularly unimpressed by the prospect of discovering a book published by this 16th-century Belgian printer and publisher.
  • William Harrison Ainsworth’s Old Saint Paul’s. (Getty Images)
    Dennistoun compares the scrapbooks illustration of King Solomon and the demon to this scene from the popular novel ‘Old Saint Paul’s’ by William Harrison Ainsworth. You can read the scene in question by going here and searching for ‘THE MOSAICAL RODS 95′.
  • Arthur Shipley (wikipedia)
    The ‘lecturer on morphology’ mentioned in this story is a reference to M.R. James’s friend Arthur Shipley, who published a textbook called Zoology of the Invertabrata, which mentions ‘gigantic’ South African spiders that live in holes and prey on small birds.
  • Key of Solomon (wikipedia)
    In the episode, we mention this famous grimoire, which purports to be written by the demon-summoning old testament monarch King Solomon.
  • Codex Gigas (wikipedia)
    Patrick Murphy suggests that the illustrations in the titular scrapbook could have been inspired in part by this gigantic illuminated manuscript, also known as the ‘devil’s bible’. Check out this huge demon in a furry red loincloth!
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14 Comments

  1. Sean says:

    Happy Anniversary! Been listening to the podcast for years now, not quite from the beginning, but close enough. Sometimes I like to pop an episode on, because honestly it’s just kinda cozy and fun. And I don’t think the original episode is bad either, not even your readings! Or your choice in music, which shall remain unnamed, but was coincidentally, perhaps, very on topic.

    I think it’s good that Canon Alberic got a revisit, because it deserves it. James had scarier stories for sure, but this one has a solidity to it that never gets tiring for me. It hits the right pace, there’s nothing wasted, the antiquarianism, though lost on most of us, still provides the right flavour to the story and to Dennistoun. Slightly weak ending aside, this is a tight story.

    I hadn’t ever thought about the scrapbook being part of a puzzle, but it does make sense. It’s one of those details this story is filled with that make it rich, because likely there is some link between these all these pages. References to summonings, demons, spirits, things like that, that the canon compiled into a personal grimoire.
    The sacristan was absolutely manipulating Dennistoun, it’s definitely a case of “I warned you”, because Dennistoun seems to be, at least to the sacristan, someone who knows this kind of stuff. Though the fellow also definitely shows guilt for it, I mean after all, he’s off-loaded a burden at the expense of someone else. I think that’s the reason for the daughter giving Dennistoun the crucifix – trying to alleviate the guilt of what they’ve done.
    As for the ending, my feeling is the demon is a haunting one, spreading suffering through fear rather than violence. Both Alberic and the sacristan were run ragged by the this thing’s presence, but they were never physically harmed. Though Alberic did die of a “seizure”, and the sacristan died soon after, too, and seemed to know he would. We don’t know if it ever truly left Dennistoun after he destroyed the illustration. Maybe he heard metallic laughter in lonely places for the rest of his days and died of a seizure. But to be fair, we also don’t get any indication of that either.

    Also quickly, I have to be that guy…Giger’s name is actually pronounced like Gee-ger, and Gigas is Gee-gas. Which really sucks because it doesn’t sound half as cool, but you were accidentally right anyway.

    Here’s to another ten years! I’ve loved discovering all these new ghost stories and gaining a deeper appreciation for James, all because of you lads!

  2. Oliver Sampson says:

    I was very pleased to see this appear in my feed this morning!

  3. Richard Leigh says:

    What a relief to learn, right at the end, that you’ll be continuing. Had you thought of revisiting any of the other James stories?
    By the way – there IS a crocodile – you can se it in Mark Gatiss’ documentary.
    All the best for the next ten years – I’ll be with you, if the demons don’t get me first.

  4. David Lee says:

    It is always great to hear a new podcast from you guys. This revisit to this great old tale is a joy. I have just finished reading the story again myself. This time from the Ghosts of the Chit- Chat collection. It has the National review version of the story in which Denistoun is called Anderson. Why the change to Dennistoun? I don`t know, but I am sure someone has a theory.

    • Ed Kent says:

      Well done on a decade in podcasting Mike and Will. I think I came in at Episode 8, early 2012. I was having treatment for cancer at that time and your lighthearted chats about M.R. James (one of my favourite authors since schooldays) really cheered me up. Have stuck with you ever since. Always interested to hear your take on a weird tale, whether I’m familiar with the author or not. Sounds like you’ve had real fun doing the podcasts all these years as well which is great to hear.

  5. Robert Strudwick says:

    Hard to believe it’s ten years ! I was there from the start as I think HPLLP mentioned you ? Yours and their podcast were the first I ever listened to and I still return to old episodes on occasion. I think Number 13 is my fave episode. Anyway, congrats and thank you for all that you do !

  6. Jim Barrett says:

    Since the protagonist of Number 13 is also named Anderson, the obvious theory is that James originally intended to make Anderson a recurring character, but later decided against it.

  7. MarkB says:

    A fine tenth anniversary episode. One comment on looking back. We’re left with the same questions raised by all such pass-it-on stories, such as The Monkey’s Paw. Why does the Verger sell/give such a cursed item to Denistoun? Clearly he would want to get rid of it, but is Denistoun’s desire to acquire it sufficient reason to unload an accursed book to him?
    Then again, there is the movie excuse. That is, if you get out of the cinema before you catch a plot hole, is it really such a problem? Perhaps we suffer from too much analysis, and expect too much out of what is just a story.

  8. Emma says:

    Hands up everyone who was waiting for them to announce the end of the podcast!

    I’m so relieved that you’ll be continuing. As a patron of yours I don’t mind at all that you’re not putting out content when you’re not feeling it. I love the podcast and I’ve replayed some episodes so often I can quote them. Thank you!

  9. Chris Mackinder says:

    Thanks both for this tenth anniversary edition of your podcast which has been like a good friend since I first stumbled over it some years ago.
    This latest exploration added fresh layers of meaning to your original ‘dissection’ of that first story that M.R.James unleashed. It speaks to the depth and richness of his work that it is perfectly feasible to revisit it and still create a further entertaining two hours of ideas and revelations…
    I wish you well for the ‘next round’. I think many listeners would actually value further revisits to some of the stories as you did with this one. It would bring new insights and discoveries – would listeners be interested? I think so…

  10. Sarah Greenan says:

    Congratulations on the 10th anniversary. An excellent return to St Bertrand de Comminges. Delighted that you are carrying on – I was concerned that there was a slightly valedictory note early in the episode! Here’s to another decade.

  11. Wow, is it really ten years? Thanks and well done!
    We covered CASB on the Innsmouth Book Club podcast last Xmas. Re the price asked for the book, we found out that it may have related to a Robert Louis Stevenson story called The Bottle Imp that came out a couple of years before. In that, the bottle with the wish-fulfilling imp must be sold on for less than you paid for it, to avoid the curse.
    Some speculate that MRJ may have read and drawn influence from this idea.

    http://helengrantbooks.blogspot.com/2014/03/tempered-in-flames-of-hell-bottle-imp.html

    https://www.patreon.com/posts/59714998

  12. Dave Marsh says:

    Happy anniversary more revisits would be welcome given you’ve got 10 years of arcane knowledge to draw on!

  13. Ted says:

    For some perspective on the price the sacristan was asking; 250 Frs. in 1895 was £9/18/3 stg.

    Adjusting for inflation gives a 2020s value of £1,218 stg. So its not a paltry sum like the bottle imp being passed around for a dollar here 50 cents there and so on, but it isn’t an absurdly large amount of money either.

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