Stories that inspired M.R. James

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Episode 89 – Cushi

June 18, 2022 | Episodes | Comments (11)

Open your hymn books to episode 89, as we’re back in church for Christopher Woodforde’s “Cushi”: a tale of capering cats, sabotaged surplices and vengeful vergers. Don’t lose your head!

Show notes:

  • Christopher Woodforde studied at Peterhouse, Cambridge before becoming an Anglican priest. He was later Fellow and Chaplain at New College, Oxford, and Dean of Wells (as was Richard Maldon of ‘The Sundial’ fame – Episode 80). He was an antiquarian with a love for stained glass, rather like MR James!
  • ‘A Pad in the Straw’ was his only book of stories. It is currently out of print, but previously available from Sundial Press.
  • Richard Dalby wrote that Woodforde based some of his clerical and antiquarian characters on himself, and many of the locations on the parishes in which he served.
  • In his introduction to ‘A Pad in the Straw’, Lord David Cecil said that “A waft of the uncanny blows through these tales, just enough to make the spine agreeably tingle… The general atmosphere is at once eerie and friendly… The intimate apprehension of landscape and the past gives his tales an unexpected weight and depth. Slight and fanciful though their action is, they are the expression of an imagination soaked through and through in the English scene and in English history.”
  • Hymn number 386 ‘The Sower Went Forth Sowing’ was written by William Bourne, a pastor, for a harvest festival in 1874. And very jolly it is, to: “And then the fan of judgment/Shall winnow from His floor/The chaff into the furnace/That flameth evermore.”






  1. SRebInNH says:

    Maybe his cats brought him the skull. We had a cat who would always bring us not new/fresh mice, but remnants of other cats’ mice. Waste not, want not.

  2. Sean says:

    Maybe it’s just years of listening to this podcast, but when Evans was described as trying to push new forms of worship, I immediately thought “oh me must be a papist”.

    As so often happens writing fiction, Woodforde may have had a much clearer image of Cushi in his head than got translated onto the page, hence the weak ending. I like to think he was some kind of necromancer who extracted petty and extreme revenge in death.

    And there really is no copy of his book out there that doesn’t cost a pretty penny. Found some eBay ones for nasty prices. Couldn’t find a single ebook, and I don’t think one exists. The raw text isn’t available online either. I hope Wordsworth put one out, they’ve done phenomenal work in re-releasing obscure horror writers over the years.

  3. Eddie says:

    It is an odd name ; perhaps it is pronounced Ku-she? I agree with SRebInNH and think the cats did it! As with Will, I also didn’t see such a level of animosity between Evans and Cushi that the former’s noggin deserved to be embraced in death by the latter. It’s an unsatisfactory conclusion to an otherwise enjoyable yarn but is a suitably macabre image. Nonetheless-another great discussion, reading and a laugh from you lads!

  4. Luke Hart says:

    Maybe Cushi is short for Cushing – as in the Hammer horror actor Peter Cushing. A homage perhaps?.

    Or maybe Cushi is a European surname of origin? Not all Englishmen are named Smith, Harris or Taylor.

    I thought the ending of this story was very similar to “A School Story” by M.R James.

  5. Patricia says:

    Regarding the suggestion that something really awful should have to have happened between Evans and Cushi in order that they become entwined in death, I recommend watching the Argentinian movie “Wild Tales”, which consists of six short stories, the relevant one here being “Til Death Do Us Part”. It’s a real cracker. Not very Jamesian, but I couldn’t help thinking of it during Will and Mike’s discussion.

  6. Nick Beale says:

    Could “cushi” just be a nickname from the cushion he kept his copy of »Struwwelpeter« under? A little anti-climactic, I know but then so was the story.

  7. Edward says:

    For anyone having a hard time finding this story, it is included in The Oxford Book of English Ghost Stories, edited by Michael Cox, a book not hard to track down.

  8. Donnie says:

    Perhaps if enough of us contacted Wordsworth requesting the title, they’d see about putting one into print? It does sound like a very interesting book.

  9. John says:

    New College is really St Mary’s College, but there is another St Mary’s College so this one is called New College to prevent confusion with the existing one. (The other St Mary’s College is known by its nickname, Oriel College, for similar reasons.)

  10. Stephen says:

    I think the key lies in the Christian belief in the resurrection of the body. Some Christians (and many offshoot sects) believe that on the day of judgement the dead will rise bodily from their graves and will partake of eternal life this way, transformed or somehow made whole. St Paul rebukes those who argue about this by saying that earthly bodies are a mere seed compared to the wonderful flower which grows from the kernel which is dead and buried in the earth that will germinate when the kingdom of God has come (1 Cor 15:35-37, 42, 52, 53) This doctrine, variously interpreted in Christian theology, has nevertheless led to historic cultural superstitions about being buried whole, graves not being disturbed etc. In case they may not then enter into the next life on one piece, Or indeed at all. It explains the many ghost stories about a revenant searching for their stolen toe or finger after it has been removed from a grave or tomb.

    I think the point here is that Cushi , however he has managed it, according to apocryphal superstition, has broken up Evans’ interred body, thereby complicating or making impossible his chances of eternal life after the end times by holding onto his severed head like a grisly rugby ball. Its a trophy that he has had the last word. Now that’s dark.

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