Stories that inspired M.R. James

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

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Episode 89 – Cushi

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.”





Episode 88 – Canon Alberic’s Scrap-Book Revisited

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.


  • 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!

Episode 87 – Mark Gatiss’s The Mezzotint

Portrait of Mark Gatiss with a manor house in the background.In this episode, Mike and Will share their thoughts on Mark Gatiss’s recent TV adaptation of M.R. James’s The Mezzotint.

Join us for some monocle-popping, mustache-bristling, spine-chilling fun!

Show notes

The image that accompanied this episode includes elements of ‘Mycroft Holmes post stamp‘ by iMontage (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0), ‘Abbey Manor House‘ by David Luther Thomas (CC BY-SA 2.0) and ‘Picture frame‘ by Sailko (CC BY 3.0).

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