Stories that inspired M.R. James

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

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Episode 30 – A Warning to the Curious – Part 1 of 2

'A Warning to the Curious' by Alisdair WoodThe waiting is over, it’s finally time for Mike & Will to tackle what is arguably M.R. James’s masterpiece – A Warning to the Curious! It’s a biggie, so we will split our coverate of this story over two episodes. Our examination of this story will conclude in episode 31.

To assist them in their task, Mike and Will are joined by Tom Baynham, whose article ‘A Return to Seaburgh’ sheds much light on the real-world locations which feature in this story.

Once again big thanks go out to Alisdair Wood for providing the awesome artwork. You can now purchase a set of eight postcards featuring Alisdair’s great M.R. James illustrations. Snap them up while you can from Alisdair’s online shop.

The excellent readings which accompany this episode were provided by Lewis Davies.

Show notes:

  • Story locations
    In his introduction to ‘Collected Ghost Stories’ M.R. James explained that he based the town of Seaburgh on Aldeburgh in Suffolk. The actual locations featured in this story have been explored in a few articles in Ghosts & Scholars: ‘A Visit to Seaburgh‘ by Darroll Pardoe (G&S 15), ‘Cambridge and Suffolk: A Perambulation of Two Counties’ by Brian J. Showers (G&S Newsletter 14 – not available online) and ‘A Return to Seaburgh’ by Tom Baynham (G&S Newsletter 23 – not available online). See also the White Lion Hotel. To see the locations features in this story on a map, visit Monty’s World, our M.R. James map.
  • Snape Common Anglo-Saxon Cemetary (Wikipedia)
    The idea of buried Anglo-Saxon treasure was probably inspired by the real archeological finds uncovered at nearby Snape Common during the 19th century. The story also mentions the crown found at Rendlesham, a reference to the real crown found at the famous burial mounds at Sutton Hoo, near Rendlesham.
  • ‘”No Thoroughfare” – The problem of Paxton’ by Mike Pincombe (Ghosts & Scholars 32)
    This fascinating article (sadly not available online) explores the implications of a wartime setting for ‘A Warning to the Curious’. For an entirely different take on the character of Paxton, see Pincombe’s very entertaining essay ‘Homosexual Panic and the English Ghost Story‘ (G&S Newsletter 2)!
  • ‘Lay of a Last Survivor- Beowulf, the Great War, and M.R. James’s “A Warning to the Curious” ‘ by Patrick J. Murphy and Fred Porcheddhu (not yet published)
    This article reveals the connection between this story and Beowulf, and elaborates on Mike Pincombe’s suggestions about the importance of WWI to the understanding of this story.
  • ‘”The Rules of Folklore” in the stories of M.R. James’ by Jacqueline Simpson (Warnings to the Curious, Hippocampus Press, 2007)
    This essay mentions various possible precedents to the myth of the Three Crowns, including the legend of Bran the Blessed and Drake’s Drum.
  • The name ‘Ager’ (Surname Database)
    It seems that ‘Ager’ is indeed a local name of some pedigree in the Suffolk and Cambridge area.

As if a bumper 2-parter on ‘A Warning to the Curious’ wasn’t enough, we have also produced a short video comprising footage taken on our recent visit to Aldeburgh, and featuring locations from the story such as Aldeburgh Parish Church, the White Lion Hotel (‘the Bear’ from the story), Wyndham House (home of M.R. James’s grandparents), the Martello Tower, Sluice Cottage (the likely site of William Ager’s house) and even a spot which matches James’s description and location of the mound where Paxton finds the crown!


Episode 24 – The Haunted Dolls’ House

Queen Mary's Dolls' House - photo by Arthur GillThis episode Will and Mike delve into the toy box and pull out something truly horrible in the form of ‘The Haunted Doll’s House‘ by M.R. James!

Show notes:

  • Queen Mary’s Dolls’s House
    This story was written for a real dolls’ house, the one created by the architect Sir Edwin Lutyens for Queen Mary of Teck between 1921 and 1924. The dolls’ house in currently on display in Windsor. Further details can be found at Wikipedia.
  • Strawberry Hill House
    James describes the dolls house in his story as being ‘Strawberry Hill Gothic‘ in style, the ‘quintessence of Horace Walpole‘. Walpole’s gothic castle-style house inspired a generation of architects when it was built on the banks of the Thames in London in the mid 18th century.
  • Dolls’ Houses: It’s a Small World
    This enjoyable article looks into the world of modern day dolls’ house collectors.
  • Interview with Stephen Gray
    Episode 21 of this very podcast featured an interview with filmmaker Stephen Gray who has recently completed a short film adaptation of this story. Watch it on Vimeo.
  • Ghosts & Scholars notes
    The ever-reliable Ghosts & Scholars website contains a useful set of notes on this story compiled by Rosemary Pardoe.
  • A frog the size of a man?
    Jim Moon’s excellent illustration.
  • Improvised Radio Theatre – With Dice!
    Many thanks to our reader this week, Roger Burton West.  His new RPG podcast is great – and HPL fans will appreciate the domain name…



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