Stories that inspired M.R. James

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

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Episode 25 – The Uncommon Prayer-book

The Book of Common PrayerThis episode Mike & Will put on their golden pince-nez and crack the spine of ‘The Uncommon Prayer-book’ by M.R. James!

Big thanks go to our reader for this episode, Debbie Wedge.

Questions answered during this episode:

  • Is M.R. James an anti-semite?
  • Is Mr Poschwitz the Germanic Lovejoy?
  • How much snakebite is too much snakebite?

Show notes:

  • Michael Cox / Pleasing Terror story notes (amazon)
    M.R. James’ biographer Michael Cox has written some very useful notes for this story which can be found in the Oxford Classics edition of ‘Casting the Runes and Other Ghost Stories’. Another set of notes can be found in the ‘Pleasing Terror’ M.R. James anthology.
  • ‘The Books, Manuscripts and Literary Patronage of Lady Anne Sadleir (1585-1670)’ by Arnold Hunt (Google Books)
    This essay features in the volume ‘Early Modern Women’s Manuscript Writing: Selected Papers from the Trinity/Trent Colloquium’ contains a wealth of information on the real life individual on who provided M.R. James with the inspiration of this story.
  • Info on this story, Lady Sadleir and Anti-Cromwellian editions of the book of common prayer (Two Nerdy History Girls)
    Information often turns up in unexpected places, like here in the comments section of a competely unrelated article about Guy Fawkes! Scroll down to the thread of comments starting with Chris Woodyard for some interesting speculation on the inspiration for this story.
  • Stereotypes of Jews in Literature (Wikipedia)
    Anti-Semitism has been rearing it’s ugly head in literature for centuries. Was M.R. James jumping on the Hebrew-bashing bandwagon? We think not but this info on how Jews have been portrayed in literature over the years is certainly eye-opening.
  • “M.R. James, Antiquarian Sleuth: William of Norwich, Thomas of Monmouth and the Blood Libel” by Steve Duffy (Ghosts & Scholars)
    This excellent article goes a long way to debunk the suggestion that M.R. James was harbouring anti-semitic tendencies by discussing James’ work to debunk the ‘Blood libel’ myth through close examination of the truth behind the martyrdom of William of Norwich.
  • Paul Lowe’s illustration of this story (
    Perennial M.R. James illustrator Paul Lowe produced a horrifying conception of what the flannel creature from this story may have looked like (scroll to the bottom of the page to find it).
  • The Book of Common Prayer (wikipedia)
    Here you can read about the troubled history of the Book of Common Prayer, the first book to publish the forms of common Christian worship in English.
  • Psalm 109 (
    Here you can read the full Book of Common Prayer version of Psalm 109, in all it’s doom-laden glory!



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