Stories that inspired M.R. James

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

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Episode 92 – Randalls Round by Eleanor Scott

A black and white woodcut of some people dancing around a tree

This episode Mike and Will explore freaky folk-dance, village-based villainy and Cotswold chicanery in Eleanor Scott’s awesome Jamesian folk-horror tale Randalls Round!

Big thanks to Kirsty Woodfield for providing the readings for this episode.

Show notes:

  • This article contains some biographical information as well as plot summaries of the stories that appears in Randalls Round, her only collection of ghost stories. You can also see a photo of her here.
  • Helen Leys started using the Eleanor Scott pseudonym  when she published this controversial novel that exposed the dire experiences of teachers and girls within the English high school system.
  • Eleanor Scott was a student at this ladies college in the days before women were allowed to take degrees. The Somerville website contains some charming photos that give you a sense of what life was like for students at the time.
  • At the start of Randalls Round, Heyling and Mortlake discuss the folk dance revival that was then in full swing. This article describes that revival. Note the reference to the Headington Morris dancers who get a special mention in this story!
  • This 1921 book popularise Murray’s witch-cult hypothesis, the idea that the people persecuted as ‘witches’ in Europe may in fact have been involved in a survival of a pre-Christian pagan religion. Although her ideas were widely dismissed by historians, the ideas of ‘hidden’ folk/religious practices enduring in England, hidden away from the eyes of religious authorities, captured the public imagination and sparked the sort of debate that Heyling and Mortlake are having at the start of this story.
  • Aaron Worth suggests that the ‘volume of a very famous book on folk-lore’ that Heyling reads in this story would be The Golden Bough, Frazer’s influential multi-volume study on comparative religion, first published in 1890.
  • Morris Dance as Ritual Dance, or, English Folk Dance and the Doctrine of Survivals (
    This article by Chloe Middleton-Metcalfe explores the origins of the idea that folk dance originates in a survival of pre-Christian belief.
  • In this episode Mike mentions the Broad, a Cotswold folk custom that bears some similarity to the activities that Heyling witnesses on the village green.
  • We found it hard to discuss Randalls Round without repeatedly returning to this iconic 1973 British horror film!
  • The village of Randwick in Gloucestershire is at the top of Will’s list of possible real-world locations that may have inspired the fictional village of Randalls. As well as having a similar name and large mound to the north west, it even has its own curious folk celebration known as the Randwick Wap!
  • This Instagram account celebrates the weirdest (or should that be wyrdest?) elements of folk customs and traditions. This group of Morris men parading a strange, monstrous effigy seems particularly reminiscent of the events of Randalls Round!

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