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!

Episode 91 – Let Loose by Mary Cholmondeley

A woodcut of a hand looming over a sleeping man.In the first episode of Season 4 tm, Mike and Will are delighted by Let Loose by Mary Cholmondeley, a tale of crypts, clergymen and crikey, what is that in the dog’s mouth?

Big thanks to Jim Moon for allowing us to use extracts from his excellent reading of the story. You can listen to the whole thing over on the Hypnogoria podcast feed.

Show notes:


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!
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