Stories that inspired M.R. James

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

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Investigating James: an interview with Patrick J. Murphy and Fred Porcheddu

Montague Rhodes JamesThis week we’ve got an interview for you with two splendid chaps from the U.S., who are delving into what lies behind MR James’ stories.

Patrick J. Murphy and Fred Porcheddu are also super-fun guys and we hope you enjoy hearing their take on what made Monty tick, the deeper meanings in his stories, and just what academics get up to in reading rooms all day.

Patrick and Fred’s recent articles on James’ fiction are:

  • “Renovation and Resurrection in M.R. James’s ‘Episode of Cathedral History.’” Studies in Medievalism (July 2013)
  •  “The Antiquarian Diaries of Thomas Hearne and Mr. Poynter in the Fiction of M.R. James: Duty Unfulfilled.” English Literature in Transition (July 2012)

If you aren’t sat on an academic network, then Fred has kindly offered to send interested listeners copies of these papers – follow the link for his email address.

Big thanks to Patrick and Fred for their time – we’ll be be back in a few weeks with View from a Hill.


Episode 18 – An Episode of Cathedral History

An Episode of Cathedral History by Alisdair Wood

This episode Will & Mike slip into their cassocks, whip out their prayerbooks and head down to Southminster for ‘An Episode of Cathedral History’ by M.R. James.

Questions answered in this episode:
– When is a vampire not a vampire?
– Do Lamia have hairy legs?
– What length of skirt do Mike and Will wear?

Big thanks go out to Roger Burton West who provided the readings, and Alisdair Wood for the awesome custom illustration on the right!

Show notes

  • The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens (wikipedia)
    This story refers twice to characters in Dickens’s famously unfinished novel ‘The Mystery of Edwin Drood’.
  • Rochester Cathedral (Monty’s World)
    There are various suggestions in the story that M.R. James may have had Rochester Cathedral in mind while writing this story.
  • Isaiah 34:14 (
    This website illustrated quite how much the Isaiah quote which appears in this story differs from one translation to another!
  • Lamia  & Satyr (wikipedia)
    The latin quotes in this story make reference to two creatures from Greek Mythology, the Lamia and the Satyr.
  • The Demon in the Cathedral by Rosemary Pardoe (Ghosts & Scholars)
    Apparently the plot of this story was used as part of a hoax played on Fate magazine in 1977!
  • The Lamia and the Screech-owl by Peter Bell (Ghosts & Scholars)
    This essay examines ‘An Episode of Cathedral History’ and discusses the mythical creatures mentioned in the story.
  • Charles Simeon (wikipedia)
    This story refers to ‘Simeon’s Lot’, a reference to the English evangelical preacher Charles Simeon, who James’s own father was a follower of.
  • Patrick J Murphy (Miami University) & Fred Porcheddu (Denison University)
    Patrick and Fred are two American academics who are conducting research into the medaevalist and antiquarian background of M.R. James’s stories.
  • Warnings to the Curious (
    During this episode we mention various essays which are featured in this book, including essays by Michael A. Mason, Jacqueline Simpson
  • A Pleasing Terror (
    The excellent footnotes on this story in the ‘A Pleasing Terror’ ebook were of great help to us when researching this story.
  • Speaker Lenthall’s Tomb (Ghosts & Scholars)
    The unfinished James tale dubbed by Rosemary Pardie ‘Speaker Lenthall’s Tomb’ bears some striking similarities to ‘An Episode of Cathedral History’.
  • The Gothic Revival (Wikipedia)
    It is an understatement to say that M.R. James was not a big fan of the architectural changes undertaken in British churches in the name of the gothic revival during the 18th and 19th century.

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