Monday, 10 August 2009

Ghost stories

I love a good ghost story. M.R.James is one of the best at the short form of the genre. Ghost Stories of an Antiquary is packed with some of his best. All the stories here were written between 1894 and 1904 and were originally read to the author's friends at Christmas at Kings College, Cambridge, where James was a noted British medieval scholar. I'd guess the best way to experience these chilling little stories would be to have them read to you on a dark night, in the depths of winter, perhaps on Christmas Eve itself. It is probably easier to imagine, listening to the words, that the story is being told to you by someone who has heard the story from another, and that such a tale might be true - just for a short time anyway. James usually cleverly distances the storyteller from the actual protagonists who are often of a scholarly type, quite sanguine (at least at first) in their rejection of the supernatural.
More recently in the 60s and 70s the BBC started a tradition of filming a special ghost story ever year for Christmas and they often turned to the stories of M.R.James to supply the source. Lost Hearts, The Ash Tree, The Treasure of Abbot Thomas, Number 13 were all used. My favourite story from the collection is Oh, Whistle and I'll Come to You, My Lad which was also adapted by the BBC and features the brilliant Michael Horden in the lead role demonstrating what a wonderful character actor the man was. All five of these stories are from this collection.
BBC4 has revived the tradition over the last few years. A new adaptation of a classic ghost story is usually part of a season of ghost stories, shown over the Christmas fortnight along with most of the vintage M.R.James being included with other classic stories like The Signalman by Charles Dickens.

1 comment:

  1. I used to really enjoy ghost stories but have read very few recetly, maybe I should seek some out again...