Rank #1: Episode 49 – Twelve Medieval Ghost Stories
What could be more worthy of a Christmas episode than a ghost story? Answer: twelve ghost stories! This week Mike and Will find plenty of seasonal cheer in the scribblings of a 15th century monk from Yorkshire, whose collected tales of wandering spirits Monty transcribed in 1922. Expect lashings of purgatorial terrors, a stocking-full of redemption and a whole load of bad wassailing, ghostly and otherwise*, as we explore Twelve Medieval Ghost Stories.
- The Byland Abbey Project has all the stories, plus translation notes and commentary on each story. Invaluable!
- Ghosts in Medieval Yorkshire, by Jacqueline Simpson, is a fantastic article, not least for Jacqueline’s analysis of the different roots of James’ ghost stories and these medieval tales.
- Mark Gatiss talks about medieval manuscripts with a curator at the Fitzwilliam Museum in his 2013 documentary Ghostwriter (contains images some listeners will hopefully find disturbing).
- Death and the Afterlife – a British Library article with examples of medieval Books of Hours and other context for understanding the 15th century view of mortality, purgatory and salvation.
- Underrated BBC Radio 4 discussion show Beyond Belief (it’s great, even for atheists!) ran an episode on purgatory, which may not be available to listeners outside of the UK.
Happy Christmas and we’ll see you again in 2016!
* no, seriously. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Dec 22 2015
Rank #2: Episode 30 – A Warning to the Curious – Part 1 of 2
The waiting is over, it’s finally time for Mike & Will to tackle what is arguably M.R. James’s masterpiece – A Warning to the Curious! It’s a biggie, so we will split our coverate of this story over two episodes. Our examination of this story will conclude in episode 31.
To assist them in their task, Mike and Will are joined by Tom Baynham, whose article ‘A Return to Seaburgh’ sheds much light on the real-world locations which feature in this story.
Once again big thanks go out to Alisdair Wood for providing the awesome artwork. You can now purchase a set of eight postcards featuring Alisdair’s great M.R. James illustrations. Snap them up while you can from Alisdair’s online shop.
The excellent readings which accompany this episode were provided by Lewis Davies.
- Story locations
In his introduction to ‘Collected Ghost Stories’ M.R. James explained that he based the town of Seaburgh on Aldeburgh in Suffolk. The actual locations featured in this story have been explored in a few articles in Ghosts & Scholars: ‘A Visit to Seaburgh‘ by Darroll Pardoe (G&S 15), ‘Cambridge and Suffolk: A Perambulation of Two Counties’ by Brian J. Showers (G&S Newsletter 14 – not available online) and ‘A Return to Seaburgh’ by Tom Baynham (G&S Newsletter 23 – not available online). See also the White Lion Hotel. To see the locations features in this story on a map, visit Monty’s World, our M.R. James map.
- Snape Common Anglo-Saxon Cemetary (Wikipedia)
The idea of buried Anglo-Saxon treasure was probably inspired by the real archeological finds uncovered at nearby Snape Common during the 19th century. The story also mentions the crown found at Rendlesham, a reference to the real crown found at the famous burial mounds at Sutton Hoo, near Rendlesham.
- ‘”No Thoroughfare” – The problem of Paxton’ by Mike Pincombe (Ghosts & Scholars 32)
This fascinating article (sadly not available online) explores the implications of a wartime setting for ‘A Warning to the Curious’. For an entirely different take on the character of Paxton, see Pincombe’s very entertaining essay ‘Homosexual Panic and the English Ghost Story‘ (G&S Newsletter 2)!
- ‘Lay of a Last Survivor- Beowulf, the Great War, and M.R. James’s “A Warning to the Curious” ‘ by Patrick J. Murphy and Fred Porcheddhu (not yet published)
This article reveals the connection between this story and Beowulf, and elaborates on Mike Pincombe’s suggestions about the importance of WWI to the understanding of this story.
- ‘”The Rules of Folklore” in the stories of M.R. James’ by Jacqueline Simpson (Warnings to the Curious, Hippocampus Press, 2007)
This essay mentions various possible precedents to the myth of the Three Crowns, including the legend of Bran the Blessed and Drake’s Drum.
- The name ‘Ager’ (Surname Database)
It seems that ‘Ager’ is indeed a local name of some pedigree in the Suffolk and Cambridge area.
As if a bumper 2-parter on ‘A Warning to the Curious’ wasn’t enough, we have also produced a short video comprising footage taken on our recent visit to Aldeburgh, and featuring locations from the story such as Aldeburgh Parish Church, the White Lion Hotel (‘the Bear’ from the story), Wyndham House (home of M.R. James’s grandparents), the Martello Tower, Sluice Cottage (the likely site of William Ager’s house) and even a spot which matches James’s description and location of the mound where Paxton finds the crown!
Oct 13 2013
Rank #3: Episode 17 – The Diary of Mr Poynter
Big thanks to our reader for this episode, the mighty Paul Maclean (@ysdc on Twitter). You may know Paul from the ‘Call of Cthulhu’ RPG hub Yog-Sothoth.com and it’s Lovecraftian publishing wing InnsmouthHouse.com. He is also one of the presenters of the News from Pnakotus and The Silver Lodge podcasts, both required listening for weird fiction and RPG fans!
Also big thanks to Alisdair Wood, the massively talented artist who provided us with the awesome specially-created ‘Diary of Mr Poynter’ artwork you can see above. You can find more exciting James-inspired artwork at Alisdair Wood’s website.
- Rendcomb Manor, Gloucestershire (Monty’s World)
While in the story Rendcomb Manor is said to be in Warwickshire, the real Rendcomb Manor is in Gloucestershire. Now home to Rendcomb College, it is not clear if James had this ancient estate in mind when he wrote the story.
- Anti-vivisection movement and the Brown Dog Affair (Wikipedia)
Miss Denton is an advocate of the Anti-vivisection moment, which was gathering momentum in the decade before this story was published.
- William Poynter, Bishop (Wikipedia)
M.R. James borrowed the name of his diarist from an English bishop who published various religious tracts during the early 19th century.
- Dr Arthur Charlett, University College Oxford (Wikisource)
Mr Poynter’s diary states that the famously hirsute (and presumably fictional) Everard Charlett was of the same family as Dr Arthur Charlett, who was Master of University College Oxford for 30 years until his death in 1722.
- Thomas Hearne, Antiquarian (Wikipedia)
James mentions in the story that William Poynter argued with English antiquarian Thomas Hearne (1678 – 1735).
- Dr Robert Plot, Naturalist (Wikipedia)
Mr Poynter’s diary suggests that there may be precedents for the strange death of Everard Charlett to be found in the work of Robert Plot. Plot English naturalist whose works mentioned strange natural phenomena such as the ‘double sunset’ at Leek in Staffordshire, a giants femur bone etc.
- Feast of St Jude and St Simon (CatholicCulture.org)
James mentions that the curtains are finally delivered on the Feast of St Jude and St Simon, the 28th October. In his book Suffolk and Norfolk M.R. James notes that stained glass images of Jude and Simon can be found in the parish church at Denton in Norfolk, although his use of this as a name for his protagonist could be a coincidence!
- Thomas Philips, Antiquarian (Wikipedia)
M.R. James mentions in the story that prior to purchase by James Denton, Mr Poynter’s diary was part of the ‘famous Thomas collection’ of manuscripts. Thomas Philips was an antiquarian and obsessive book collector who left a collection of around 100,000 books and manuscripts at the time of his death in 1872 which were auctioned off over a number of years.
- Ghosts and Scholars postcard (Ghosts & Scholars Website)
Ghosts and Scholars are selling this rather scary bookmark featuring an image of Everard Charlett’s hairy coffin!
- Shakespeare authorship question (Wikipedia)
In the story Mr Cattell makes a reference to ‘Hercules and the painted cloth’, which Rosemary Pardoe suggests may be a hint towards the argument/conspiracy theory that someone else may have written Shakespeare’s works.
- The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkin Gilman (Wikipedia)
There are parallels between this story and the short story ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ by American Writer Charlotte Perkins Gilman which was published in 1892. This story was also recently examined in detail by the HPPodcraft.
- Game of Bear Story Competition (thesuffolkcoast.co.uk)
Suffolk Coast are running a competition for under 16’s to write an ending for M.R. James’s unfinished story Game of Bear. Closing date is 1st November, the winner will be selected by author Susan Hill.
Oct 09 2012
Rank #4: Episode 43 – The Malice of Inanimate Objects
In this episode Mike and Will batten down the hatches and prepare for the onslaught of ‘The Malice of Inanimate Objects‘ by M.R. James.
Readings for this episode are taken from Curious Creatures, Robert Lloyd Parry’s excellent audiobook which features a selection of lesser-heard M.R. James stories. Many thanks to Robert for giving us permission to use them! The full CD can (and should) be purchased from nunkie.co.uk
Thanks to Alisdair Wood who provided the awesome artwork that accompanies this episode. Head over to woodi.co.uk for more M.R. James inspired artwork for sale.
- The Malice of Inanimate Objects by M.R. James (Ghosts and Scholars)
This story can be read in full online at the Ghosts and Scholars website. See the notes at the bottom for links to the various translations of the Brothers Grimm’s story about the unfortunate, or very wicked, Squire Korbes.
- Resistentialism and Animism (wikipedia)
Think that objects are out to get you? You’re not alone, as Paul Jennings discussed in his humorous 1948 Spectator article on what he coined ‘Resistentialism‘. But attributing human attribute to non-human entities is nothing new, see this wikipedia article on Animism in religion.
- The Malice of Inanimate Objects short film (Youtube)
Want to see a man crack an egg on his own face, and worse? This M.R. James short by Youtuber Alan OW Barnes takes it’s inspiration from M.R. James and the tale of Squire Korbes mentioned in this story.
- Death Bed: The Bed that Eats (Youtube)
Cited as ‘a strong contender for worst movie ever made’, this 70’s horror movie caught Mike’s eye as example of the inanimate object idea being taken to places it probably shouldn’t. Warning: contains bad acting.
Feb 08 2015
Rank #5: Episode 6 – Count Magnus
In this Christmas Special* Will and Mike get stuck into Count Magnus by M.R. James, and explore some startling questions:
- What is the connection between Count Magnus and Ghostbusters 2?
- Will sewing your corpse into the carcass of a deer save your soul from the devil?
- Would Mr Wraxall prefer to have been shot in the balls by Robocop?
Answers to these questions and much, much more can be found in this bumber festive edition of the greatest and only M.R. James podcast! This episode features readings by Chris Savory.
- About the real Count Magnus Gabriel de la Gardie (Wikipedia)
- An image and map of the real manor at Råbäck
- Varnham Abbey, the site of the mausoleum of Count Magnus Gabriel de la Gardie (Wikipedia)
- ‘The Familiar’ by J. Sheridan Le Fanu (Full text at Gaslight)
- The Black Pilgrimage to Chorazin by Rosemary Pardoe and Jane Nicholls (Ghosts & Scholars)
- Dark Devotions – M.R. James and the Magical Tradition by Ron Weighell (Ghosts & Scholars)
- About Chorazin (Wikipedia)
- The Tale of the Witch of Berkeley by Rob Hardy (twistedtree.org.uk)
* This edition may or may not feature Mike and Will singing an exclusive acapella rendition of ‘Oh Come All Ye Faithful’, accompanied by the choir of King’s College, Cambridge (spoiler alert: it doesn’t).
Dec 23 2011
Rank #6: Episode 37 – Wailing Well
Big thanks to Debbie Wedge for providing the readings for this episode.
- Worbarrow Bay
This story was read to the Eton boy scout troop during a camping trip to Worbarrow Bay in Dorset. Today Worbarrow Bay is owned by the Ministry of Defense and is notable for being the location of the ghost village of Tyneham.
This story features a veritable who’s-who of Eton staff members from the period, including Headmaster Cyril Alington, Vice-Project Hugh V. Macnaghten, James himself and most prominently Eton’s Maths teacher and Scout Master William Hope Jones, who is most famous for writing the humorous song ‘National Anthem of the Ancient Britons‘ aka ‘The Woad Song’.
- The Scouts
Will thinks that the antics of Stanley Judkins resemble those of Just William, but they remind Mike more of the scout troop in Moonrise Kingdom.
- Three women and a man
Who are the mysterious haunters of the wailing well field? It is never revealed, but if the location is Worbarrow Bay in Dorset, then it is possible that the local gaol records suggests they may have been smugglers.
- The Wailing Well (short film)
Film-makers Stephen Gray and David Lilley have committed this story to celluloid. You can watch it on Youtube in it’s entirety. Check out their other work at www.loonatikanddrinks.com
- Wayland Wood, Norfolk
In his ‘Suffolk and Norfolk’ M.R. James mentions in passing that Wayland Wood near Thetford was known locally as ‘Wailing Wood’ on account of it’s supposedly dark past as the setting for the crimes which inspired ‘Babes in a Wood’.
- Of Three Girls and of their Talk by Derek John
This story, a highly enjoyable Wailing Well prequel, appears in the sadly hard-to-find Ghosts & Scholars Book of Shadows.
- Dutch Oven
The sort of ‘dutch oven’ referred to in the story is this and definitely not this.
Jun 24 2014
Rank #7: Episode 31 – A Warning to the Curious – Part 2 of 2
This episode concludes our coverage of M.R. James’s masterwork ‘A Warning to the Curious‘, and we also speak to James expert Patrick J. Murphy, whose essay ‘Lay of a Last Survivor – Beowulf, the Great War, and M.R. James’s “A Warning to the Curious”’ impressed us greatly when researching this story.
Lewis Davies returns again to lend his voice to the readings for this episode, and an excellent job he does too. Thanks Lewis!
Notes on Remembrance Day:
When we started our two-parter on Warning to the Curious, we didn’t realise that we’d be releasing the second part on Remembrance Day.
For all that M.R. James did to honour the memory of the war dead, it seems likely that his portrayal of the First World War in this story was intended to be ambiguous, and likely coloured by his role as mentor to students from Cambridge who were amongst the fallen.
Will and I are conscious that some might feel this as an insensitive topic for Armistice Day, and I am sure that M.R. James would have felt the same way. But the podcast is ready, and I hope you agree that there is some merit in discussing how heavily the war weighed on James – as we remember those affected by war, in all conflicts.
- ‘Lay of a Last Survivor – Beowulf, the Great War, and M.R. James’s “A Warning to the Curious”’ by Patrick J Murphy and Fred Porcheddu (under review)
Our intereviewee in this episode is co-author of this excellent essay. Patrick assures us he will let us know when it is published!
- ‘”No Thoroughfare” – The problem of Paxton’ by Mike Pincombe (Ghosts & Scholars 32)
This fascinating article (sadly not available online) explores the implications of a wartime setting for ‘A Warning to the Curious’. For an entirely different take on the character of Paxton, see Pincombe’s very entertaining essay ‘Homosexual Panic and the English Ghost Story‘ (G&S Newsletter 2)!
- The Martello Tower, Aldeburgh (Landmark Trust)
Fancy a holiday in a real-life M.R. James location? The Martello Tower at Aldeburgh where Paxton meets his death is now a holiday cottage! If you are not familiar with martello towers, you can learn more about this particular type of coastal defence on wikipedia.
- Beowulf (wikipedia)
Patrick and Fred’s essay (see above) points out the glaring similatiries between this story and the most famous anglo-saxon story, Beowulf. Both stories feature theft from a burial mound with a guardian.
- A Warning to the Curious directed by Lawrence Gordon Clark (BBC TV 1972)
Further details about the 1972 TV version of this story can be found on wikipedia, including differences between the TV version and the original story.
- A Playmobil Warning to the Curious (youtube)
For a different take on the story, watch this playmobil animation of the story created by author and James-scholar Helen Grant and her son. It is both scary and cute in equal measures!
- A Warning to the Furious (BBC Radio Drama)
Another highly entertaining riff on this story can be found in this BBC radio drama from Christmas 2007. A feminist film crew visit Aldeburgh to try and psychoanalyse M.R. James, but find they have bitten off more than they can chew! This drama is not currently available form the BBC but can be tracked down on the dark dingy corners of the internet with a bit of searching.
- Our visit to Aldeburgh (Flickr)
You can see some photos of the visit we made this August to Aldeburgh, Suffolk on our Flickr account. Also see below for a video of out visit. Don’t forget you can view these locations on Monty’s World, our online mapping app.
Nov 11 2013
Rank #8: Episode 18 – An Episode of Cathedral History
Illustration by Alisdair Wood (woodnart.blogspot.com)
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!
- 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 (bible.cc)
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 (Amazon.co.uk)
During this episode we mention various essays which are featured in this book, including essays by Michael A. Mason, Jacqueline Simpson
- A Pleasing Terror (Amazon.co.uk)
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.
Oct 28 2012
Rank #9: Episode 21 – The Story of a Disappearance and an Appearance
This episode also features a Christmas Bonus in the form of an interview with film director Stephen Gray whose new adaptation of ‘A Haunted Doll’s House’ is available to watch online for a limited period only, starting Christmas Eve!
As mentioned in our interview, Stephen would like our listeners help deciding which story to film next! Please state your preference below.
- Story notes by Rosemary Pardoe (Ghosts & Scholars)
The ever-reliable Ghosts & Scholars website features some useful notes on the more perplexing terms used in this story.
- Punch and Judy (Wikipedia)
For those unfamiliar with Punch and Judy shows, Wikipedia gives a good explaination of this peculiar form of traditional entertainment.
- Fuseli’s ‘The Nightmare’ (Wikipedia)
In this story the writer compares Punch’s face to that of ‘the vampyre in Fusili’s foul sketch‘, a reference to the creature in Fuseli’s painting ‘The Nightmare’.
- Bicester, Oxfordshire (Monty’s World)
Rosemary Pardoe tells us that in the original handwritten manuscript for this story the town called ‘B—‘ in most printed versions is actually given as ‘Bicester’. Bicester is a market town in north Oxfordshire.
- Chrishall, Essex (Monty’s World)
The first letter in this story is addressed from ‘Great Chrishall’. There is no ‘Great Chrishall’ in the UK, but there is a ‘Chrishall’ and a ‘Great Chishill‘, both near Essex’s border with Cambridgeshire.
- Professor Bert Codman and ‘Toby’ (Punchandjudy.com)
Mike mentions this fellow in the podcast, one of the famous Codman dynasty of Punch and Judy performers. Apparently Bert died in 1969, just two days after the death of his beloved dog Toby!
- Photos of Bicester (Facebook)
Will took a trip to Bicester to have a look around the various locations which feature in this story. Photos from the trip can be found at our Facebook page.
The image below shows the King’s Head/Arms inn which features in this story, as it looked in 1885.
Dec 22 2012
Rank #10: Episode 58 – The Familiar by J Sheridan Le Fanu
Illustration by M. Grant Kellermeyer
In this bumper episode we examine M.R. James’s favourite story by his favourite author, ‘The Familiar’ by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu! Praise doesn’t get much higher than that, but is it all it is cracked up to be? If you are a fan of owls, diminutive, angry men in fur caps and incredibly long sentences, then you are in for a treat.
This episodes artwork comes curtesy of M. Grant Kellermeyer of Oldstyle Tales Press.
- Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (Wikipedia)
Some biographical information on the man himself.
- ‘In a glass darkly’ by Le Fanu (Wikipedia)
This is the volume of ghost stories in which this story most famously appears, featuring the ‘occult detective’ Dr. Martin Hesselius.
- M.R. James on J. S. Le Fanu (Ghosts and Scholars)
An article based on the presentation on Le Fanu that M.R. James gave to the Royal Institution of Great Britain on March 16th, 1923.
- Haunted Holidays – The Terrible Occult Detectives (Tor.com)
A very amusing essay on the ‘occult detective’ in literature, which singles out Le Fanu’s Dr Hesselius as the first occult detective.
- Reminiscences of a bachelor by J. Sheridan Le Fanu (Swan River Press)
We mention this title in our interview with Brian J. Showers. The book features ‘The Watcher’ and other stories, as well as its original companion piece ‘The Fatal Bride’ and notes on both stories.
Also mentioned in this episode
- Monsters – Don’t treat them gently! (Pleasing Terror Games)
The new M.R. James board game from friend of the show, James Drewitt.
- ‘No Diggin ‘ere’ and ‘Barchestering’ T-shirts (redbubble.com)
Two new MRJ T-shirts from our regular reader Debbie Wedge! Also available as baby-grows, mugs, phone cases etc.
Feb 27 2017
Rank #11: Episode 12a – Casting the Runes
Join Mike & Will as they delve into Brian Blessed’s beard, the truth of alchemy, diabolical magic lantern shows and class war in the first of our two-part extravaganza on M.R. James’s chilling story ‘Casting the Runes’!
Our reader for this episode is Mr Torion Bowles.
- Magic Lanterns (Wikipedia)
Mr Karswell was not the first to use a magic lantern to scare the crap out of his audience, it’s been going on since the 15th century!
- Aleister Crowley (Wikipedia)
Many have commented on the similarities between the fictional Mr Karswell and the English occultist, poet and mountaineer Aleister Crowley (1875-1947).
- ‘Class War in Casting the Runes’ by Mike Pincombe (Ghosts & Scholars)
Mike Pincombe’s exploration of class conflict in Casting the Runes is a must-read.
- Night/Curse of the Demon (1957) (Trailer – Youtube)
The first and best screen adaptation of ‘Casting the Runes’ was filmed in 1957 as ‘Night of the Demon’ (released as ‘Curse of the Demon’ in the U.S.). Superbly atmospheric and worth watching for Niall MacGuiness’s exemplary performance as Mr Karswell. It is available on DVD.
- Casting the Runes (1979) (Amazon)
Casting the Runes was brought forward to the seventies in this 50 minute UK tv version. It is clearly very low budget and not very good to be honest, but still worth purchasing on DVD as it is cheap and comes with two decent extras, a short tv version of ‘Mr Humphreys and his Interitance’ and a very enjoyable documentary about the author.
- Drag me to Hell (2009) (Trailer – Youtube)
Sam Raimi’s 2009 splatter-fest ‘Drag me to Hell’ is a loose (and unacknowledged) adaptation of ‘Casting the Runes’. James would have hated it but fans of OTT gorefests will love it!
- Lamplough’s Pyretic Saline (Ghosts & Scholars)
This is the ‘highly convincing’ advert that Dunning examins in the tram shortly before spotting the strange message about John Harrington.
- The British Library (bl.co.uk)
The real-world location of Dunning’s first encounter with Karswell.
- London United Tramways (Wikipedia)
In ‘Casting the Runes’ Dunning travels to work and back on the then-new London tram network operating in the west and south of London.
- A Podcast to the Curious Merchandise Store
That’s right, you can now grab yourself an Official APTTC t-shirt in a wide range of exciting colours! It’s what all the cool kids are wearing nowadays!
Apr 26 2012
Rank #12: Episode 62 – The Upper Berth by F. Marion Crawford
Mike and Will take a cruise across the pond in the good ship Kamchatka – but who’s hiding in The Upper Berth? Joining us to narrate F. Marion Crawford’s classic tale is reader Rupert Simons, who tells us that he’s found a cheap cabin for his trip from The Hook to Harwich next week…
- F. Marion Crawford was a very successful writer who penned comparatively few ghost stories and as chiefly known for his historical novels.
- The Upper Berth was originally published in “The Broken Shaft: Tales in Mid-Ocean”, an anthology of tales told by passengers on a stranded ocean liner. Friend of the show Dewi Evans (whom we interviewed at JamesCon in Episode 51) has written an excellent post about this collection on his blog.
- Ruthanna Emrys and Anne Pillsworth have written an excellent essay on this story, mentioned in our show. Anne suggests that “Bertie” is the ghost of a man who justs wants the bed for which he paid!
- There is a short film adaptation of ‘The Upper Berth’ by Mansfield Dark. You can watch it online but it’s also available as an extra on the DVD ‘The Story of a Disappearance and an Appearance’.
- Our fabulous cover art came from illustrator and designer Mike Godwin, whose website is full of wonderful things and links to his Etsy shop.
Nov 26 2017
Rank #13: Episode 63 – Christmas Re-union by Sir Andrew Caldecott
Ho ho ho! We have a festive cracker of an episode for you this month (literally), as Mike and Will explore Sir Andrew Caldecott’s M.R. James-inspired tale, ‘Christmas Re-union‘.
A big thank you to Tony Mears, who provided the readings for this episode. Check out his bands new track ‘A Hypothermia Banquet‘ on Bandcamp!
- ‘Christmas Re-union’ by Sir Andrew Caldecott (gutenberg.net.au)
The collection in which this story appears can be read online at Project Gutenberg Australia.
- Sir Andrew Caldecott (wikipedia)
Andrew Caldecott was a big cheese in the Colonial Office for much of this life, only starting to publish ghost stories after he retired. You can find out more about his career at britishempire.co.uk.
- Stories I Have Tried to Write by M.R. James (mrjamespodcast.com)
Not familiar with the M.R. James essay from which Caldecott took his inspiration for this story? We put out a full reading of it back in 2011 which you can listen to online!
- Ghost story reviews: Not Exactly Ghosts (Tychy)
An interesting review and commentary on the volume in which this story appears.
- Christmas Re-union (Anibalan.com)
An essay on this story, and on Sir Andrew Caldecott in general.
- The Great Smog of London (wikipedia)
The characters express a lot of concern about fog in this story. When you read about the Great Smog of December 1952 you will understand why!
- Sir Roger de Coverley (wikipedia)
This famous country dance, mentioned in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, also makes an appearance in this story.
Dec 21 2017
Rank #14: Episode 24 – The Haunted Dolls’ House
This episode Will and Mike delve into the toy box and pull out something truly horrible in the form of ‘The Haunted Doll’s House‘ by M.R. James!
- Queen Mary’s Dolls’s House
This story was written for a real dolls’ house, the one created by the architect Sir Edwin Lutyens for Queen Mary of Teck between 1921 and 1924. The dolls’ house in currently on display in Windsor. Further details can be found at Wikipedia.
- Strawberry Hill House
James describes the dolls house in his story as being ‘Strawberry Hill Gothic‘ in style, the ‘quintessence of Horace Walpole‘. Walpole’s gothic castle-style house inspired a generation of architects when it was built on the banks of the Thames in London in the mid 18th century.
- Dolls’ Houses: It’s a Small World
This enjoyable Guardian.com article looks into the world of modern day dolls’ house collectors.
- Interview with Stephen Gray
Episode 21 of this very podcast featured an interview with filmmaker Stephen Gray who has recently completed a short film adaptation of this story. Watch it on Vimeo.
- Ghosts & Scholars notes
The ever-reliable Ghosts & Scholars website contains a useful set of notes on this story compiled by Rosemary Pardoe.
- A frog the size of a man?
Jim Moon’s excellent illustration.
- Improvised Radio Theatre – With Dice!
Many thanks to our reader this week, Roger Burton West. His new RPG podcast is great – and HPL fans will appreciate the domain name…
Mar 25 2013
Rank #15: Episode 5 – Number 13
In this episode Mike and Will pack their portmanteaus for a holiday in HELL (well, Denmark actually) as they tackle ‘Number 13’ by M.R. James! Thanks to our reader this week Kirsty Woodfield.
Also in this episode Will and Mike:
- Coin ‘The Jamesian Wallop’
- Tackle the schleswig-holstein question
- Discuss hellish subjects such as alchemy, German sunlounger etiquette, and Toploader
- Inexplicably find something funny about the phrase ‘the Danish area’
Show notes & links:
- Viborg on Wikipedia and Googlemaps.
- ‘The Shadow of the Occupant of Number 13’ by Helen Grant (at Ghosts and Scholars)
- The Significance of Number 13 (at Squidoo)
- ‘Warnings to the Curious’ by S.T. Joshi & Rosemary Pardoe (ed) (at Amazon)
Don’t forget to join us for our next episode when we will be looking at ‘Count Magnus’!
Dec 17 2011
Rank #16: Episode 59 – The Haunted and the Haunters by Edward Bulwer-Lytton
This episode Mike and Will cover ‘The Haunted and the Haunters‘ by Charles Dickens’s BFF, Edward Bulwer-Lytton.
M.R. James considered this story essential reading, saying “Nobody is permitted to write about ghost stories without
mentioning ‘The Haunted and the Haunters’.” (Some Remarks on Ghost Stories). Will it live up to our expectations?
Our reader for this episode is talented artist and family member, Peter Ross!
We also mention the new book from friend-of-the-podcast Patrick J. Murphy, Medieval Studies and the Ghost Stories of M. R. James, check it out!
- Edward Bulwer-Lytton (Wikipedia)
Some basic biographical details about EBL’s life. A more detailed biography can be found at
- Edward Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest (www.bulwer-lytton.com)
Inspired by EBL’s famous clunker “It was a dark and stormy night…”, this competition challenges would-be writers
to come up with the worst possible opening line to a novel!
- 50 Berkeley Square, London (Wikipedia)
Often touted as ‘the most haunted house in England’, this place gained a fearsome reputation for ghostliness in the
latter half of the 19th century. It’s description and locations are tantilisingly close to the house described in
this story, although the story pre-dated the house’s notoriety.
- The Haunted House (Wikipedia)
The ‘haunted house’ as a concept goes back for at least 2000 years, and has inspired writers for just as long.
- ‘The Haunted House’ by Charles Dickens et al (Wikipedia)
Could the publication of this story be connected in any way to the publications of ‘The Haunted House’, the
portmaneau story that was ‘conducted’ and published by EBL’s friend Charles Dickens in the same year that EBL’s
story was published?
- Essay by Ellis Jordan (www.cherylblakeprice.com)
This essay on ‘The Haunted and the Haunters’ sheds some more light onto the story and EBL’s aims in writing it. It
also compared the two differing versions of the story that were published.
Apr 26 2017
Rank #17: Episode 15 – Mr Humphreys and his Interitance
- Two Ghosts & Scholars Essays
We referred extensively to two outstanding examinations of the symbolism and antiquarian lore behind the story: Martin Hughes’, “A Maze of Secrets in a Story by M.R. James“, reprinted in Warnings to the Curious and “James Wilson’s Secret”, by Rosemary Pardoe and Jane Nicholls. Both well worth a read.
- Mr Humphreys and his Inheritance (TV Version)
This story was adapted in an abridged form for the ITV schools programme ‘Music Scene’ in the 1970’s. A very low quality rip is available on YouTube but we recommend you invest in the DVD of Casting the Runes which features a much higher quality version as an extra.
- Wilsthorpe (GoogleMaps)
There are two real Wilsthorpes, one in Lincolnshire and the other in Yorkshire but there is no solid evidence that M.R. James was thinking of either when writing the story.
- Possible Maze Inspirations
James new Suffolk and it’s stately homes like the back of his hand. With his in mind, could the yew maze in this story have been inspired by the similar yew maze at Somerleyton Hall, Suffolk, designed and planted in 1846? Like Wilsthorpe hall, the grounds have various classical/Italian features, including an globe-shaped equatorial sundial (decorated with astrological symbols) which reminds us of the globe in ‘Mr Humphreys…’.
Rosemary Pardoe and Jane Nicholls speculate that the turf labyrinth at Hilton, Cambridgeshire may also have provided inspiration. It dates from the 17th century and would have certainly been known to James due to it’s close proximity to Cambride. It also features a central pillar at the centre, with a globe and an inscription in latin, that commemorates the death of the mazes creator William Sparrow (1641–1729).
- Mazes (Wikipedia)
Wikipedia features useful introductions to both hedge mazes and mazes in general, including a list of notable mazes.
- Marjery Wardrop (Wikipedia)
During this episode Will speculates that James’s choice of ‘Wardrop’ as a name may have been inspired by his contemporary folklorist Marjery Wardrop.
- Labyrinth (1986)
The mad-as-a-bag-of-ferrets maze-fest much loved by Mike, starring David Bowie’s crotch. It’s like ‘Alive in Wonderland’, but with added muppets and musical numbers. Watch the trailer on YouTube or chech out the bonkers Magic Dance Sequence. And if you enjoyed that, why not check out the Top 10 Mazes in Films, although they miss out Will’s personal favourite Cube.
Jul 11 2012
Rank #18: Episode 8 – The Treasure of Abbot Thomas
- Steinfeld Abbey & Glass (also see Googlemaps)
Read about the read-world location of this story on wikipedia.
- The Treasure of Steinfeld Abbey, A Visit to the Scene of “The Treasure of Abbot Thomas” by Helen Grant
Interesting account of a visit to Steinfeld, in which Helen Grant compares the real abbey to the one described by M.R. James.
- Ashridge Park
This story was inspired by James’s own study of the stained glass at Ashridge Park in 1904. The glass is now in the Victoria & Albert museum in London, and the park is now home to Ashridge Business School (check out the cool virtual tour!)
- Steinfeld stained glass in Wales
To illustrate how widely glass from Germany and Belguim circulated in Britain, here some more of the Steinfeld stained glass shows up in a church in Wales!
- Review at GhostingImages.com
An excellent review of the 1974 tv version.
- Origin of “Gare à qui la touche” (“Woe to he that touches it”)
The origin of this ominous phrase appears to be Napoleonic!
- An Introduction to Classical Cryptography by William Stalling
A useful guide for those who wish to get their head around the cryptographic puzzles solved by Mr Somerton.
- ‘A Pleasing Terror’ (Ash Tree Press)
This definitive anthology of and commentary on James work is now available as an e-book.
- Ghost Stories of Christmas at the BFI Mediateque
You can currently watch the BBC’s classic M.R. James tv adaptations at the BFI Mediateque centres.
Feb 16 2012
Rank #19: Episode 29 – A View from a Hill
This episode we are very lucky to have actor Scott Wichman (@scottwichmann) as our reader! Scott is starring as comedian George Burns in “Say Goodnight, Gracie” at the Virginia Rep later this month: do check that out if you can! His co-producer Ryan Corbett – who wrote all the music and edited Scott’s readings – runs ‘Songwire‘ studios, in Richmond, VA.Big thanks once again to Alisdair Wood for providing the great illustration to the right. Check out his new set of MR James postcards, which will soon be available on his store.
Do check out our photos of the very spooky Coombe Gibbet on flickr.
- Story notes by Rosemary Pardoe (Ghost & Scholars)
Where would we be without Rosemary Pardoe’s excellent story notes?
- The Herefordshire of ‘A View from a Hill’ by Rosemary and Darroll Pardoe (Ghosts & Scholars)
If you are interested in knowing exactly where the titular hill is (and Gallows Hill of course!) then this excellent Ghosts & Scholars article has some answers.
- ‘A View from a Hill’ – 2005 BBC adaptation (Ghosts & Scholars)
Ghosts & Scholars also has a review of the 2005 TV adaptation of this story. If you haven’t seen it you can find it in the BFI’s excellent ‘Ghost Stories for Christmas: The Definitive Collection‘ DVD box set.
- Fredrick Bligh Bond (Wikipedia)
Some have speculated that the character of Baxter could be inspired by Fredrick Bligh Bond (1864 – 1945), and antiquary who made some impressive archaeological finds which he claimed were revealed to him by supernatural means!
- Dead Men’s Eyes blog (www.dead-mens-eyes.org)
Taking inspiration from Baxter, this doctoral research project aims to mix augmented reality with heritage with the aim of allowing people to virtually ‘see into the past’. Interesting stuff!
Sep 02 2013
Rank #20: Episode 38 – The Game of Bear
An episode of two parts this week. In part one, Will and Mike open their box of James ephemera to play the “dreadful Game of Bear”. We only have the opening pages of this unfinished tale, but fortunately three leading Jamesians have tried to finish the story. Big thanks to Kirsty Woodfield who returns to read for us this week.
In part two, we speak with Antonia Christophers and Noel Byrne of theatre company Box Tale Soup about their brilliant new production of Casting the Runes. They have just finished their run at the Edinburgh Fringe and will be in Cheltenham from 8-11 October.
- The Ghost and Scholars text of Game of Bear and Rosemary Pardoe’s notes can be found here.
- The stories written by Helen Grant, Jacqueline Simpson and Clive Wright were published in G&S Newsletter #15. It’s now unavailable, but Rosemary has very kindly offered to send listeners a electronic copy if they get in touch by email.
- We didn’t get chance to talk about the amazing music in Box Tale Soup’s Casting the Runes, by musician Dan Melrose.
- Finally, picture credit. Not sure why the US military stores pictures of bears, but there you go.
Aug 25 2014