in Writing

M. R. James, Master of the Ghost Story

M. R. James

The British author M. R. James has long been regarded as the Master of the Ghost Story. And that honour is one that is certainly well deserved, for all his tales are some of the finest – and creepiest – that ever been written in the genre of supernatural fiction.

Montague Rhode James was born on 1st August in Kent. However, he spent most of his earlier years in Suffolk, East Anglia, which would go on to form the main backdrop of many of his ghost stories.

It was when he became Dean of King’s College, Cambridge, that James started to carve something of a well-known reputation for himself for telling ghost stories to groups of college friends on Christmas Eve (and let’s face it – who doesn’t love to hear a real, good, creepy ghost story at Christmas?).

James’s ghost stories were published in a series of collections: Ghost Stories of an Antiquary (1904), More Ghost Stories of an Antiquary (1911), A Thin Ghost and Others (1919), and A Warning to the Curious and Other Ghost Stories (1925). These works are widely regarded by literary critics as some of the greatest ghost stories ever written.

Arguably, one of James’s most popular and well-known stories is ‘Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come To You, My Lad.’ This tells the tale of a rather skeptical Cambridge professor, Parkins, who inadvertently summons a terrifying entity after blowing on an old whistle he stumbles across whilst on holiday in the South Coast of England. This story has been adapted twice by the BBC for their Ghost Stories For Christmas series: first in 1968, starring Michael Hordern, and then again in 2010, starring John Hurt. The story has also been adapted for comic book form by Abby Howard.

Another popular story of James’s, ‘Casting The Runes’, first published in 1911, was made into a 1957 horror movie called ‘Night of the Demon’, which starred Dana Andrews. The story has also been adapted twice for British television, as well as several times for radio.

The usual scenario of James’s stories involve learned, scholarly types – much like James himself and reflecting his own antiquarian interests – whose motivations of greed and curiosity lead them to terrifying encounters with the paranormal

In 1918, James left King’s College, Cambridge, to take up a similar position at Eton public school. He died there in 1936.

The ghost stories of M. R. James have been a major influence on many other writers of supernatural fiction, both past and present, including H. P. Lovecraft, Algernon Blackwood and Stephen King.

You can buy The Ghost Stories of M. R. James by clicking on the book link below: