Sunday, December 15, 2013

M.R. James


Brian Tells You of Jamesian Writing and Also Tries to Explain How Canon Alberic's Scrap-Book is Pretty Scary

M.R. James - probably the most prolific English ghost story writer.

Other people will disagree. But James IS astounding, and comes in seventh place - after Edgar Allan Poe, Bram Stoker, Gaston Leroux, Mary Shelley, and H.P. Lovecraft - as the greatest horror story writer EVER.

But I am here to talk about one of his stories - Canon Alberic's Scrap-Book.

I have not read the story (waiting for Christmas, as James' ghost stories were Christmas treats), but from what I can gather, the tale is about a man who gets a scrap-book in an old town. In the back, there is a disturbing illustration of some demon or monster, which fuels the tale.

Now, M.R. James had some guidelines for writing ghost stories. This type of writing is called Jamesian. The three principals:
  1. A setting in a sea-side town/ country estate; a small English village; an ancient town in Sweden, Denmark, or France; or an abbey in a university/school.
  2. A slightly naive and nondescript gentleman as the protagonist.
  3. An antique that attracts the supernatural.
Based on what James has occasionally said, I have added these particulars:
  • The story must make the reader think that if they are not careful, something similar might happen to them.
  • The supernatural should be very obscure. The reader's imagination is the most important part of the tale.
  • All fictional ghosts should be portrayed as malevolent. In folk/fairy tales, it is okay if the ghost is benign, but in the author's opinion, all ghosts should be evil.
Now, again, I haven't read the story. BUT I know that, at the end, the protagonist is flipping through the tale when he sees an arm...

...which is attached to the monster in the book.

Now James' description of this event is pretty terrifying in it's own. But the illustration I am about to show you is scary. I don't know who illustrated it...give me a minute. Here's the pic.

Call me a wuss, but it's spooky. I find it terrifying that the man (who is clearly supposed to be James) has not yet noticed the hungry, demonic face in the darkness. The style is so...what's his name...please give me a second.

[I save and go look for the guy's stuff]

Found it! Arthur Rackham!

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