About the Book
One winter, in the dark days of King Richard II, a tailor was riding home on the road from Gilling to Ampleforth. It was dank, wet and gloomy; he couldn’t wait to get home and sit in front of a blazing fire.
Then, out of nowhere, the tailor is knocked off his horse by a raven, who then transforms into a hideous dog, his mouth writhing with its own innards. The dog issues the tailor with a warning: he must go to a priest and ask for absolution and return to the road, or else there will be consequences…
Format: Hardcover (96 pages) Publisher: Head of Zeus
Publication date: 14th October 2021 Genre: Short Story
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The medieval ghost story on which The Tale of the Tailor and the Three Dead Kings is based was first recorded in the early fifteenth century by an unknown monk and transcribed from the Latin by the great medievalist and author, M.R. James in 1922. The book is Dan Jones’ own retelling of the story.
I confess I found this a curious little book not least because the actual story takes up only a small part of it. The rest of the book is made up of an introduction, in which Dan Jones relates how he first became aware of the story and M.R. James’ transcription of it, and a historical note about Byland Abbey where the story was first recorded. Most strangely, the book also contains the text of the original story – in Latin. I suspect only Latin scholars will find this of much interest, although the inclusion of M.R. James’s annotations on the text (in English) is an interesting feature.
It was the mention of M.R. James that first drew me to the book as, like Dan Jones, watching one of the BBC adaptations of his ghost stories was a Christmas tradition in our house. Without having access to M.R. James’s original transcription of the story it’s quite hard to judge what Dan Jones has changed or added to his version. It certainly has some vivid images, such as Snowball the tailor’s encounter with a great dog, described as smelling of ‘pure and ceaseless death and of the scuttling things that live in the permanent dark’. This demonic figure brought to mind Night of the Demon, the film version of the M.R. James story ‘Casting The Runes’; the steps Snowball takes in order to protect himself whilst doing the spirit’s bidding made me think of certain scenes in Dennis Wheatley’s The Devil Rides Out.
Although The Tale of the Tailor and the Three Dead Kings has some ghoulish moments, I wouldn’t say it was especially scary, certainly not as spine-tingling as some of M.R. James’s ghost stories such as ‘The Mezzotint’, ‘Oh, Whistle, And I’ll Come To You, My Lad’ or ‘The Ash-Tree’. Judging by the pictures I’ve seen, the hardcover edition of the book would make an attractive and unusual gift.
I received an advance copy courtesy of Head of Zeus via NetGalley.
About the Author
Dan Jones is a historian, broadcaster and award-winning journalist. His books, including The Plantagenets, Magna Carta, The Templars and The Colour of Time, have sold more than one million copies worldwide. He has written and hosted dozens of TV shows including the acclaimed Netflix/Channel 5 series ‘Secrets of Great British Castles’. For ten years Dan wrote a weekly column for the London Evening Standard and his writing has also appeared in newspapers and magazines including The Sunday Times, The Daily Telegraph, The Wall Street Journal, Smithsonian, GQ and The Spectator.