#TopTenTuesday Favourite Ghost Stories by M R James

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish and now hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl.

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Collected Ghost Stories M R JamesThis week’s topic is a Hallowe’en Freebie. I’ve chosen ten of my favourite stories by M R James – from Collected Ghost Stories, published by Oxford University Press in 2011 – along with a little taste of the spooky delights to be found within them. 

The Mezzotint
‘In the middle of the lawn in front of the unknown house there was a figure where no figure had been at five o’clock that afternoon. It was creeping on all-fours towards the house, and it was muffled in a strange black garment with a white cross on the back.’

The Ash Tree
‘There is very little light about the bedstead, but there is a strange movement there; it seems as if Sir Richard were moving his head rapidly to and fro with only the slightest possible sound. And now you would guess, so deceptive is the half-darkness, that he had several heads, round and brownish that move back and forward, even as low as his chest. It is a horrible illusion. Is it nothing more? There! something drops off the bed with a soft plump, like a kitten, and is out of the window in a flash; another – four – and after that there is silence again.’ 

Number 13
‘His back was now to the door. In that moment the door opened, and an arm came out and clawed at his shoulder. It was clad in ragged, yellowish linen, and the bare skin, where it could be seen, had long grey hair upon it.’

‘Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad!’
‘The light was obscure, conveying an impression of gathering storm, late winter evening, and slight cold rain. On this bleak stage at first no actor was visible. Then, in the distance, a bobbing black object appeared; a moment more, and it was a man running, jumping, clambering over the groynes, and every few seconds looking eagerly back. The nearer he came the more obvious it was that he was not only anxious, but even terribly frightened, though his face was not to be distinguished.’

The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral
‘Oct 11 – Candles lit in the choir for the first time at evening prayers. It came as a shock: I find that I absolutely shrink from the dark season.’

A Warning to the Curious
‘However we were beginning to have inklings of – we didn’t know what, and anyhow nerves are infectious. So we did go, first peering out as we opened the door, and fancying (I found we both had the fancy) that a shadow, or more than a shadow – but it made no sound – passed from before us to one side as we came out into the passage.’ 

The Treasure of Abbot Thomas
“Ten thousand pieces of gold are laid up in the well in the court of the Abbot’s house of Steinfeld by me, Thomas, who have set a guardian over them. Gare à qui la touche.” [Beware who touches it]

Lost Hearts
‘Still as the night was, the mysterious population of the distant moonlit woods was not yet lulled to rest. From time to time strange cries as of lost and despairing wanderers sounded from across the mere.’

Canon Alberic’s Scrapbook
‘It was nearly five o’clock; the short day was drawing in, and the church began to fill with shadows while the curious noises – the muffled footfalls and distant talking voices that had been perceptible all day – seemed, no doubt because of the fading light and the consequently quickened sense of hearing, to become more frequent and insistent.’

“And if you was to walk through the bedrooms now, you’d see the ragged, mouldy bedclothes a-heaving and a-heaving like seas.” “And a-heaving and a-heaving with what?” he says. “Why, with the rats under ’em.”

17 thoughts on “#TopTenTuesday Favourite Ghost Stories by M R James

  1. I hadn’t even heard of MR James before this. But those story titles alone are signal enough that these must be great stories. I mean — ‘Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad!’ — that really has a sinister ring to it!


    1. I was introduced to his stories many years ago by my husband and have reread them on many occasions since. It was great to revisit them when preparing this post. The BBC used to show some great adaptations every Christmas.


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