M. R. James

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M. R. James
M. R. James, circa 1900
Born Montague Rhodes James
(1862-08-01)1 August 1862
Goodnestone, Kent, England
Died 12 June 1936(1936-06-12) (aged 73)
Eton, Buckinghamshire, England
Pen name M. R. James
Occupation Author, scholar
Nationality English
Genre Fantasy, ghost stories

Montague Rhodes James OM FBA (1 August 1862 – 12 June 1936), who used the publication name M. R. James, was an English author, medievalist scholar and provost of King's College, Cambridge (1905–18), and of Eton College (1918–36).

Though James's work as a medievalist is still highly regarded, he is best remembered for his ghost stories, which are regarded as among the best in the genre. James redefined the ghost story for the new century by abandoning many of the formal Gothic clichés of his predecessors and using more realistic contemporary settings. However, James's protagonists and plots tend to reflect his own antiquarian interests. Accordingly, he is known as the originator of the "antiquarian ghost story".[1]

Early life

James was born in Goodnestone Parsonage, near Dover in Kent, England, although his parents had associations with Aldeburgh in Suffolk. His father was Herbert James, an Evangelical Anglican clergyman, and his mother, Mary Emily (née Horton), was the daughter of a naval officer.[2] He had two older brothers, Sydney and Herbert (nicknamed "Ber"), and an older sister, Grace.[2] Sydney James later became Archdeacon of Dudley.[2] From the age of three (1865) until 1909 James's home, if not always his residence, was at the Rectory in Great Livermere, Suffolk.[2] This had previously been the childhood home of another eminent Suffolk antiquary, "Honest Tom" Martin (1696–1771) "of Palgrave." Several of James's ghost stories are set in Suffolk, including "'Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad'" (Felixstowe), "A Warning to the Curious" (Aldeburgh), "Rats" and "A Vignette" (Great Livermere). In September 1873 he arrived as a boarder at Temple Grove School, one of the leading boys' preparatory schools of the day.[3] He lived for many years, first as an undergraduate, then as a don and provost, at King's College, Cambridge,[4] where he was also a member of the Pitt Club.[5] The university provides settings for several of his tales. Apart from medieval subjects, James studied the classics and appeared very successfully in a staging of Aristophanes' play The Birds, with music by Hubert Parry. His ability as an actor was also apparent when he read his new ghost stories to friends at Christmas time.[citation needed]

Scholarly works

James is best known for his ghost stories, but his work as a medievalist scholar was prodigious and remains highly respected in scholarly circles. Indeed, the success of his stories was founded on his antiquarian talents and knowledge. His discovery of a manuscript fragment led to excavations in the ruins of the abbey at Bury St Edmunds, West Suffolk, in 1902, in which the graves of several twelfth-century abbots described by Jocelyn de Brakelond (a contemporary chronicler) were rediscovered, having been lost since the Dissolution. His 1917 edition of the Latin Lives of Saint Aethelberht, king and martyr (English Historical Review 32), remains authoritative.

He catalogued many of the manuscript libraries of the Cambridge colleges. Among his other scholarly works, he wrote The Apocalypse in Art, which placed illuminated Apocalypse manuscripts into families. He also translated the New Testament Apocrypha and contributed to the Encyclopaedia Biblica (1903). His ability to wear his learning lightly is apparent in his Suffolk and Norfolk (Dent, 1930), in which a great deal of knowledge is presented in a popular and accessible form, and in Abbeys (Great Western Railway, 1925).

James also achieved a great deal during his directorship of the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge (1893–1908). He managed to secure a large number of important paintings and manuscripts, including notable portraits by Titian.

James was Provost of Eton College from 1918 to 1936.[1] He died in 1936 and was buried in Eton town cemetery.

Ghost stories

Illustration by James McBryde for M. R. James's story "Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad". James was close friends with the illustrator, and the collection Ghost Stories of an Antiquary in 1904 was intended as a showcase for McBryde's artwork, but McBryde died having completed only four plates.

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). The first hardback collected edition appeared in 1931. Many of the tales were written as Christmas Eve entertainments and read aloud to friends. This idea was used by the BBC in 2000 when they filmed Christopher Lee reading James's stories in a candle-lit room in King's College.

James perfected a method of story-telling which has since become known as Jamesian. The classic Jamesian tale usually includes the following elements:

  1. a characterful setting in an English village, seaside town or country estate; an ancient town in France, Denmark or Sweden; or a venerable abbey or university
  2. a nondescript and rather naive gentleman-scholar as protagonist (often of a reserved nature)
  3. the discovery of an old book or other antiquarian object that somehow unlocks, calls down the wrath, or at least attracts the unwelcome attention of a supernatural menace, usually from beyond the grave

According to James, the story must "put the reader into the position of saying to himself, 'If I'm not very careful, something of this kind may happen to me!'"[6] He also perfected the technique of narrating supernatural events through implication and suggestion, letting his reader fill in the blanks, and focusing on the mundane details of his settings and characters in order to throw the horrific and bizarre elements into greater relief. He summed up his approach in his foreword to the anthology Ghosts and Marvels: "Two ingredients most valuable in the concocting of a ghost story are, to me, the atmosphere and the nicely managed crescendo. ... Let us, then, be introduced to the actors in a placid way; let us see them going about their ordinary business, undisturbed by forebodings, pleased with their surroundings; and into this calm environment let the ominous thing put out its head, unobtrusively at first, and then more insistently, until it holds the stage."[7]

He also noted: "Another requisite, in my opinion, is that the ghost should be malevolent or odious: amiable and helpful apparitions are all very well in fairy tales or in local legends, but I have no use for them in a fictitious ghost story."[6]

Despite his suggestion (in the essay "Stories I Have Tried to Write") that writers employ reticence in their work, many of James's tales depict scenes and images of savage and often disturbing violence. For example, in "Lost Hearts", pubescent children are taken in by a sinister dabbler in the occult who cuts their hearts from their still-living bodies. In a 1929 essay, James stated:

Reticence may be an elderly doctrine to preach, yet from the artistic point of view, I am sure it is a sound one. Reticence conduces to effect, blatancy ruins it, and there is much blatancy in a lot of recent stories. They drag in sex too, which is a fatal mistake; sex is tiresome enough in the novels; in a ghost story, or as the backbone of a ghost story, I have no patience with it. At the same time don't let us be mild and drab. Malevolence and terror, the glare of evil faces, 'the stony grin of unearthly malice', pursuing forms in darkness, and 'long-drawn, distant screams', are all in place, and so is a modicum of blood, shed with deliberation and carefully husbanded; the weltering and wallowing that I too often encounter merely recall the methods of M G Lewis.[8]

Although not overtly sexual, plots of this nature have been perceived as unintentional metaphors of the Freudian variety. James's biographer Michael Cox wrote in M. R. James: An Informal Portrait (1983), "One need not be a professional psychoanalyst to see the ghost stories as some release from feelings held in check." Reviewing this biography (Daily Telegraph, 1983), the novelist and diarist Anthony Powell, who attended Eton under James's tutelage, commented that "I myself have heard it suggested that James's (of course platonic) love affairs were in fact fascinating to watch." Powell was referring to James's relationships with his pupils, not his peers.

Other critics have seen complex psychological undercurrents in James's work. His authorial revulsion from tactile contact with other people has been noted by Julia Briggs in Night Visitors: The Rise and Fall of the English Ghost Story (1977). As Nigel Kneale said in the introduction to the Folio Society edition of Ghost Stories of M. R. James, "In an age where every man is his own psychologist, M. R. James looks like rich and promising material. ... There must have been times when it was hard to be Monty James." Or, to put it another way, "Although James conjures up strange beasts and supernatural manifestations, the shock effect of his stories is usually strongest when he is dealing in physical mutilation and abnormality, generally sketched in with the lightest of pens."[9]

In addition to writing his own stories, James championed the works of Sheridan Le Fanu, whom he viewed as "absolutely in the first rank as a writer of ghost stories",[10] editing and supplying introductions to Madame Crowl's Ghost (1923) and Uncle Silas (1926).

James's statements about his actual beliefs about ghosts were ambiguous. He wrote, "I answer that I am prepared to consider evidence and accept it if it satisfies me."[11]

Views on literature and politics

James held strongly traditional views about literature. In addition to ghost stories, he also enjoyed reading the work of William Shakespeare and the detective stories of Agatha Christie.[12] By contrast, James disliked most contemporary literature, strongly criticizing the work of Aldous Huxley, Lytton Strachey and James Joyce (whom James called "a charlatan" and "that prostitutor of life and language").[3][12][2] James also supported the banning of Radclyffe Hall's 1928 novel about lesbianism, The Well of Loneliness, stating, "I believe Miss Hall's book is about birth control or some kindred subject, isn't it. I find it difficult to believe either that it is a good novel or that its suppression causes any loss to literature".[12]

As a student at King's, James had opposed the appointment of Thomas Henry Huxley as Provost of Eton because of Huxley's agnosticism.[3] In his later life, James had little interest in politics and rarely spoke on political issues. However, James often spoke out against the Irish Home Rule movement,[2] and in his letters he also expressed a dislike for Communism.[3] James' friend A. C. Benson considered him to be "reactionary" and "against modernity and progress".[3]

Reception and influence

H. P. Lovecraft was an admirer of James's work, extolling the stories as the peak of the ghost story form in his essay "Supernatural Horror in Literature" (1927). Another renowned fan of James in the horror and fantasy genre was Clark Ashton Smith, who wrote an essay on him.[13] Michael Sadleir described M. R. James as "the best ghost-story writer England has ever produced".[14] Marjorie Bowen also admired James's work, referring to his ghost stories as "the supreme art of M. R. James".[15] Mary Butts, another admirer of James, wrote the first critical essay on his work, "The Art of Montagu James", in the February 1934 issue of the London Mercury.[16] Manly Wade Wellman esteemed James' fiction.[17] In The Great Railway Bazaar, Paul Theroux refers to "The Mezzotint" as "the most frightening story I know". In his list "The 13 Most Terrifying Horror Stories", T. E. D. Klein placed James's "Casting the Runes" at number one.[18] E. F. Bleiler has stated that James is "in the opinion of many, the foremost modern writer of supernatural fiction", and he described More Ghost Stories of an Antiquary as containing "first-rate stories".[19] Ruth Rendell has also expressed admiration for James's work, stating, "There are some authors one wished one had never read in order to have the joy of reading them for the first time. For me, M. R. James is one of these."[14] David Langford has described James as the author of "the 20th century's most influential canon of ghost stories".[20]

Sir John Betjeman, in an introduction to Peter Haining's book about James, shows how influenced he was by James's work:

In the year 1920 I was a new boy at the Dragon school, Oxford, then called Lynam's, of which the headmaster was C. C. Lynam, known as 'the Skipper'. He dressed and looked like an old Sea Salt, and in his gruff voice would tell us stories by firelight in the boys' room of an evening with all the lights out and his back to the fire. I remember he told the stories as having happened to himself. ... they were the best stories I ever heard, and gave me an interest in old churches, and country houses, and Scandinavia that not even the mighty Hans Christian Andersen eclipsed.

Betjeman later discovered the stories were all based on those of M. R. James.

H. Russell Wakefield's supernatural fiction was strongly influenced by the work of James.[21] A large number of British writers deliberately wrote ghost stories in the Jamesian style; these writers, sometimes described as the "James Gang",[20] include A. N. L. Munby, E. G. Swain, "Ingulphus" (pseudonym of Sir Arthur Gray, 1852–1940), Amyas Northcote[22] and R. H. Malden, although some commentators consider their stories to be inferior to those of James himself.[1][23] Although most of the early Jamesian writers were male, there were several notable female writers of such fiction, including Eleanor Scott (pseudonym of Helen M Leys, 1892–1965) in the stories of her book Randall's Round (1929)[24] and D. K. Broster in the collection Couching at the Door: Strange and Macabre Tales (1942).[24] L. T. C. Rolt also modelled his ghost stories on James's work but, unlike other Jamesian writers, set them in industrial locations, such as mines and railways.[24][25]

The stories of M. R. James continue to influence many of today's great supernatural writers, including Stephen King (who discusses James in the 1981 non-fiction book Danse Macabre) and Ramsey Campbell, who edited Meddling with Ghosts: Stories in the Tradition of M. R. James and wrote the short story "The Guide" in tribute.[26] The author John Bellairs paid homage to James by incorporating plot elements borrowed from James's ghost stories into several of his own juvenile mysteries. Several of Jonathan Aycliffe's novels, including Whispers in the Dark and The Matrix are influenced by James's work.[24] Aycliffe/MacEoin studied for his PhD in Persian Studies at King' College. This makes three KC authors of ghost stories (James, Munby and Aycliffe).

Works inspired by James

The composer Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji wrote two pieces for piano with a link to James: Quaere reliqua hujus materiei inter secretiora (1940), inspired by "Count Magnus", and St. Bertrand de Comminges: "He was laughing in the tower" (1941), inspired by "Canon Alberic's Scrap-Book".

H. Russell Wakefield's story "He Cometh and He Passeth By!" (1928) is a homage to James's "Casting the Runes".[27]

W. F. Harvey's ghost story "The Ankardyne Pew" (1928) is also a homage to James's work, which Harvey admired.[28]

H. F. Heard's novel The Black Fox is an occult thriller inspired by "The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral".[24]

Kingsley Amis' novel The Green Man is partly a homage to James's ghost stories.[24]

Between 1976 and 1992, Sheila Hodgson authored and produced for BBC Radio 4 a series of plays which portrayed M. R. James as the diarist of a series of fictional ghost stories, mainly inspired by fragments referred to in his essay "Stories I Have Tried to Write". These consisted of Whisper in the Ear (October 1976), Turn, Turn, Turn (March 1977), The Backward Glance (22 September 1977), Here Am I, Where Are You? (29 December 1977), Echoes from the Abbey (21 November 1984), The Lodestone (19 April 1989), and The Boat Hook (15 April 1992). David March appeared as James in all but the final two, which starred Michael Williams. Raidió Teilifís Éireann also broadcast The Fellow Travellers, with Aiden Grennell as James, on 20 February 1994.[29] All the stories later appeared in Hodgson's collection The Fellow Travellers and Other Ghost Stories (Ash-Tree Press, 1998).

On Christmas Day 1987, "The Teeth of Abbot Thomas", an MRJ parody by Stephen Sheridan, was broadcast on Radio 4. It starred Alfred Marks (as Abbot Thomas), Robert Bathurst, Denise Coffey, Jonathan Adams and Bill Wallis.

The novelist James Hynes wrote an updated version of "Casting the Runes" in his 1997 story collection Publish and Perish.

In 2003, Radio 4 broadcast The House at World's End by Stephen Sheridan. A pastiche of James's work, it contained numerous echoes of his stories while offering a fictional account of how he became interested in the supernatural. James was played by John Rowe, with Jonathan Keeble playing James's younger self.

In 2008 the English experimental neofolk duo The Triple Tree, featuring Tony Wakeford and Andrew King from Sol Invictus, released the album Ghosts on which all but three songs were based upon the stories of James.[30] One of the songs, "Three Crowns" (based on the short story "A Warning to the Curious"), also appeared on the compilation album John Barleycorn Reborn (2007).[31]

In February 2012, the UK psychedelic band The Future Kings of England released their 4th album, Who Is This Who Is Coming, based on James's "Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad". An instrumental work, it evokes the story from beginning to end, with the tracks seguing into one another to form a continuous piece of music.

On 23 February 2012 the Royal Mail released a stamp featuring James as part its "Britons of Distinction" series.[32]

In August 2013, The Fan Museum in London announced a performance, on 25 and 26 October 2013, of The Laws of Shadows a new play by Adrian Drew about M. R. James. The play is set in James's rooms at Cambridge University and deals with his relationships with his colleague E. F. Benson and the young artist James McBryde.[33]



There have been numerous television adaptations of James's stories. The very first TV adaptation was American—a 1951 version of "The Tractate Middoth" in the Lights Out series, called "The Lost Will of Dr Rant" and featuring Leslie Nielsen.[34][35] It is available on several DVDs, including an Alpha Video release alongside Gore Vidal's Climax! adaptation of Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde, starring Michael Rennie.

The majority of television adaptations of James's works have been made in Britain. The best-known adaptations include Whistle and I'll Come to You (1968, directed by Jonathan Miller) and A Warning to the Curious (1972; directed by Lawrence Gordon Clark), starring Michael Hordern and Peter Vaughan respectively. The latter was part of an annual BBC series titled A Ghost Story for Christmas, which would ultimately produce five dramatizations of James's stories in the 1970s: The Stalls of Barchester (1971), A Warning to the Curious (1972), Lost Hearts (1973), The Treasure of Abbot Thomas (1974) and The Ash-tree (1975).

Although ITV produced four black-and-white adaptations of James's ghost stories between 1966 and 1968, no surviving copies are known to exist. However, a short preview trailer featuring several scenes from the 1968 adaptation of Casting the Runes survived and has been shown at cult film festivals. The trailer is also available on Network DVD's Mystery and Imagination DVD set. Casting the Runes was again adapted for television in 1979 as an episode of the ITV Playhouse series with Lawrence Gordon Clark directing and starring Jan Francis as the lead protagonist (a man in previous adaptations).[36] It has been released by Network DVD which also includes a 20-minute adaptation of Mr Humphreys and His Inheritance (made in 1976 by Yorkshire Television as part of the Music Scene ITV Schools programme) and A Pleasant Terror, a 1995 ITV documentary about James.

In 1980, the BBC produced a series, aimed at older children, of readings of classic horror stories read by various actors entitled Spine Chillers. This included readings of James's stories "The Mezzotint", "The Diary of Mr Poynter" and "A School Story", all read by Michael Bryant. In December 1986, BBC2 broadcast partially dramatized readings by the actor Robert Powell of "The Mezzotint", "The Ash-Tree", "Wailing Well", "Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad" and "The Rose Garden". In a similar vein, the BBC also produced a short series (M. R. James' Ghost Stories for Christmas) of further readings in 2000, which featured Christopher Lee as James, who (in character) read 30-minute adaptations of "The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral", "The Ash-tree", "Number 13" and "A Warning to the Curious".

The 1970s Ghost Story for Christmas tradition was revived in December 2005, when BBC Four broadcast a new version of James's story A View from a Hill, with Number 13 following in December 2006. These were broadly faithful to the originals and were quite well received. A new version of Whistle and I'll Come to You, starring John Hurt, was broadcast by BBC Two on Christmas Eve 2010.

Ten of the BBC productions made between 1968 and 2010 (including three episodes of the Christopher Lee readings series) were released on DVD in October 2011 as a five-disc boxed set in Australia by Shock DVD, as The Complete Ghost Stories of M.R. James. A boxed set of the BBC's Ghost Stories For Christmas productions, including all of the M.R. James adaptations, was released in Britain in 2012, and an expanded six-disc set (including Robert Powell's series of readings from 1986, and readings from the BBC's 1980 Spine Chillers series for children) was released in 2013.

A new adaptation of The Tractate Middoth, the directorial debut of Mark Gatiss, was broadcast on BBC Two on 25 December 2013.[37] Gatiss also presented a new documentary, entitled M. R. James: Ghost Writer, which was screened directly afterwards.

Radio and audio

On 19 November 1947, the thirteenth episode of the CBS radio series Escape was an adaptation of "Casting the Runes".

On 12 January 1974, the CBS Radio Mystery Theater, hosted by E. G. Marshall, presented the episode "This Will Kill You", which was an updated, loose adaptation of "Casting the Runes".

In January 1981, BBC Radio 4 broadcast an Afternoon Play called "The Hex", written by Gregory Evans and loosely based on "Casting the Runes", starring Conrad Phillips and Kim Hartman. The play was subsequently transmitted, in translation, in several other countries.

In 1997–98 Radio 4 broadcast The Late Book: Ghost Stories, a series of 15-minute readings of M. R. James stories, abridged and produced by Paul Kent and narrated by Benjamin Whitrow (repeated on BBC 7, December 2003–January 2004, September–October 2004, February 2007, October–November 2011). The stories were "Canon Alberic's Scrap-Book", "Lost Hearts", "A School Story", "The Haunted Dolls' House" and "Rats".

In the 1980s, a series of four double audio cassettes was released by Argo Records, featuring nineteen unabridged James stories narrated by Michael Hordern. The tapes were titled Ghost Stories (1982), More Ghost Stories (1984), A Warning to the Curious (1985) and No. 13 and Other Ghost Stories (1988). ISIS Audio Books also released two collections of unabridged James stories, this time narrated by Nigel Lambert. These tapes were titled A Warning to the Curious and Other Tales (four audio cassettes, six stories, March 1992) and Ghost Stories of an Antiquary (three audio cassettes, eight stories, December 1992).

In Spring 2007 UK-based Craftsman Audio Books released the first complete set of audio recordings of James's stories on CD, spread across two volumes and read by David Collings. The ghost story author Reggie Oliver acted as consultant on the project.

April 2007 also saw the release of Tales of the Supernatural, Volume One, an audiobook presentation by Fantom Films,[38] featuring the James stories "Lost Hearts" read by Geoffrey Bayldon, "Rats" and "Number 13" by Ian Fairbairn, with Gareth David-Lloyd reading "Casting the Runes" and "There Was a Man Dwelt by a Churchyard". Volume Two was to follow in the summer.

Over the 2007 Christmas period Radio 4 revived the tradition of James's ghost stories for the festive period with a series of adaptations of his most popular tales. Each lasted around 15 minutes and was introduced by Derek Jacobi as James himself. Due to the short running times the tales were fairly rushed, with much of the stories condensed or removed. Stories adapted included "Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad", "Number 13" and "Lost Hearts".

As of 2010 the audiobooks site LibriVox offers a set of audio readings (available as free downloads) under the collective heading "Ghost Stories of an Antiquary".


The only notable film version of James's work to date has been the 1957 British adaptation of "Casting the Runes" by Jacques Tourneur, titled Night of the Demon (known as Curse of the Demon in the US), starring Dana Andrews, Peggy Cummins and Niall MacGinnis. Another, looser adaptation of "Casting the Runes" borrowing elements from the earlier film is Sam Raimi's 2009 film, Drag Me to Hell.[39] The Brides of Dracula (Terence Fisher, 1960) appears to[weasel words] quote the padlocked coffin scene from "Count Magnus", while Michele Soavi's 1989 film La Chiesa (The Church)—which features a script co-authored by Dario Argento—borrows the motif of the "stone with seven eyes", as well as a few other important details, from "The Treasure of Abbot Thomas".[citation needed] A new film adaptation of "Casting The Runes" was announced in 2013 by director Joe Dante, which is a modernised reimagining of the story with James's characters of Dunning now portrayed as a celebrity blogger and Karswell as a successful motivational speaker and self-help guru with connections to the occult.[40] Actor Simon Pegg was attached to star, though the film has yet to go into production.


The first stage version of "Casting the Runes" was performed at the Carriageworks Theatre in Leeds, England, on 9–10 June 2006 by the Pandemonium Theatre Company.[41]

In 2006–2007, Nunkie Theatre Company toured A Pleasing Terror round the UK and Ireland. This one-man show was an atmospheric retelling of two of James's tales, "Canon Alberic's Scrap-Book" and "The Mezzotint". In October 2007, a sequel, Oh, Whistle..., comprising "Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad" and "The Ash-tree", began to tour the UK. A third James performance, A Warning to the Curious, comprising the eponymous story and "Lost Hearts", began touring the UK in October 2009. Although Nunkie's Robert Lloyd Parry said in 2009 that the last would probably be his final M. R. James tour,[42] he continued to tour the three aforementioned productions in subsequent years; and in 2012 he announced a fourth production, Count Magnus (consisting of "Count Magnus" and "Number 13"),[43] to premiere on 28 September of that year.[44]

In the summer of 2011, the Crusade Theatre Company toured a new stage adaptation of "Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad" in England.[45]


Scholarly works

  • A Descriptive Catalogue of the Manuscripts in the Library of Peterhouse. Cambridge University Press, 1899. Reissued by the publisher, 2009. ISBN 978-1-108-00307-0
  • Walter Map : De Nugis Curialium (ed.) Anecdota Oxoniensia ; Mediaeval and Modern Series 14. Oxford : Clarendon Press, 1914.
  • A Descriptive Catalogue of the Library of Samuel Pepys. Sidgwick and Jackson, 1923. Reissued by Cambridge University Press, 2009. ISBN 978-1-108-00205-9
  • A Descriptive Catalogue of the Manuscripts in the Fitzwilliam Museum. Cambridge University Press, 1895. Reissued by the publisher, 2009. ISBN 978-1-108-00396-4
  • A Descriptive Catalogue of the Manuscripts in the Library of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. Cambridge University Press, 1912. Reissued by the publisher, 2009. ISBN 978-1-108-00485-5[46]
  • A Descriptive Catalogue of the Manuscripts in the Library of Gonville and Caius College. 2 vols. Cambridge University Press, 1907. Reissued by the publisher, 2009; ISBN 978-1-108-00248-6
  • A Descriptive Catalogue of the Manuscripts in the Library of Jesus College. Clay and Sons, 1895. Reissued by Cambridge University Press, 2009. ISBN 978-1-108-00351-3
  • A Descriptive Catalogue of the Manuscripts in the Library of Pembroke College, Cambridge. Cambridge University Press, 1905. Reissued by the publisher, 2009. ISBN 978-1-108-00028-4
  • A Descriptive Catalogue of the Manuscripts in the Library of St John's College, Cambridge. Cambridge University Press, 1913. Reissued by the publisher, 2009. ISBN 978-1-108-00310-0
  • A Descriptive Catalogue of the McClean Collection of Manuscripts in the Fitzwilliam Museum. Cambridge University Press, 1913. Reissued by the publisher, 2009. ISBN 978-1-108-00309-4
  • Apocrypha Anecdota. 1893–1897.
  • Descriptive Catalogues of the Manuscripts in the Libraries of Some Cambridge Colleges. Cambridge University Press, 2009. ISBN 978-1-108-00258-5
  • Henry the Sixth: A Reprint of John Blacman's Memoir. 1919.
  • Lists of manuscripts formerly in Peterborough Abbey library: with preface and identifications. Oxford University Press, 1926. Reissued by Cambridge University Press, 2010. ISBN 978-1-108-01135-8
  • New and Old at Cambridge' article on the Cambridge of 1882. 'Fifty Years', various contributors, Thornton Butterworth,1932
  • The Apocalypse in Art. Schweich Lectures for 1927.
  • The Apocryphal New Testament. 1924.
  • The Bestiary: Being a Reproduction in Full of the Manuscript Ii.4.26 in the University Library, Cambridge. Printed for the Roxburghe club, by John Johnson at the University Press, 1928.
  • The Biblical Antiquities of Philo. 1917.
  • The Lost Apocrypha of the Old Testament. Vol. 1, 1920.
  • The Wanderings and Homes of Manuscripts. 1919.
  • The Western Manuscripts in the Library of Emmanuel College. Cambridge University Press, 1904. Reissued by the publisher, 2009. ISBN 978-1-108-00308-7
  • The Western Manuscripts in the Library of Trinity College. 4 vols. Cambridge University Press, 1904. Reissued by the publisher, 2009. ISBN 978-1-108-00288-2

Ghost stories

First book publications

First magazine publication of uncollected tales

  • "After Dark in the Playing Fields", in College Days (Eton ephemeral magazine), no. 10 (28 June 1924), pp. 311–312, 314
  • "There Was a Man Dwelt by a Churchyard", in Snapdragon (Eton ephemeral magazine), 6 December 1924, pp. 4–5
  • "Rats", in At Random (Eton ephemeral magazine), 23 March 1929, pp. 12–14
  • "The Experiment: A New Year's Eve Ghost Story", in Morning Post, 31 December 1931, p. 8
  • "The Malice of Inanimate Objects", in The Masquerade (Eton ephemeral magazine), no. 1 (June 1933), pp. 29–32
  • "A Vignette", written 1935, in London Mercury 35 (November 1936), pp. 18–22

Reprint collections

  • The Collected Ghost Stories of M. R. James. 1931. Contains the 26 stories from the original four books, plus 'After Dark in the Playing Fields' (1924), 'There Was a Man Dwelt by a Churchyard' (1924), 'Wailing Well' (1928), and 'Rats' (1929). It does not include three stories completed between 1931 and James' death in 1936.
  • Best Ghost Stories of M. R. James. 1944.
  • The Ghost Stories of M. R. James. 1986. Selection by Michael Cox, including an excellent introduction with numerous photographs.
  • Two Ghost Stories: A Centenary. 1993.
  • The Fenstanton Witch and Others: M. R. James in Ghosts and Scholars. 1999. Contains 7 unpublished or unfinished tales or drafts: 'A Night in King's College Chapel' (1892?), 'The Fenstanton Witch' (1924?), 'John Humphreys' (unfinished, pre-1911), 'Marcilly-le-Hayer'(story draft, pre-1929), 'Speaker Lenthall's Tomb' (unfinished, 1890s?), 'The Game of Bear' (unfinished), & 'Merfield House' (unfinished).
  • A Pleasing Terror: The Complete Supernatural Writings. 2001. Ash-Tree Press. Contains 40 stories: the 30 stories from 'Collected Ghost Stories', plus the 3 tales published after this, and the 7 from 'The Fenstanton Witch and Others'. Also includes some related non-fiction by James and some writings about him by others. It is the only complete published collection of his ghost fiction, although of the unfinished tales and drafts, revised versions have subsequently appeared on the Ghosts and Scholars website, following further deciphering of the notoriously illegible handwriting of James' manuscripts.
  • Count Magnus and Other Ghost Stories. 2005. Edited, with an introduction and notes, by S. T. Joshi.
  • The Haunted Dolls' House and Other Ghost Stories. 2006. Edited, with an introduction and notes, by S. T. Joshi.
  • Curious Warnings: The Great Ghost Stories of M. R. James. 2012. Edited, reparagraphing the text for the modern reader, by Stephen Jones.


  • Abbeys. 1926.
  • Suffolk and Norfolk. 1930.

Children's books

  • The Five Jars. 1922.
  • As translator: Forty-Two Stories, by Hans Christian Andersen, translated and with an introduction by M. R. James. 1930.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Briggs, Julia (1986). "James, M(ontague) R(hodes)". In Sullivan, Jack, ed., The Penguin Encyclopedia of Horror and the Supernatural. New York: Viking Press. ISBN 0-670-80902-0
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 Cox, Michael (1987). "Introduction". Casting the Runes and Other Ghost Stories by M. R. James. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. xi–xxx. ISBN 978-0-19-281719-8
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Jones, Darryl (2011). "Introduction". Collected Ghost Stories by M. R. James. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. xii. ISBN 978-019-956884-0
  4. "James, Montague Rhodes (JMS882MR)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Benson, Edward Frederic (1920). Our Family Affairs, 1867-1896. London, New York, Toronto, and Melbourne: Cassell and Company, Ltd. p. 231.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. 6.0 6.1 James, M.R., "Preface to More Ghost Stories of an Antiquary". In Joshi, S.T., ed. (2005). Count Magnus and Other Ghost Stories: The Complete Ghost Stories of M.R. James, Volume 1, pt. 217. Penguin Books.
  7. James, M. R. (1924). "Introduction". In Collins, V. H. (ed.). Ghosts and Marvels: A Selection of Uncanny Tales from Daniel Defoe to Algernon Blackwood. London: Oxford University Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> Rpt. in James, M. R. (2001). Roden, Christopher; Roden, Barbara (eds.). A Pleasing Terror: The Complete Supernatural Writings. Ashcroft, B.C.: Ash-Tree Press. p. 486. ISBN 1-55310-024-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. M. R. James. "Some Remarks on Ghost Stories". The Bookman, December 1929.
  9. Punter, "The Literature of Terror: A History of Gothic Fictions from 1765 to the Present Day", Vol. II, "Modern Gothic", p. 86.
  10. James, M.R., Prologue to J.S. Fanu, Madame Crowl's Ghost (1923), p. vii. Quoted in "Introduction", Cox, Michael, and Gilbert, R.A., eds. (2003), The Oxford Book of Victorian Ghost Stories, p.xvii. Oxford University Press.
  11. James, M.R. "Preface to The Collected Ghost Stories of M.R. James" (1931). In Jones, Darryl, ed. (2011), p. 419. Oxford University Press.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Pfaff, Richard William (1980). Montague Rhodes James. London: Scolar Press. p. 401.
  13. Smith, Clark Ashton (February 1934). "The Weird Works of M. R. James", The Fantasy Fan. Reprinted in Smith, Planets and Dimensions. Baltimore: Mirage Press, 1973.
  14. 14.0 14.1 Sadleir, Michael (1992). "Introduction". Collected Ghost Stories by M. R. James. Ware, Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions. ISBN 1853260533
  15. Salmonsom, Jessica Amanda (1998). "Introduction". In Bowen, Marjorie, Twilight and Other Supernatural Romances. Ashcroft, BC: Ash-Tree Press. ISBN 1-899562-49-4
  16. Harold Bloom, Modern Horror Writers. Chelsea House Publishers, 1995 ISBN 0791022242, (p. 129)
  17. "I admire and constantly reread James, Dunsany and Hearn....I wish I wrote things as well as James did.". Wellman interviewed in Jeffrey M. Elliot, Fantasy Voices: Interviews with American Fantasy Writers. Borgo Press, San Bernardino. 1982 ISSN 0271-7808
  18. Klein, T. E. D. (July–August 1983), "The 13 Most Terrifying Horror Stories". Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone Magazine, p. 63.
  19. Bleiler, E. F. The Guide to Supernatural Fiction. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1983. p. 279. ISBN 0873382889
  20. 20.0 20.1 Langford, David (1998). "James, Montague Rhodes". In Pringle, David, ed., St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost and Gothic Writers. London: St. James Press. ISBN 1558622063
  21. Morgan, Chris (1985). "H. Russell Wakefield". In Bleiler, E. F., ed., Supernatural Fiction Writers. New York: Scribner's. pp. 617–622. ISBN 0-684-17808-7
  22. Wilson, Neil (2000). Shadows in the Attic: A Guide to British Supernatural Fiction, 1820–1950. London: British Library. p. 383. ISBN 0712310746. "The author's [Northcote's] tales are firmly in the style of M. R. James' antiquarian school of traditional ghost stories."
  23. Joshi, S. T. (2005). "Introduction". Count Magnus and Other Ghost Stories by M. R. James. London: Penguin. ISBN 0-14-303939-3
  24. 24.0 24.1 24.2 24.3 24.4 24.5 Pardoe, Rosemary (2001). "The James Gang". Meddling with Ghosts: Stories in the Tradition of M. R. James. London: British Library. pp. 267–87. ISBN 0-7123-1125-4
  25. Wilson, Neil (2000). Shadows in the Attic: A Guide to British Supernatural Fiction, 1820–1950. London: British Library. pp. 433–34. ISBN 0712310746
  26. Campbell, Ramsey (2001). "Preface". Meddling with Ghosts: Stories in the Tradition of M. R. James. London: British Library. ISBN 0-7123-1125-4
  27. Don D'Ammassa, Encyclopedia of Fantasy and Horror Fiction.Infobase Publishing, 2009. ISBN 1438109091 (pp. 159-160).
  28. Searles, A. L. (1983). "The Short Fiction of Harvey". In Frank N. Magill, ed., Survey of Modern Fantasy Literature, Vol 3. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Salem Press. pp. 1532–1535. ISBN 0-89356-450-8
  29. Pardoe, Rosemary (30 August 2007). "M. R. James on TV, Radio and Film". Ghosts and Scholars. Retrieved 30 September 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  30. "The Triple Tree-Ghosts". Discogs. Retrieved 15 October 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  31. "Various-John Barleycorn Reborn". Discogs. Retrieved 15 October 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  32. "Britons of Distinction". Royal Mail. 23 February 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  33. "In Celebration 2013: The Laws of Shadows". The Fan Museum, Greenwich, London. Retrieved 16 September 2013.
  34. Cherry, Brigid (2014). "Gothic on the Small Screen". In Byron, Glennis; Townshend, Dale (eds.). The Gothic World. Abingdon: Routledge. p. 488. ISBN 978-0-415-63744-2.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  35. Pardoe, Rosemary (2000). "The Lost Will of Dr Rant (TV play)". Ghosts & Scholars. Retrieved 1 March 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  36. "Casting the Runes".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  37. "Mark Gatiss on creating his spine-chilling ghostly tale The Tractate Middoth". Radio Times. 24 December 2013. Retrieved 26 December 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  38. "Tales of the Supernatural Volume One". Fantom films. Retrieved 15 October 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  39. Mark R. Leeper (2009). "Drag Me to Hell (2009)". Retrieved 25 September 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  40. Bleeding Cool (Casting The Runes)
  41. M.R. James Events Reviews at www.users.globalnet.co.uk
  42. BBC Suffolk feature at www.bbc.co.uk/suffolk
  43. Nunkie Productions: Theatre
  44. Nunkie Productions: Performance Schedule
  45. "Crusade Theatre Company".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  46. Corpus Christi College Cambridge: The Parker Library Archived 3 October 2007 at the Wayback Machine at www.corpus.cam.ac.uk


  • Bleiler, E. F. The Checklist of Fantastic Literature. Shasta Publishers, 1948.
  • Bloom, Clive. "M.R. James and His Fiction." in Clive Bloom, ed, Creepers: British Horror and Fantasy in the Twentieth Century. London and Boulder CO: Pluto Press, 1993, pp. 64-71.
  • Cox, Michael. M. R. James: An Informal Portrait. Oxford University Press, 1983. ISBN 0-19-211765-3.
  • James, M. R. A Pleasing Terror: The Complete Supernatural Writings, ed. Christopher Roden and Barbara Roden. Ash-Tree Press, 2001. ISBN 1-55310-024-7.
  • Joshi, S.T. Introductions to Count Magnus and Other Ghost Stories. Penguin Classics, 2005. ISBN 0-14-303939-3 and The Haunted Dolls' House and Other Ghost Stories. Penguin Classics, 2006. ISBN 0-14-303992-X.
  • Pfaff, Richard William. Montague Rhodes James. Scolar Press, 1980. (concentrates on his scholarly work)
  • Sullivan, Jack. Elegant Nightmares: The English Ghost Story from Le Fanu to Blackwood. Ohio University Press, 1980. ISBN 0-8214-0374-5.
  • Tolhurst, Peter. East Anglia—a Literary Pilgrimage. Black Dog Books, Bungay, 1996. ISBN 0-9528839-0-2. (pp. 99–101).
  • Wagenknecht, Edward. Seven Masters of Supernatural Fiction. Greenwood Press, 1991. ISBN 0-313-27960-8.
  • Peter Haining, M. R. James - Book of the Supernatural. (1979) Introduction by Sir John Betjeman Articles and rare items about MRJ. (ISBN 0-572-01048-6)

External links

Academic offices
Preceded by
Augustus Austen Leigh
Provost of King's College, Cambridge
Succeeded by
Walter Durnford
Preceded by
Edmond Warre
Provost of Eton
Succeeded by
Lord Hugh Cecil