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Collected Ghost Stories

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4.19 of 5 stars 4.19  ·  rating details  ·  3,687 ratings  ·  167 reviews
'I was conscious of a most horrible smell of mould, and of a cold kind of face pressed against my own...'
Considered by many to be the most terrifying writer in English, M. R. James was an eminent scholar who spent his entire adult life in the academic surroundings of Eton and Cambridge. His classic supernatural tales draw on the terrors of the everyday, in which documents
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Hardcover, 468 pages
Published December 1st 2011 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published 1931)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Nandakishore Varma
Montague Rhodes James brings the classic British understatement to the field of horror stories and makes them terrifying beyond imagination. His writing is without any frills; there is very little by the way of atmosphere-building; and the stories themselves seem to be an odd form of reportage. By going against convention, M. R. James creates a nightmare world which is more frightening than that of any of his more traditional contemporaries. He is helped in this by his encyclopaedic knowledge of ...more
Marc Shoemaker
M.R. James can be difficult for the modern reader, but his stories are worth the effort for the atmosphere alone. "Whistle and I'll Come to you My Lad" is probably my favorite, and I'm far from alone. This creepy story involves old ruins, a found whistle with a strange inscription, and an unused bed that is suddenly no longer empty. "An Episode of Cathedral History" Is what a vampire story shoudl be. This one does not glitter. Stephen King once wrote that James' ghosts were harmless; I wonder if ...more
M.J. Johnson
Jan 22, 2015 M.J. Johnson rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Ghost/supernatural/short story lovers
Shelves: favourites
Montague Rhodes James (1862 - 1936) was a distinguished mediaevalist scholar who during his lifetime published many works of academic significance. However, two generations on, he is best remembered, and deservedly so, as the master of the ghost story. He started writing tales in this form as an entertainment for his friends and colleagues, beginning in 1893 with Canon Alberic’s Scrapbook. A tradition was subsequently acquired of reading a new ghostly tale to his chums each Christmas - the darke ...more
Orrin Grey
Since it was his birthday recently, I decided to re-read the ghost stories of M.R. James, and I learned a few things. First, that I had not, apparently, read all the stories in this volume previously, like I thought I had, because there were some I didn't remember. Second, that even among the stories I had read there were parts that I had forgotten. And third, that M.R. James is King Shit of Space-Cat Mountain even more amazing than I had remembered.

Widely regarded as maybe the best ghost story
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Linda
I had hoped that I would be scared. I really like to scare myself and laugh about it. When I saw the Orphanage, I couldn't open the bathroom door because I was frozen wondering what was on the other side. After watching Alien at home in the dark, my husband kidded me that they had just landed in our backyard as a roll of thunder broke out. I couldn't move!! And I loved it!

But these are Victorian stories and I guess I've never really been scared by a story. They are written in a Victorian fashion
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Linda
These stories took me back to my childhood, holidays at the beach in old houses, howling winds and the crashing of the waves at night. Four children whiling away the evening hours reading ghost stories from books borrowed from the local library.
A childhood filled with the fairies and talking animals and tales of adventuring children garnered from the works of English authors who dominated our childish world view at that time.
These ghost stories of M R James are the stuff of children's nightmare
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Sam
Assigned this book for a class on Freud's Uncanny and Horror Literature, and had a tough time presenting James in such a way that the students got beyond his "reasonable" facade and into deeper, weirder territory. Yes, James is a master of "understatement" - although I wonder if this isn't just a function of the narrative layers and frames he's so fond of employing - but he uses this light touch to investigate some deeper strain of desire. All of these academics, desperate to uncover previously ...more
Issicratea
My view of this author changed considerably in the course of my reading of this collection. I embarked on it as a follow-up to the magnificent Tales of Hoffmann, and, at first, by comparison, it seemed distinctly lightweight, though engaging and fun to read. I became more and more intrigued by these stories as I went along, though. They’re deceptively simple, and M. R. himself quite determinedly played down their importance in his few critical remarks on them (“The stories … do not make any very ...more
Joe
M.R. James wrote antiquarian scary stories and was a huge influence on H.P. Lovecraft. I'd previously read one of his stories in an anthology so I figured in the spirit of the cold and dark days of winter being a perfect time for scary stories, I decided to read a set of his complete ghost stories. Below are some snippet reviews of each story.

Canon Alberic's Scrap-Book: A scholar spends time with a skittish overseer in a dilapidated cathedral photographing the interior. He acts a bit too cavalie
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Riju Ganguly
There are classics that deserve no separate review apart from mere stating of the fact that these stories have been shaping the contours of horror fiction for the past century, and since 1931 (when these stories were brought out together, except 3 stories that were later collected) they have remained continuously in-print. However, this book was special in the sense that the stories often mention certain details that require gentle ministrations in the shape of annotations & explanations for ...more
Edward Waters
I find James's tales deeply compelling, yet at times unsatisfying. He is unmatched in my experience at providing atmosphere and 'setting a stage'. With most of the works included here I was quickly drawn into a delicious world of Victorian academics and antiquaries afield in remote, small towns; along lonely seashores; or about routine pursuits -- all of which were overhung by exquisite melancholy and an expectation of the strange or the perilous. Too often, however, the denouement proved awkwar ...more
Laurie
Born in 1862, M. R. James was a Victorian with a love of ghost stories. Many of the tales in this collection were meant to be read aloud a Christmas or New Year gatherings; it shows in their conversational tone. There are 33 stories in over 400 pages- with 48 pages of notes. I’ve never before seen endnotes in fiction, but I found them helpful. The author makes many references to places and events in England that an American would likely not understand, and the many colloquialisms of the time som ...more
^
Feb 04, 2015 ^ rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Those of an especially nervous disposition
Utterly superb, especially so when read aloud. M.R. James’ language is as precise and economical as his plots. He clearly knew exactly what to leave of the page and up to the imagination of his reader / listener. These are absolutely first class performance pieces. “Economical horror” is, I believe, the applicable and appropriate term. The 1968 BBC adaptation for TV (by Jonathan Miller) of "Oh, Whistle, And I'll Come To You, My Lad" is almost as good as James’ text. The nearest modern tale I’ve ...more
Simon
M.R. James writes like an old English scholar; upper class and antiquated. I have been gradually making my way through this collection of stories over the last 18 months and I should probably not have spread them so thinly. I was able to enjoy the stories more when I read a few in quick succession and got used to his style.

Some of the stories were quite chilling such as "The Ash Tree" and "Rats". Others were extremely subtle and complex with multi layered narratives and requiring the reader to m
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Maureen
this is one of my favourite books. i re-read it quite often. it is a wonderful combination of comfort and discomfort: of meals, and beds in country inns, leisurely pursuits pursued by fuddled englishmen; and then they find the inside of dark corners where unspeakable horrors hide, where unmade beds whistle up into frightening formless forms, and many an academic that has one last glass before he succumbs to the madness; sometimes his simply saying simple words aloud damning him.

the fates, they s
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Geoff
M.R. James is one of those kinda guys you can just picture at a bar, telling the wildest story imaginable, complete with "It was thiiis big" alongside arm gestures and hyperboles in excess. Although what's funny, is how un-hyperbole-ish his stories actually are. In fact they're understated almost, quiet and full of nerdy guys wandering around ancient ruins and museums and churches strolling along as innocents, until things get crazy. Similar to Lovecraft, and certainly in what I would call the " ...more
J.S. Watts
Classic tales by the master of the short horror story.
John Hughes
What can you say? M.R. James reinvigorated, consolidated and almost simultaneously exhausted the possibilities of the English ghost story. He is its undisputed master. The tales are donnish, subtle, rich in foreshadowing and suggestion. The language is refined and precise. Start here.
Judy Croome
Written in a more innocent and graceful era, MR James's ghost stories are subtle, with very polite and, at times, utterly chilling ghosts.

I enjoyed most of them, with some of the stories giving me delicious goosebumps (The Ash Tree, Number 13, Oh Whistle & I'll come to thee, my Lad, The Uncommon Prayer Book, Wailing Well and others).

One issue I had with this particular text, was that the explanatory notes were by means of an * (no differentiaton within each story) and the note itself was at
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Stig
As a lover of the classical English ghost story, I have of course read all of these tales before, but when I came across this handsome annotated hardcover edition I knew I had to buy it and read them all again.

And so I did.

James was a specialised ghost story writer; this was the only kind of fiction he wrote. And he was a master of the genre. I don't know of any other ghost story writer whose work is of such consistently high quality. So what's good about these stories? The atmosphere, to begin
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Michael

I often take Montague on holiday with me. He doesn't take up much room and he doesn't eat all the Baby Bells. I'm talking about Montague Rhodes James - my favourite writer of ghost stories. This time Montague is telling me the stories that didn't get printed in his four haunting anthologies. I prefer the individual publications to the doorstop collection here. It's pretty evident why these six stories didn't make it into the original publications.

1. The Uncommon Prayer-Book
2. A Neighbour's Lan
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Anastasia Fitzgerald-Beaumont
I acquired an early love of ghost stories. In mentioning the work of M. R. James a recent contributor to my Ana the Imp blog reminded me just how much I love them, how much I love his work in particular. Montague Rhodes James, to give him his full name, was actually a specialist in medieval manuscripts and the provost of King’s College, Cambridge and then of Eton. But he is best remembered for his delicious tales of the supernatural.

I say ghost stories but he really crosses boundaries, touching
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Scott
Antiquarian supernatural stories at their finest. James (1862-1936) knows how to tell a creepy story, often incorporating soft Christian themes and moral accountability. Never having read him before, I din't know what to expect. The writing style was challenging at times (how often do you have footnotes in a ghost story!?), but once I got used to it, I really settled in and enjoyed it. James is a master of "suggestion", utilizing hints of eeriness or things that 'aren't quite right' in order to ...more
Paul Kerr
Without a doubt my favorite ghost story writer and a collection that never tires upon re-read. I always pull out this book at Christmas and delve in for some spooky fare. Top of my list - Wailing Well (you just want that bad kid to realize sooner that he is surrounded), The Mezzotint (creepy skeleton action) and Casting the Runes (what is exactly that thing that turns up on the boat). Even though some of his stories I have not read for years, the images stay with you long after read. And it is o ...more
Bill
I recently read a magazine article about excellent ghost stories and James' 'The Haunted Dolls House' was mentioned. That is what prompted me to buy this collection. A lot of the language is somewhat old as James died in 1936. However the story telling is largely brilliant.

Whilst I enjoyed the Dolls House tale my favourite was '13' which is a real scary tale, just the sort to read around a camp fire in the fading light, perhaps on halloween.

The Mezzotint is also a remarkably good ghostly tale

If
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Laura
I like to imagine James gathering his friends around the fireplace and telling them how one of his acquaintances knew a man who once met a man who knew the true facts... It starts out scholarly, and sometimes it's bland, but then there is a subtle shift in the atmosphere, something twisted, something creepy.

Some of the stories are good, some are mediocre. There is a lot of repetition: numerous slight variations upon curious academic finds a piece of antiquity & is followed home by a menacin
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Oscar
Apr 13, 2008 Oscar rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: lovers of mystery, suspense, and horror; Lovecraftians
Shelves: fiction, horror, detective
Excellent mysterious and suspenseful ghost stories that have been of profound influence to later writers in the genre, with Lovecraft as perhaps the most appropriate example.

The stories are well-written, though perhaps not very accesible for non-native English speakers, as the style is quited learned.

James' influence remains strong in alternative culture of today, with experimental artists like English Heretic and The Triple Tree drawing from the well of his occult tales, such as "Oh Whistle and
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Jonathan Stroud
Simply the best, goulish and ghastly tales by the master. JS
Dominique
For this week, I thought we needed to head into a completely different direction. M.R. James' Collected Ghost Stories are certainly world's apart from the E.L. James' series (even though the authors' names are really similar). James is famous for his ghost stories from the start of the 1900's.

For this week I've read a few of the stories in this collection, not all of them yet:
Canon Alberic's Scrapbook
Lost Hearts
The Mezzotint
The Ash Tree
Number 13
Count Magnus
"Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My
...more
Isabel
Collected Ghost Stories contains the stories from the four books that M. R. James published in his lifetime, plus four other stories and an essay.,

Ghost Stories of an Antiquary - 4 stars

More Ghost Stories of an Antiquary - 3.5 stars

A Thin Ghost and Others - 4 stars

A Warning to the Curious and Other Ghost Stories - 3.5 stars


Hardly had the owl given its last emphatic nod when four small slim forms dropped from a bough above, and in a twinkling some sort of grass rope was thrown round the body of
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Montague Rhodes James, who used the publication name M.R. James, was a noted British mediaeval scholar & provost of King's College, Cambridge (1905–18) & of Eton College (1918–36). He's best remembered for his ghost stories which are widely regarded as among the finest in English literature. One of James' most important achievements was to redefine the ghost story for the new century by di ...more
More about M.R. James...
Ghost Stories of an Antiquary Count Magnus and Other Ghost Stories Casting the Runes and Other Ghost Stories More Ghost Stories of an Antiquary The Haunted Dolls' House and Other Ghost Stories

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“The door was opening again. The seer does not like to dwell upon what he saw
entering the room: he says it might be described as a frog - the size of a man - but it had scanty white hair about its head. It was busy about the truckle-beds, but not for long. The sound of cries - faint, as if coming out of a vast distance - but, even so, infinitely appalling, reached the ear. ("The Haunted Doll's House")”
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“But it was in the life-saving competition that Stanley Judkins's conduct was most blameable and had the most far-reaching effects. The practice, as you know, was to throw a selected lower boy, of suitable dimensions, fully dressed, with his hands and feet tied together, into the deepest part of Cuckoo Weir, and to time the Scout whose turn it was to rescue him. On every occasion when he was entered for this competition Stanley Judkins was seized, at the critical moment, with a severe fit of cramp, which caused him to roll on the ground and utter alarming cries. This naturally distracted the attention of those present from the boy in the water, and had it not been for the presence of Arthur Wilcox the death-roll would have been a heavy one. As it was, the Lower Master found it necessary to take a firm line and say that the competition must be discontinued. It was in vain that Mr. Beasley Robinson represented to him that in five competitions only four lower boys had actually succumbed. The Lower Master said that he would be the last to interfere in any way with the work of the Scouts; but that three of these boys had been valued members of his choir, and both he and Dr. Ley felt that the inconvenience caused by the losses outweighed the advantages of the competitions. Besides, the correspondence with the parents of these boys had become annoying, and even distressing: they were no longer satisfied with the printed form which he was in the habit of sending out, and more than one of them had actually visited Eton and taken up much of his valuable time with complaints. So the life-saving competition is now a thing of the past.” 2 likes
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