Dominated by the looming shadow of H.P. Lovecraft, M.R. James is a name that is often neglected in favour of his much more recognised contemporary. A pivotal influence to Steven King and even Lovecraft himself, James is the godfather of modern horror that deserves credit. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Ghost Stories, the apex of James’s chilling grounded supernatural horror.
A greatest hit of James’s work, Ghost Stories is a great jumping-off point into the wonderful world of short fiction horror. The collection of short stories offers an amuse-bouche of James’s signature style. His blend of antiquity and contemporary. His distinctly Britishness characters, from curmudgeonly professors to tram drivers with thick northern accents. To, of course, his most significant trademark, haunting figures beyond comprehension and description. A technique that Lovecraft would later adopt as his own.
James’s works vary in style; some, like his terrifying Mizzotint and Number 13 are haunting tales filled with mystery. Others like Casting the Ruins, a story of a book reviewer incurring the wrath on an occultist after a bad book review, are morality tales. Each is brimming with morbid excitement as their protagonists attempt to unravel a mystery that inevitably leads to a shockingly horrific revelation.
While each story is incredibly crafted, a few don’t quite match the calibre of the rest. The Tractate Middoth and Mr Humphery’s and His Inheritance are intriguing reads. Still, they lack the oomph of James’s more powerful work.
Ghost Stories is a fun and chilling selection of one of the architects of modern horror. Each story is enthralling and nightmarish and comes with there own unique charm. While each story’s themes feel similar, James’s knack for character development and ability to ground his work within a specific time and location eliminates any sense of repetition. Ghost Stories is gothic horror for the modern age and holds its contemporary feel nearly a century later.