Ghosts of an Antiquary: Was M.R. James a Nerd or a Bully?

Ghosts of an Antiquary by M.R. James contains stories that helped shape and inspire a genre. H.P. Lovecraft was deeply inspired by M.R. James and is noted as having written at least one essay discussing James’s works. Of course, H.P. Lovecraft had other inspirations, but that’s a post for another time.

Upon reading and reviewing Ghosts of an Antiquary I couldn’t help but notice a few things. One of those things being an ironically ponderous question. Which is, what if M.R. James wasn’t some hoity-toity scholarly type, but in fact a bullish jock wanting to trash some nerds by giving them supernatural wedgies.

Each story sets up some overly educated and well funded twit on some journey through the magical world of cursed antiquities. By their own accord or at the behest of another fancy lad, these antiquarians often find themselves a stranger in a strange land. More often than not, that strange land  is a small mostly forgotten settlement in a rural area. Always they are looking for a book or some other antiquity. Each and every one of these characters are so interested in books or antiques that they ignore clear red flags and hygienic concerns. Putting a rusty dirt filled whistle in ones mouth is a pass from anyone whose mother raised them right. 

Furthermore, there is a little overlap between the stories. Meaning, by reputation, characters have heard tales of weird stuff happening to other characters in other stories. Yet, they continue to do what they do with little regard for themselves and the safety of those around them, namely servants.

Luckily, each one of these characters is met with a frightening situation. Each scenario should make readers give little a nod of the head or the smallest of fist pumps in appreciation for thoroughly terrifying these ninnies. None of the characters are particularly likable, heroic, or redeeming except in the broadest sense of, they are alive and therefore deserve to live. Which, spoiler alert, unfortunately all of them do. 

Which has to be my one complaint about the stories in Ghosts of an Antiquary. None of the main characters die. Nor are they haunted for an extended period of time by their unchecked privilege. They simply discard, burn, or plaster up whatever monstrosity they’ve unleashed and the story ends. That said, there is something satisfying about seeing a bunch of well-to-do educated guys metaphorically wetting their breeches.