More Ghost Stories: Tedium and Ghosts

More Ghost Stories by M.R. James has been a bit of a grind. So much so, that I’ve put it down multiple times and went on about life thinking, “Do I really need to finish that? By this point, I know how things are going to go.” I’m just so intrigued by the settings and stories that I’m willing to read them even if I find some points a bit tedious.

I can respect the inspiration and foundational impact of M.R. James has provided. Perhaps if I were reading these at Christmas time with some roasted chestnuts and some mulled wine, I’d enjoy them a bit more. However, with 97% of a thirty page story focused on where the garden keys are or courtroom proceedings – not drama, proceedings – or any other mundane proclivities of the early 1900’s, there’s only a blip of a page’s worth of ghostly goodness. 

I wrote this before I even finished reading the last story because, it doesn’t matter. They’re gonna find those keys. The MC Hammer Pants of a ghost of the valetudinarian uncle will show up. The characters will say they are spooked, but it’s really more of a good ole flummoxing. Everyone will be fine and unscarred, except the one and only character to be punished for his trespasses because he killed a woman, thus making her a ghost, and sentencing her to an afterlife of wearing three pairs of Hammer Pants at once and running on all fours. 

Okay fine! There is one more character that was punished, but I do not recall the specifics. I’m not going back to find which one. I’ve taken a cursory glance at the table of contents, nothing rang a bell. Even though I could look at the first page of the story and remember, I don’t want to.

Taking into account that these tales were published well over one hundred years ago, I bet they sure were scary at the time. I can truly appreciate the setting, the ideas; pretty much the whole she-bang minus the execution. I feel like I’m being groomed into accepting the slightest bump on a floorboard to be satisfyingly spooky. 

Which, it is. Each and every single time with previously heavy lidded eyes I say, “You did it again M.R!”. Though it’s fleeting, that’s the payoff. Which is the reason why I read the next story and that I’ll more than likely read the next collection of stories, A Thin Ghost and Others.

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. 

Ghost Stories of an Antiquary

Ghost Stories of an Antiquary gives readers a chance to see a bunch book worm types make poor decisions in these intriguing old times tales of horror and suspense. Not gory and not necessarily scary, but eerie. Though the suspense of  Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad did make me put down the book for the night in order to have a restful sleep. 

If the works H.P Lovecraft or Robert W. Chambers are found intriguing, then Ghost Stories of an Antiquary should be added to the TBR list. Also, check out the podcast, The Magnus Archives. The creator was inspired heavily by M.R. James.