IV - Lost Hearts: Creeping Horror

“The outside world chiefly thought of him as a man of immense learning, and it is true that his learning was broad and massive – in some respects, unequalled by any scholar in the world – with all his learning went a mastery of the English language – a mastery seen in all his writing.”
Claire Elliot, in her eulogy [24]

M.R. James' legacy as the foremost ghost story writer in English history lives on despite the mans death in

1936. Oliffe Richmond claimed that James “had hoped to escape a musty biography and bibliography, knowing that his monumental labours would live after him and needed no advertisement.” [25] As antiquarian as some of his characters, and with an imagination for terror that could startle the unnerving, Montague Rhodes James was, perhaps, not the most expected outlet for supernatural tales.

“His academic interest ranged over Apocrypha, hagiology, classical archaelogy and literature, biblical

studies, medieval art and iconography and Western manuscripts.”[26] The supernatural tales he penned in his spare time were a hobby. An event to scare some of his most trusted pupils every Christmas. Arthur Benson[27] wrote that “MRJ read us one of his medieval ghost stories – this is a pleasant habit of his – the local colouring is excellent, and the stories grim, but there is a certain want of depth about them. The people are like elderly dons.”[28]

And yet they have gone on to reach

such wide appeal far beyond that of his respected academia. Which makes it somewhat ironic that in researching academia for commentary on the ghost stories, it is far more likely to find them overlooked.

Cox says “Critically, the stories have always been awarded a high place, often the highest, in the English ghost story tradition, and this estimation shows no sign of falling off. And yet, no completely satisfactory has been written on the ghost stories, about which there is much to be said.”[29]