TAKE THE M.R. JAMES CHALLENGE, WON’T YOU?
So, I think of myself as someone with respectable horror street cred. I’m not just some dope when it comes to creepy stuff, be it of a literary or filmic nature, and chances are we could have a fun discussion about most topics in the genre. BUT, it wasn’t until my friend (and BRILLIANT horror writer) Paul Walther (look him up, and start with his award-winning short story “Splitfoot”) gently coaxed me that I bit the bullet and read anything by Montague Rhodes James, otherwise known as M.R. “Mother-effin” James.
Before Paul convinced me to give MRJ a chance, I had an extremely half-baked idea of who he even was. Maybe some pilgrim-era writer of impenetrable morality play ghost stuff, or some kind of boring English antique dealer who wrote boring English antique stories or something?
Naw, said Paul “I Know What The Hell I’m Talkin Bout” Walther. You have no idea what you’re missing. He said that I ought to check out the story “The Mezzotint” and see what I thought. Blecch, thought I. This is gonna be one of those “It’s good for you” reads, which will involve way more dictionary visits than I really want to do.
Anyhoo, cutting to the chase: It BLEW MY FRIKKIN MIND, MAN!!! HOLY CRAP!!! WHO IS THIS M.R. JAMES GUY?
Turns out, I was kinda right. No, he wasn’t a Pilgrim, but he was an English antiquarian and medieval scholar at Cambridge in the early 20th century, where he wrote a handful of the BEST GHOST STORIES OF ALL TIME as a way to entertain his fellow academics at Christmas parties and such. And no, I’m not making that up.
So, this time, instead of waxing rhapsodic about the dude and his writings, I’m gonna lay down a challenge to you, dear readers: If you are a horror fiction fan and have never read a story by Mr. James, I hereby dare you to read “The Mezzotint”, “The Treasure of Abbott Thomas”, and/or “Casting the Runes” (all three are available by clicking on the titles, which will take you to a very entertaining website called A Thin Ghost, which has EVERY SINGLE STORY ever written by M.R., as well as lots of other cool stuff).
Perhaps you will have a similar experience as I, who was so shocked by the humor, energetic narrative voice, non-datedness, and utter command of horrific imagery wielded by this guy that I became an instant super fan. I’ve since devoured everything he’s ever written, several times over (it’s only like 35 stories, altogether). Yum!
I hope you, too, will have a good time with old Montague if you haven’t already. Don’t worry, he’s not good for you…