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The Alabaster Hand

24 Feb

In the field of supernatural fiction, it is fair to say no author casts a longer shadow than M R James. It is arguable, however, that no author has come closer to inheriting the mantle of the great James than ghost story writer Alan Noel Latimer Munby (1913-74). The son of an architect, he was, like James, educated at King’s College, Cambridge. It was here that his fascination with ancient books began, and he later became librarian of the college. Munby also became a leading figure in the antiquarian book trade and for many years was associated with the legendary book dealer, Bernard Quaritch. He wrote several bibliographical studies and a number of his short stories combine his interest in books and the supernatural, as well as being written in an elegant and scholarly style reminiscent of his role model, James. Curiously, however, Munby’s only collection of ghost stories, The Alabaster Hand, published in 1949, was largely written to pass the time away while he was a German POW at Eichstatt in Upper Franconia from 1943-45. Whilst a prisoner of war camp would not, perhaps, ordinarily be thought conducive surroundings for the creation of a classic collection of ghost stories, The Alabaster Hand is strong evidence of the way in which creativity must have helped some who found themselves in this position to preserve their sanity.

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