Tag Archives: Lost Hearts
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Lost Hearts

11 Sep

I have been haunted by the writings of M R James since childhood but when asked what is my favourite of all his ghostly tales I’ve never fully been able to answer. Lost Hearts, an early tale which apparently James didn’t much care for, and which only appeared in Ghost Stories of an Antiquary to fill up the collection at the request of his publisher, does however retain a special corner in my affections. This was my first introduction to James and ever since I have always been surprised at the author’s seeming negative attitude to this particular story, which remains one of the classic short chillers in whatever guise it has assumed, on the page or on the screen. The plot is well known. Abney, an elderly scholar, reclusive and of independent means, invites his young cousin Stephen, recently orphaned, to live with him. His secret intention is to kill the boy in order to obtain his heart, which he believes will give him magical powers and, possibly, immortality. Two murders have already been committed for this purpose, and the young victims’ corpses carefully concealed, but their whereabouts are frighteningly disclosed to the intended next victim, and their intrusion back into the world of the living occurs in a series of disturbing incidents that culminate in the story’s horrifying denouement.

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The Incomparable M R James

20 Sep

I’ve been looking forward to this one…

Montague Rhodes James (1862-1936) is generally acknowledged as the founding father of the ghost story as it is known today. The son of a clergyman raised in rural Suffolk, England, M R James attended prep school at Eton and it was here that he discovered traditional ‘gothic’ ghost tales full of the old trappings of antique castles, terrified maidens and spectres clanking chains. He decided to try his own interpretation of the genre – one of plausibility, actuality and malevolence more suited to 20th century readers – when he later became a Fellow of King’s College, Cambridge. The publication of his first collection of ghostly tales in 1904 met with an enthusiastic public response. An antiquarian by nature, James was a master of topography, scholarly detail and seemingly authentic documentation, which appealed to the audience of sophisticated modern readers that he sought (even the least of his stories exhibits a craftsmanship and attention to detail that must be the envy of more hasty and prolific writers). James also inspired countless other ghost story writers, who to this day owe a debt to his conception of the form (in his own words – “Let us, then, be introduced to the actors in a placid way… and into this calm environment let the ominous thing put out its head, unobtrusively at first, and then more insistently, until it holds the stage”).

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