Monday, December 20, 2010

Book Review: "Count Magnus and Other Ghost Stories"

As soon as I finished M.R. James' The Haunted Dolls' House and Other Ghost Stories (review), the second volume of the Penguin omnibus edition of his ghost stories, I ordered a copy of the first, Count Magnus and Other Ghost Stories (Penguin, 2005). I've been enjoying one or two of the stories before bedtime every night since (with the exception of one evening when the power was off and I read a few by candlelight before dinner).

I agree with the editors that the tales included here are generally of a higher quality than those in the other volume (but I think it speaks to James' talents that even his "inferior" stories were highly enjoyable). Once again James puts what he knows (antiquarianism, books, libraries, and academic culture) to great use, combining them with supernatural elements (and sometimes with his great fear of spiders) to shock and frighten.

Among my favorites from this collection: "Canon Alberic's Scrap-Book," "The Mezzotint" (probably the one I liked best of all), "Number 13," "Casting the Runes," and "The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral." "Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad" is certainly among the most creepy ghost stories I've ever read.

I'm sure I'll return to these often, and I recommend them highly. As many of James' stories were originally meant for reading aloud around Christmas-time, now's a good chance to share them!