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M. R. James

M.R. James is widely considered the father of the modern ghost story. Taking the supernatural tale away from its gothic sensibilities was James's greatest achievement, setting up many terrifying encounters with ghostly creatures in contemporary surroundings.

While James's protagonists tended to be grounded in the contemporary time, as a scholar and medievalist, his ghost stories usually focus on a haunted past reaching out to the present, to unsettle and threaten real and believable characters.

Most of James's work can be labelled 'antiquarian', in that the arrival of some hideous thing is always preceded by the discovery of a relic of history - a book, a crown, an old wooden whistle etc.

Each story, though published, was originally written as an oral piece, which James would recount for students, colleagues and friends on Christmas Eve. It's hard not to think of this setting when reading each piece - a huddle of listeners enthralled by James himself, slowly narrating a chilling story illuminated only by the flicker of a nearby fireplace. Each story takes on a documentary feel, which adds further believability to the tale.

There is no doubting James's legacy as one of, if not the most important writer of ghost stories in the English language. His work is so highly regarded that stories from other authors which share the same style or approach are affectionately called 'Jamesian'.

M. R. James stories in The Vault:

A Warning to the Curious
Casting the Ruins
Number 13
Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad
The Mezzotint
The Tractate Middoth

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