Count Magnus and Other Ghost Stories by M.R. James – review

I’ve been having a hard time coming up with what I want to say about this collection. First, it’s a very fine collection of classic horror, and the stories do not really show their age. If you like horror, it’s a must read. At the same time, there’s also nothing that really stands out about the collection. James has a definite grasp of specifics and of his locations. Throughout all of the stories there seems to be a theme a learned or educated person running into something his education hasn’t prepared him to deal with. Also, there is an element of religion turned malignant in many of the stories. Someone conjures demons, someone reads apocryphal texts, etc.

I thought the best story was “Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad,”  about a guy who finds a whistle, blows in it, and then is bedeviled by a spirit that comes, uses the sheets of the spare bed in the guy’s room to form a body for itself, and tries to scare him to death. It sounds…kooky…when explained, but James’ grasp of language and attention to detail in constructing his setting pulls it off with aplomb.

The collection I had was the Penguins Classic edition.  If you’re really interested in James, I think this is the copy you should look for. Not only is it well done, as pretty much all of the Penguin Classics are, but it is heavily annotated. So, if you’re really curious what that bit of Latin means that James put into a story, you can flip to the back and see. While the annotations aren’t necessary, they can be helpful and they do bring a greater depth to the story and an appreciation for the amount of work James put into getting the details right. I plan on coming back and inserting reviews of a few of the stories but, for now, I’m just going to put this up for everyone.

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