Your Favorite Antiquarian Ghost Stories by Authors Other than M. R. James


Well-Known Member
Aug 21, 2010
I don't know how much exploration has been made, by Chrons people, of ghost stories in the M. R. James tradition, but here's a place to talk about them.

For a rough definition: I'd say that a story in the James tradition should have an element of scholarship, historical record, or folkloric interest as well as the element of supernatural fear. Jamesian stories are relatively "literary." The emphasis is on the development of eerie suspense; probably there's little or no gore, etc. The story is not a Cthulhu Mythos story; Lovecraft's use of Jamesian materials is too distinctively his own to be considered Jamesian; James's stories don't evoke "cosmic horror."

A story in the Jamesian mode probably suggests a certain detachment, rather than the breathlessness of pulp fiction.

The James tradition is still alive, as has been seen in recent years in the 'zines Ghosts and Scholars and All Hallows, the publications of the Ash-Tree Press, or even in my own 2017 collection, Lady Stanhope's Manuscript and Other Stories.

Ghosts & Scholars Archive

Ash-Tree Press Home Page

Collections of Jamesian stories often cited include Munby, Rolt, and others, discussed here:

Shadows of the Master

Some of these stories may be available for reading free on the Web. It might not be necessarily to hunt down out-of-print books and expensive small press reprints in order to sample the James tradition.

Of course, if you haven't read Montague Rhodes James, he's the writer to start with. You can find all of his work available online. Outstanding stories include "'Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad,'" "The Ash-Tree" (brrrr), "Count Magnus," "Casting the Runes," "Canon Alberic's Scrap-book," etc.

Malden's Nine Ghosts is available as a free download:

Nine Ghosts

A. N. L. Munby's Alabaster Hand is in print:

Likewise L. T. C. Rolt's Sleep No More:

I'm not sure I've read this New Yorker piece yet:

Fright Nights

Finally, I'll mention a book I've got from the library, but haven't read yet, that might have some leads for stories by authors other than James.
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One thing about James, I find I can read one story after another up to 5 or 6 stories and not get tired of them. E. F. Benson, not exactly Jamesian, is another of that generation of ghost story writers whose work I can read in numbers and not tire.

Coincidentally, I started dipping into The Alabaster Hand recently, reading the first two stories, and I don't think I'll read several at one time. I'm not sure they are various enough in tone and content to sustain that kind of reading. That said, the first story, "Herodes Redivivus" is quite effective.

I read several stories in Rolt's Sleep No More several years ago but never finished the book. Again, I'd have been wiser to read a couple now and again.

Your mention of Lovecraft reminded me of The Bone Key by Sarah Monette, whose stated intent was to merge James and Lovecraft while also addressing some of their weaknesses. At least a few stories in the collection hew closer to James than to Lovecraft: "The Venebretti Necklace," "Wait for Me," "Drowning Palmer," "The Inheritance of Barnabus Wilcox," and "The Wall of Clouds." There is a difference in sense of humor: Where James occasionally seems gleeful in sacrificing his characters to their fate, Monette's humor is a bit gentler, more situational.

Randy M.
Here's Landon's "Thurnley Abbey," a well-known tale among fans of Jamesian ghost stories, though it is not a really strong specimen of the antiquarian tale. I give it in two sources:

"Thurnley Abbey" by Perceval Landon, McClure's Magazine, October 1908 -

Again, though, if you aren't acquainted with the form, you really should start with the master himself, M. R. James -- all or nearly all of whose stories are available online.

James admired some of the stories of his predecessor from the Victorian era, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu. Did Le Fanu write antiquarian ghost stories? Perhaps, but I would dispute the notion that his best-known stories, such as "The Familiar," "Green Tea," and "Camilla," are good examples of the antiquarian tale. They may be ghostly enough, though I admit that recently I hadn't the patience to finish a rereading of "Camilla" -- but in any event, is the antiquarian-scholarly element certainly there? I doubt it. If we admit Le Fanu's tales, we will soon have a thread that is nothing but a place for discussion of "literary" ghost stories. I hope Chronsers won't want to take that direction, but that's not up to me.

I'm finding that less of the antiquarian ghost story corpus seems to be available online than I might have expected. Munby doesn't seem to be there. I don't find Summers'"The Grimoire" (which I read so long ago that I don't remember if it's much good). Rolt doesn't seem to be online. But we have James's tales -- only this thread is for authors other than James -- and Malden. For the purposes of this thread, it looks like we're going to have to lay hold of actual books.....
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"Curfew" by L. M. Boston -- I found it in a YA anthology called The House of the Nightmare -- was good.

I want to revisit "At Simmel Acres Farm" by Eleanor Scott, if I can get hold of it.

Eventually, it would be fun to create a Table of Contents for an imaginary anthology of great antiquarian "Jamesian" ghost stories that James didn't write. That's already been done, more than once I think, but I want to ignore those earlier anthologies for the moment and see what we can come up with. It would be especially nice if the stories were available online. It doesn't seem that the Boston or Scott stories are available as online texts.
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Had a forehead slapping moment yesterday when it occurred to me Fritz Leiber's Our Lady of Darkness probably should be mentioned in this thread. If Leiber's "Smoke Ghost" signaled a change in direction from the Jamesian ghost story, then Our Lady... signals a merging of Jamesian ghost story with something more like C. A. Smith or HPL, and Leiber's own preoccupation with cities. It includes an ancient tome and a ghostly being that manifests in a Jamesian manner -- its appearance reminds me vaguely of "Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad."

Randy M.
Leiber's casual attitude towards "free love" and Decadence are unlike James's, but the story his narrator tells, boiled down to its simplest outline, follows M. R. James's advice for the literary ghost story, to the effect that we should see the main character going about his ordinary business; the uncanny thing begins to intrude itself, at first fairly unobtrusively, but more overtly till the story's climax.
Some ghostly stories by A. C. Benson are available here:

Paul the Minstrel and Other Stories by Arthur Christopher Benson

I've never read all of these stories, and I don't suppose most are ghost stories. I'm pretty sure "The Slype House" and "The Hill of Trouble," at least, qualify as ghost stories, and Mike Ashley regards ACB as in the James tradition.

At this point, we're still mostly trying to get a sense of "Jamesian" ghost stories by authors other than M. R. James, and of what is available online -- not yet really getting into our favorites, I think.
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Canon Basil Smith wrote at least one or two antiquarian, Jamesian stories, as collected in The Scallion Stone. My impression is that I enjoyed the book but probably wouldn't nominate any of the stories as a "favorite Jamesian story not by James."


The dustjacket art was, if I'm not mistaken, actually illustrating a story by someone other than Smith, or was perhaps meant simply as a typical Lovecraftian scene. I believe that publication was subsidized by Russell Kirk, a friend of the late author. Interior art (black and white) did illustrate the stories.
Walter de la Mare's "Crewe" might be Jamesian without being antiquarian as I've tried to suggest in the first posting here. It's in a book called On the Edge and has been reprinted elsewhere, but it doesn't seem to be available as a free download. Another borderline work is Susan Hill's The Woman in Black. Predating James, how about Robert Louis Stevenson's exercise in dialect (and a good 'un), "Thrawn Janet"?

Thrawn Janet

As I reflect on this thread so far, I'd say it seems that there are some quite good stories that are somewhat Jamesian, but that the stories that are closest in content to the real Jamesian antiquarian tale are often entertaining without being as compelling as his.

Margaret Irwin's "The Book" should qualify. You should be able to read it here:

"The Book" by Margaret Irwin, Famous Fantastic Mysteries, December 1951 -
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I got hold of a book with Eleanor Scott's "At Simmel Acres Farm" and read that story again after many years. It wasn't as special as I'd thought it might be. Perhaps the main cool thing is the pun on Simmel Acres / simulacrum. Aside from this it has rather good atmosphere connected with the evocation of an enclosed garden space, but the story idea doesn't seem all that fresh and the antiquarian element is not fully realized. If your public library has a book with it (I found it in Hugh Lamb's return from the Grave), yeah, you might give it a reading, but this story is not going to make my list of favorite Jamesian stories by writers other than James.

Scott wrote one other story that I've seen anthologized, "Celui-là," which I vaguely recall as being sort of a revisit of James's "'Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad'" -- I don't mean a plagiarism, but as seeming as pretty likely to have been inspired by James's classic story. I wouldn't mind reading that one again sometime.
The Middle Toe of the Right Foot by Ambrose Bierce
Baylor, I've read that story, but not for years. Would you explain how it qualifies as an antiquarian ghost story?

The term "antiquarian ghost story" suggests scholars, manuscripts or old realia, with curiosity as being the motive likely to get someone into trouble. The classic examples of the antiquarian ghost story are by Montague Rhodes James, who was a very genuine scholar of old manuscripts.

Here (if one doesn't want to read one of the stories) is a pleasant recent video adaptation of one of James's antiquarian ghost stories:

That library setting is just delectable, isn't it?
However, I would say that the term "antiquarian ghost story" is broad enough to include stories that don't have professors or students as protagonists, don't have to be set in libraries, etc. Thus, I would include L. T. C. Rolt's "Bosworth Summit Pound" in the bibliography of such stories. The story is told using James's method of gradual disclosure, and with some record(s) from the past as important for understanding just enough of what happened as to leave the reader satisfied but not displeased by too much exposition.

Here's something about Rolt:

L. T. C. Rolt 1910 - 1974

So far as I know offhand, all of Rolt's ghost stories were published in Sleep No More (1948 and later reprints).

You can read the story that I just mentioned, here:

Bosworth Summit Pound - A Story
I read another Rolt story, "Cwm Garon," which Susan Hill mentioned appreciatively in her brief intro to the reissue. The story's sense of place does indeed seem strong to me. The bit at the end, wherein someone observes a pagan or satanist ritual, was a letdown, as if the author's imagined had fallen back on something ready-made to help his story to a conclusion. There's a pdf of the story here

that loses a lot of paragraphing.
"A Visitor at Ashcombe" has a pleasing M. R. Jamesian quality as Rolt describes the setting of the manor and the house itself. The supernatural horror element could, I think, have been improved if something about why that particular room was haunted had been introduced -- or maybe I missed something. A window that has been removed, with a mirror put in its place, is basic to the plot. Could it have been that it was from that original window that someone had looked, back in the time when the haunting was set in motion?

I don't find the story available online, and it seems to be available only in Rolt's collected stories, Sleep No More.
Two more stories from Rolt's book. "The Garside Fell Disaster" might be related to Dickens's "The Signalman." It involves what could be considered visions of smoke emerging from a railroad tunnel, etc., as portents of a terrible accident to come. "The Shouting" was a bit like the kind of relatively brief story that Arthur Machen wrote late in his career, enough as to make me wonder if influence hadn't occurred. This brief story explains why a countryside walker is shy of passing through woods, years after he had investigated an area of trees where strange children had gone and from which disturbing sounds had come.
For me MR James tells stories about people who are a little too inquisitive; often this person is an antiquarian (but not always). Often the protagonist is neither particularly good or bad (again not always), but who looks too deeply into dark and finds something skimy and hairy staring back; something usually that is VERY unforgiving.

The Michael Hordern adaptation of Oh Whistle, in both television and radio-play formats, is a delight ; I can (and have) watched and listened top them time and time again. Hordern could not be more perfectly cast in the role. Another notable adaptation is the movie 'Night of the Demon' which is a superb version of Casting the Runes.

As for works similar to James. I suppose The Signalman by Charles Dickens is a possible example (although doesn't feature an antiquarian)
"The House of Vengeance" in Rolt's Sleep No More seems to me to miss first-rateness, while being commendable for its sense of locale, and of unusual interest in that it appears to be based on a passage from the famous diary of Francis Kilvert. The reading of the one-volume edition thereof was a treat for me many years ago.

It appears that "The House of Vengeance" and "The Shouting," mentioned above, were not included in the original 1948 edition of Sleep No More.

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