An English tourist in a small, rural town in the South of France discovers an ancient manuscript with a strange illustration on the last page. A young orphan is sent to live with his elderly cousin, a secretive man who is obsessed with immortality. A picture that tells stories that change according to who is viewing it.
These and other delicious, goose bump evoking tales are part of Ghost Stories of an Antiquary by Montague R James. A master of his craft, MR James was an academic and administrator of King's College, Cambridge and later of Eton. His eerie tales are unique in their subtlety and the sheer horror they evoke long after you've finished reading them. He also gave a new perspective to the clichéd ghost story of the Victorian Gothic genre and used more realistic and believable plots and settings. Most of his stories are based on things that he himself was interested in: old books and manuscripts, ancient houses and medieval history.
James was also a talented actor who produced and acted in several plays. He was also a classical scholar and his stories are often full of references to ancient writers and books. Apart from his work in the realm of the supernatural, James was a true academician with hundreds of scholarly works to his credit.
Ghost Stories of an Antiquary was the first volume of chilling tales that he wrote. Published in 1904, the book was a compilation of tales that were written to be read aloud round a fireside on Christmas Eve. James has a very light touch with the horror and bizarre elements while he describes the ordinary and mundane aspects in great detail. It is this which allows the real horror underlying everyday events to work their way into the reader's consciousness and create an atmosphere of evil and foreboding. His ghosts are truly evil, and he meant them to be “malevolent and odious” as he didn't believe in amiable specters!
Several writers were deeply influenced by MR James. HP Lovecraft, Paul Theroux, Sir John Betjeman, Stephen King, Ramsey Campbell, John Bellairs and Kingsley Amis are among his admirers and literary heirs. There have been hundreds of adaptations of James' stories on stage, film and television.
If you're in the mood for some spooky stories for a rainy night, Ghost Stories of an Antiquary is certainly the book for you.