Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Free, Public Domain Ghost Stories by a Master Who All But Invented the Form

M.R. James may not have invented the form, but he refined it to such a degree we almost can’t imagine it any other way. It’s rarely been done as well since the early 20th century when James was on the scene with such books as Ghost Stories of an Antiquary, A Thin Ghost and Others, and A Warning to the Curious.

Thanks to the Internet and the work of the people behind www.thin-ghost.org, you can read these for yourself, and decide if no less a contemporary than H.P. Lovecraft was wrong when he wrote, in his essay “Supernatural Horror in Literature”:

Montague Rhodes James has an intelligent and scientific knowledge of human nerves and feelings; and knows just how to apportion statement, imagery, and subtle suggestions in order to secure the best results with his readers.

2012 Royal Mail stamp issued as part of their
“Britons of Distinction” series.
Click on the “Stories” tab across the main page for a listing. James’  “greatest hits”—the stories most anthologized and dramatized, etc.—are “Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad,” “Casting the Runes,” and “A Warning to the Curious,” so you might want to check those out first. Most of these were written with the intent of being read aloud, so there’s not much descriptive fluff to drag them down.  James wasn’t afraid of gore, either, though he did counsel “reticence” in the description—but to maintain and even increase the intensity, not to detract from it. We’ve got children getting their still-beating hearts cut from their bodies in one tale.

M.R. James had an interesting observation about how proper ghosts in a proper ghost story should behave:

Another requisite [for a ghost story], in my opinion, is that the ghost should be malevolent or odious: amiable and helpful apparitions are all very well in fairy tales or in local legends, but I have no use for them in a fictitious ghost story.

In M.R. James’ literary cosmology, the supernatural element is always the antagonist, usually aroused into being by some poor hapless thing Poking His Nose Where It Oughtn’t Be. It’s a rule that’s fun to bend from time to time, but there would be no thrill in the bending if it wasn’t a rule in the first place. Check out the site, check out this writer and his stories, and watch a master at work.


If classic stories for free reduces their Perceived Value for you, I’ve got some premium zombie action for you here. Behold! The first two books in my SAGA OF THE DEAD SILENCER series, novels of post-apocalypse adventure that are neither Guns and Ammo porn nor weepy soap opera. 

Check out Book 1, Bleeding Kansas, in Kindle and paperback. When you’re done with that, go straight to Grace Among the Dead, also in Kindle and paperback. These are brutal tales, brutally written, and both picked up by Luzifer-Verlag for German translation. Check out what the Germans stomach so much better than your fellow Americans.

Book 1 has ONE exploding head
on its cover.
Book 2 has TWO exploding heads.
See the pattern here?

They’re also available in Canada and the UK.