Sorting Through Dad’s Hoard #8: M.R. James

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Dad would usually read us M.R. James’s ghost stories in the evenings, after dinner and homework and sundry other bits were done; he’d occasionally play recorded versions of several of the stories, read by Michael Horden. I always preferred Dad’s narration, the way he’d growl for the villains and gruffer types, or use a slightly higher pitch for the various professorial characters with nasty things in store for them.

Quite I’d end up cuddling on his lap during the scary bits, ear pressed against his heart as his voice rumbled through me, waiting eagerly for my favourite parts to arrive. The fear these stories create was always there, but it was the cosy kind that gets your blood pumping without bringing on the terror sweat, with the fire on and the lights dim but still there. I was secure in the knowledge that I was safe with Dad, and I was safe going up the stairs to bed afterwards.

Do I really need to explain about Montague Rhodes James? Medievalist, scholar, lecturer and writer, there was no way Dad wouldn’t have adored him. H.P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith paid tribute to him, Stephen King and Ramsey Campbell were inspired by him, heaps of British writers deliberately wrote in his style, forming the ‘James Gang’. (Now I have a vision of a bunch of writers and academics travelling around in a van getting traumatised by ghosts and ghoolies, and solving mysteries.) Without him, British ghost stories and stories about the supernatural in general would be very different.

Continue reading “Sorting Through Dad’s Hoard #8: M.R. James”

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So. Hannibal 1×05 (or 1×04): ‘Coquilles’

So. Hannibal 1×05 (or 1×04): ‘Coquilles’, because the title bar is still acting up for some reason.

I won’t pretend to be a die hard fan of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, but a certain few lines from that poem have always stuck with me, from the moment I read one of M.R. James’s best ghost stories Casting the Runes. Watching Will Graham walk down a road at night, with the familiar stag that haunts his dreams so close now as to sniff at his hand, they came to mind yet again:

‘Like one that on a lonesome road
Doth walk in fear and dread,
And having once turned round walks on,
And turns no more his head;
Because he knows, a frightful fiend
Doth close behind him tread.’

This is true for more than just Graham’s nightmare – which turn out to be a rather jarring reality, albeit minus the stag; Graham has actually developed a habit of sleepwalking. ‘Frightful fiends’ preying upon the minds and spirits of the characters, and dogging their footsteps, are in plentiful supply this episode.

First, there are the fiends that spur the efforts of this week’s killer, Elliot Budish, the ‘Angel Maker’,who transforms his victims into guardian spirits to watch over him should he die in his sleep from his brain tumor. Despite the secular reality – the tumor that supplies his hallucinations of heads on fire, the lack of religious faith on Budish’s part as opposed to his belief in his own guardian angel – it’s impossible to overlook the spiritual imagery in this episode when it comes to the corpses. The religious nature of the first grisly tableaux is closely discussed in the episode; I particularly like the call forward to Hannibal when one of the forensic team – I still haven’t learned to tell the two men apart, I am ashamed – spoke about Viking sacrifices of Christians by snapping open their ribs and pulling their lungs out through their backs: the ‘Bloody Eagle’. I did, however, think that this sacrifice wasn’t designed specifically for Christians but rather as offerings to the god Odin, but after more than a thousand years, who can be certain?

But I was especially struck by the picture the second victim makes. When Crawford leaves Graham alone at the crime scene after they’ve each respectively blown up at each other over the case, we get a beautiful almost silhouette of Graham looking up and the corpse seeming to look down. Back lit by some unknown source, it plays on the idea of an actual angel descending from heaven to the man on earth, providing divine inspiration.

Capture angel from on high

Continue reading “So. Hannibal 1×05 (or 1×04): ‘Coquilles’”