Title: Casting the Runes and Other Ghost Stories.
Author: M.R. James.
Genre: Fiction, literature, short stories, horror, fantasy, occult, mystery, ghost stories, surrealist fiction, architecture, philosophical fiction.
Publication Date: 1894, 1904, 1911, 1919, 1924, 1925, 1931, 1936.
Summary: A compendium of 21 short stories of horror and the supernatural, by one of the masters of the genre of his time. Casting the Runes (1911) is a story of Mr. Edward Dunning, a researcher for the British Museum, who reviews a book of occult and alchemy, and realizes a curse has been put upon him, and he has little time to figure out how to lift it. In The Mezzotint (1904), a curator at Oxford, Mr. Williams, purchases a mezzotint that depicts a horrifying crime of vengeance, different every time someone looks at it. Number 13 (1904) is about a man staying at a Danish inn and beginning to notice his room seems to grow smaller and his furniture sometimes vanishes at night, and the room next to him, Room 13, doesn't seem to exist at all. Count Magnus (1904) is a story of a traveler in Sweden stumbling upon the history of a mysterious and ominous figure. Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You My Lad (1904) is a tale of a man who happens upon a strange whistle while exploring a Knights Templar cemetery on the East Anglian coast which, when blown, unleashes a supernatural force that terrorizes its discoverer. Treasure of Abbot Thomas (1904) tells the story of Rev. Justin Somerton, a scholar of Medieval history, who tells a rector the frightening tale of how, while searching an abbey library, he found clues leading him to the hidden treasure of a disgraced abbot. School Story (1911) is a tale recounted by a student of his teacher who was contacted, in Latin, through his students, and is visited by a dark guest. The Rose Garden (1911) is about Mrs Anstruther, who would like to plant a rose garden, however the clearing she wishes to use gives people nightmares and they hear whispers by an old post in the clearing, for the clearing has a dark past. The Tractate Middoth (1911) is a story of evil lurking behind the pages of a Hebrew text. Canon Alberic's Scrap-Book (1894) is the story an English tourist spends a day photographing the interior of cathedral city of Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges, at the foot of the Pyrenees in southern France and buys an unusual manuscript with a disturbing illustration in the back of the book holding the key to the mystery. The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral (1910) is a story of a scholar cataloguing the library of Barchester Cathedral and finding a 50-year-old diary detailing the events leading up to the mysterious death of Dr Haynes (Robert Hardy), a former Archdeacon of the cathedral, who becomes obsessed and slowly loses his mind over a mysterious, evil-looking carving on his place in the cathedral's choir stalls. Mr Humphreys and His Inheritance (1911) is a story of Mr Humphreys, who has recently inherited an estate in Wilsthorpe, England, where he learns about the mysterious death of his uncle, the previous owner, and the history of the strange maze and temple situated beside his new home. In The diary of Mr Poynter (1919), a book-collector, Mr James Denton, purchases a diary at an auction, in which he finds a small piece of material with an intriguing pattern, which is hiding something ominous and evil in it. An Episode of Cathedral History (1919) tells how, during alteration work in the Cathedral of "Southminster", an altar tomb is discovered, which brings strange evil occurrences with it, and allows something horrible to escape when the tomb is opened. The Uncommon Prayer Book (1921) is a story of a mysterious, strange prayer book that curses its holder on his birthday. In A Neighbour's Landmark (1924), a historian unearths a multiplicity of texts and narratives which may help to establish “the truth” about a ghost. Warning to the Curious (1925) is about Paxton, an antiquarian and archaeologist who holidays in Suffolk and inadvertently stumbles across one of the three lost crowns of Anglia, which legendarily protect the country from invasion, and is stalked by its supernatural guardian. In Rats (1931), Mr. Thomson stays at an inn in Suffolk where he stumbles on something horrifying disguised in a bed in a mysterious room. In An Experiment: A New Year's Eve Story (1931), a widow and her son decide to resort to necromancy to find the newly deceased squire's money, which is unaccounted for, only to receive more information than they signed up for. In The Malice of Inanimate Objects (1933), James discusses the belief of sinister behavior manifested by inanimate objects. In the last story, A Vignette (1936), the narrator encounters a malevolent apparition, which leads him to question these otherworldly presences in our world.
My rating: 8.5/10
♥ There was more unpleasantness, however. Either an economical suburban company had decided that their light would not be required in the small hours, and had stopped working, or else something was wrong with the meter; the effect was in any case that the electric light was off. The obvious course was to find a match, and also to consult his watch: he might as well know how many hours of discomfort awaited him. So he put his hand into the well-known nook under the pillow: only, it did not get so far. What he touched was, according to his account, a mouth, with teeth, and with hair about it, and, he declares, not the mouth of a human being. I do not think it is any use to guess what he said or did; but he was in a spare room with the door locked and his ear to it before he was clearly conscious again. And there he spent the rest of a most miserable night, looking every moment for some fumbling at the door: but nothing came.
~~Casting the Runes.
♥ “I’ve always taken a keen interest in literature myself. Hardly anything to my mind can compare with a good hour’s reading after a hard day’s work; far better than wasting the whole evening at a friend’s house - and that reminds me, to be sure. I shall be getting into trouble with the wife if I don’t make the best of my way home and get ready to squander away one of these same evenings.
♥ So that in fine (he said) a more dreadful Night was never spent by Mortal Creature than that he had endur’d in that Labyrinth, and not that Jewel which he had in his Wallet nor the richest that was ever brought out of the Indies could be a sufficient Recompence to him for the Pains he had suffered.
I will spare to set down the further Recital of this Man’s Troubles, inasmuch as I am confident my Reader’s Intelligence will hit the Parallel I desire to draw. For is not this Jewel a just Emblem of the Satisfaction which a Man may bring back with him from a Course of this World’s Pleasures? and will not the Labyrith serve for an Image of the World itself wherein such a Treasure (if we may believe the common Voice) is stored up?
~~Mr Humphreys and His Inheritance.
Those who spend the greater part of their time in reading or writing books are, of course, apt to take rather particular notice of accumulations of books when they come across them. They will not pass a stall, a shop, or even a bedroom-shelf without reading some title, and if they find themselves in an unfamiliar library, no host need trouble himself further about their entertainment.
~~A Neighbour’s Landmark.
The Malice of Inanimate Objects is a subject upon which an old friend of mine was fond of dilating, and not without justification. In the lives of all of us, short of long, there have been days, dreadful days, on which we have had to acknowledge with gloomy resignation that our world has turned against us. I do not mean the human world of our relations and friends: to enlarge on that is the province of nearly every modern novelist. In their books it is called ‘Life’ and an odd enough hash it is as they portray it. No, it is the world of things that do not speak or work or hold congresses and conferences. It includes such beings as the collar stud, the inkstand, the fire, the razor, and, as age increases, the extra step on the staircase which leads you either to expect or not to expect it. By these and such as these (for I have named but the merest fraction of them) the word is passed round, and the day of misery arranged.
~~The Malice of Inanimate Objects.
Are there here and there sequestered places which some curious creatures still frequent, whom once on a time anybody could see and speak to as they went about on their daily occasions, whereas now only at rare intervals in a series of years does one cross their paths and become aware of them; and perhaps that is just as well for the peace of mind of simple people.