Thursday, 25 October 2012
Ghost Stories of an Antiquary
Ghost Stories of an Antiquary (1904)
By: M.R. James
A collection of supernatural short stories.
"Canon Alberic's Scrap-Book" 3/10
A gentleman goes to an old abbey and notices a book that he'd like to get. In the back are pictures of a hideous hairy creature. He hears strange sounds and his host doesn't like him to be alone. He buys the book and heads out to face the unknown dangers.
This might be a little harsh, but I don't think anything happened in this story. The end is anticlimactic. The story is written vaguely. It is badly dated since I can't imagine many people frequently head out to old abbeys to buy books these days. Skip this dull tale.
"Lost Hearts" 7/10
A boy, Stephen, goes to stay with his uncle and is warmly welcomed by him. The landlady tells him of a gypsy girl and an Italian boy who stayed there before, but ran off. He has a strange dream in the night of a frail corpse being in the upstairs bath..
This tale had a great build. Most people can relate to a child having to spend at least some time with a distant relative. The description in this story is much better and brings the town of Lincolnshire and the old house to life. There are more than just a few vague creepy events and it is more real and relatable. The end is both interesting and chilling.
"The Mezzotint" 5/10
A scholar acquires an old print of a house that seems to change over time. Soon a creature appears crawling toward the house.
A mezzotint is an early style of printing. M.R. James has a thing with old men acquiring strange old pictures. This story was better than the first, but not great. There is a cool creepy story about watching this picture do strange things. The problem is that the end is boring. Nothing happens.
"The Ash-tree" 7.5/10
A man reports a local woman for witchcraft because she has been cutting pieces off an ash tree near his house. Whenever he has tried to confront her, she has vanished and all he sees is a white rabbit fleeing from the scene. The witch disappears before being burnt, and, later, he is found blackened and shriveled in his room.
The ash-tree is the kind of of witch story that causes one to ruminate on its subject. It makes some interesting suppositions about the witch trials and doesn't really focus on them. We have a series of mysterious events and then a surprisingly creepy twisted ending.
"Number 13" 6/10
A man arrives in Denmark and stays at one of the older hotels in room 14. He notices that room 13 is absent, but later that night he almost enters a room 13. He also notices his room is smaller and has less windows. During the day the room isn't there. Then he hears a voice start singing.
This story had an excellent build with suspenseful and interesting scary moments. The problem is that we get sections of the narrator talking about the religious text and then they become part of a dud of an ending. This ends much the same as "Scrap Book" and "Messotint" do.
"Count Magnus" 6/10
An Englishman comes to Denmark to study the ancient Norse families. He encounters some gruesome paintings in the home of the family he's staying in, especially one of Count Magnus. While reading in the library he comes across an unfinished note by the Count describing how to obtain immortality. He begins to question if the Count is still alive.
This one is a little predictable, but pretty good. A nice build-up with some suspense and shifty characters. He shies away from the ending again which is disappointing.
"'Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad'" 7/10
An old professor heads to a lonely cottage near a golf resort and some ruins. On a walk he decides to check out the ruins and finds a whistle. He returns to his room and blows it once. Nothing happens. When he blows it a second time, a massive and forceful wind whips up. After closing it he has a waking dream about a figure being chased by a large white form. When he awakens the next morning he finds the spare bed in his room has been slept in.
Not quite as good as "Lost Hearts" or "Ash-tree," but interesting and creepy in its own way. We actually get to know the professor pretty well and we get some nice descriptions of the beach. The thing he summons is a creepy, but it could have done more than it does. Not bad though.
"The Treasure of Abbot Thomas" 5/10
A man is researching Abbot Thomas in an abbey and begins to notice the same three unrelated biblical figures (Job Patriarcha, Johannes Evangelista, and Zacharias Propheta) appearing around in various things. This leads him on a treasure hunt, but what is the treasure and should it be found?
This tale is more of a proto-Lovecraftian treasure hunt mystery than a ghost story. Ninety percent of it is unraveling the mysterious code in the abbey. I might have enjoyed this more if I understood more about biblical figures. This tale is disturbing, but I don't think it makes it to scary. It would be a Lovecraft tale with a little more obsession and if the story had actually explained more about its ending.
I actually put this one on here in hope of some ghosts. I suppose there was one in whistle, but it really had variety: monsters, warlocks, witches, giant spiders, curses, ghosts, demons (?) and possibly a vampire. This is another short set that has some lacking stories, but a few good ones. I think this has enough interesting stuff in it that I'd recommend it to someone looking for some good old fashioned creepy stories.
7/10 (Yeah, I don't care about math)
Free at Project Gutenberg and on Kindle of course!