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What Made M.R. James Such A Good Storyteller

One of my favourite supernatural story writers is M.R. James (Montague Rhodes James OM FBA)  - he was the Provost at King's College, Cambridge and then went to to be its Vice-Chancellor.

You might have seen the BBC's excellent renditions of his ghost stories  - although the original productions were made a few decades back, there are newer versions still being made.

This is one of my favourites from the BBC:

It's called The Tractate Middoth - but please do not watch it if you don't like being scared - it's not for the faint-hearted.

M.R. James was a master of his craft - but he didn't write for fame or money - he wrote to entertain his friends and he'd read one story aloud every Christmas Eve. But, what a gift he left us... his talents were profound and many of today's supernatural and horror writers seek to emulate his eerie and evocative writing style.

Here is a quote from the man himself:

The story must "...put the reader into the position of saying to himself, 'If I'm not very careful, something of this kind may happen to me!'"

One of my favourite stories from M.R. is Casting The Runes. This was not only made into successful TV productions but it also formed the basis of a movie that happens to be one of my horror faves: Night of the Demon.

I have seen the film many times over the years and its magic never fades - it's a true classic of British cinema. Do check it out, but again I give the same proviso as in yesterday's blog -  please do not watch it if you scare easily and don't like being frightened.

What M.R. James did in Casting The Runes is to insert such a very clever plot twist. This  keeps the reader - and subsequent viewer - invested in the plot; you just cannot get bored reading this story or viewing the film.

It also made the whole subject of Runes into one that we still talk about today and want to learn more about. You may even have some Runes that you bought as a result of reading Casting The Runes, or watching one of its visual incarnations. Just as J.R.R. Tolkien did with the ancient languages that he turned into Elvish  - so M.R. James did for this ancient Germanic alphabet.

Runes were used mainly for writing but also in divining the future and for magick, too. They were written and cast throughout northern Europe, Scandinavia, the British Isles, and Iceland - from about 100 B.C.E. to 1600 C.E.

My tip is to look at a language or dialect that the Ancients used to use and see how you can make it seem more magical and weave it into a ghost or horror story - just as James did. You might even like to pick a language that is used today, but not by a lot of people.

I love classic film posters - like this evocative design for Night of the Demon.

Enjoy watching the film, but do leave the lights on!!


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