Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
James, M R

(1862-1936) UK scholar and Ghost-Story writer. MRJ was raised in Suffolk, a setting which featured in many of his stories. He had a distinguished academic career as a linguist and biblical scholar, becoming Provost of King's College, Cambridge, then of Eton. His first published story, "Canon Alberic's Scrap-book" appeared in 1895. As his popularity as a writer of ghost stories grew, many of his later tales were written for magazines like Atlantic Monthly and Cambridge Review: "The Haunted Dolls' House" was originally written for the library of Her Majesty the Queen's Dolls' House. Nevertheless, most of his stories were originally written to be read to friends, usually around Christmas. In his stories the ordered world of cathedral close or college library would be disrupted by an incursion of the irrational, in the face of which all the learning of his protagonists was usually ineffectual. In "Oh Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad" an academic unearths an ancient whistle on the Suffolk coast which summons a dreadful apparition given substance by the bedclothes in his room. In "The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral" an ambitious cleric schemes his way to a senior position in the cathedral, only to have his triumph destroyed by a ghostly animal. In "The Mezzotint" the purchaser of the Picture of an old house can only watch as a shadowy figure appears in the scene and progresses towards the house where an invisible but doubtless terrible act is perpetrated. MRJ's first collection, Ghost Stories of an Antiquary (coll 1904), was followed by More Ghost Stories of an Antiquary (coll 1911), A Thin Ghost and Others (coll 1919) and A Warning to the Curious (coll 1925). Collected Ghost Stories (coll 1931) contains a few extra stories, and one or two others have been turned up subsequently by researchers like Michael Cox, Richard Dalby and Rosemary Pardoe. MRJ's influence on the English ghost story has been immeasurable. He also contributed to a revival of interest in earlier examples of the genre with an edition of forgotten stories by J Sheridan Le Fanu, Madam Crowl's Ghost and Other Tales of Mystery (coll 1923). He collected ghost stories from Latin manuscripts as Twelve Medieval Ghost Stories (coll 1922), presented in English for the first time in The Man-Wolf (coll 1978) ed Hugh Lamb.

MRJ's only novel was The Five Jars (1922), an attractive Children's Fantasy in which the young protagonist discovers a series of jars containing ointments which open up his senses to the world of animals and Fairies. A projected sequel was never written, though some of the characters reappear in one of MRJ's ghost stories, "After Dark in the Playing Fields" (1924). [PK]

further reading: M.R. James: An Informal Portrait (1983) by Michael Cox; Montague Rhodes James (1980) by R W Pfaff.

Montague Rhodes James


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.