22 January 2001
M.R. James' Ghost Stories
Christopher Lee narrates MR James Ghost Stories for BBC TV in 2000
Graham Skeggs looks at the background to the BBC’s recent series of MR James' adaptations...
Those of us in the UK had rather a treat over Christmas 2000 with BBC Scotland's series of four adaptations of MR James's ghost stories, narrated by Christopher Lee. Stylish and evocative, these productions presented the genre in a way both very modern and yet also timelessly authentic. Christopher Lee’s chilling performance as James telling the stories to a gathering of undergraduates gave a fine balance of the drama of the story and the drama of the act of storytelling itself.
MR James stands at the pinnacle of a fascinating literary genre — the ghost story. Coming to prominence in the Victorian era, the genre continued to flourish well into the twentieth century, when popular writers in the English language usually had at least one or two such stories to their credit, and many talented people made it central to their oeuvre. Although perhaps overtaken in latter years by more explicit 'horror'; writing, the ghost story remains a living part a tradition that is ancient — the art of storytelling, where memory, history, myth and imagination mix to produce a heady brew.
If you're interested in gothic images, then you should also go to Frank Adey's section on the artist Sidney Sime, whose work is the essence of gothic fantasy and much too little known.
If you want to find out more about MR James, or even read some stories, we would recommend Rosemary Pardoe'sGhosts and Scholars site with its wealth of information and Frank Adey's fascinating site
Don't have nightmares!
Christopher's readings of four MR James stories,