The Complete Ghost Stories of M R James – Read By David Collings (2007)
The supernatural fiction of Montague Rhodes James is a major milestone in the history of the literary ghost story. His work tangibly helped shape the genre as we know it today, focusing on classic themes such as retribution, vengeance and other aspects of traditional mythology literature. The protagonists are often socially dysfunctional intellectuals who face peril due to their excessive curiosity. The very physical nature of horror often masquerades for deeper psychological issues. They also serve as an invaluable window into the socioeconomic structure of Edwardian Britain.
In more recent years critics have tried to determine if the author’s personal life and idiosyncrasies are reflected in his written work. Is there a hidden subtext within the narrative, hinting at inner conflict and repression in James own life? It’s quite possibly so. Either way there is no doubt that M R James is one of the finest authors of short stories, this country has known. His influence is still seen today in the works of Brian Lumley, James Herbert and Clive Barker. Furthermore his stories still have the capacity to disturb the reader.
Recently I was pleased to discover a comprehensive audio book featuring the complete collection of M R James ghost stories, read by David Collings. Previously selected stories had been recorded in the middle Eighties by the great Sir Michael Horden. Sadly these are no longer available. The new recordings are presented in two volumes by Craftsman Audio Books. They contain all short stories in chronological order and are unabridged. Atmospheric music is used strategically to bridge the material.
David Collings reads the works of M R James as they’re meant to be heard. He is word perfect and his delivery is smooth and lyrical. He alternates between regional accents and Latin with polished aplomb. Collings must be an M R James aficionado as he brings out all the sly humour of the Edwardian text, adding charm and chilling nuance to every story. Although I am a strong advocate of reading for oneself this material lends itself strongly to the audio book format and is an utter delight. I cannot praise this collection enough and consider it to be the perfect way to while away the cold winter nights.