Saturday, October 30, 2010
M. R. James' tale Casting the Runes
I have been a huge fan of British author M. R. James for years. His ghost stories are generally considered some of the greatest ever written and I think it’s very easy to fall under their spell. They are often referred to as ‘Antiquarian Ghost Stories’ because they are generally set in the past and although they might be set in contemporary times they are wrapped in a fascination with the history of a myth, object or place. James had a brilliant ability to craft a story that scares the reader by careful seduction. They get under your skin gradually and are marvelously capable of sending genuine chills up your spine as the creeping dread of the events gather force.
There are been some great British television adaptations of his stories including Whistle and I’ll Come to You, A Warning to the Curious, The Stalls of Barchester, Lost Hearts, The Treasure of Abbot Thomas and The Ash Tree but the only feature film so far is an adaptation of the story ‘Casting the Runes’ from 1958 called NIGHT OF THE DEMON. Released in the US as CURSE OF THE DEMON this was my introduction to M. R. James’ tales and brother- it’s a doozy! If you have never seen this movie let me highly recommend checking it out. Its one of the best films to watch at this time of year as it lays out all the intellectual arguments against accepting the existence of the supernatural and then systematically destroys them as terrifying evidence piles up that can’t be denied.
There have also been some great radio adaptations of James’ work and as far as I can tell the first was done for the show Escape in 1947. A version of Casting the Runes it manages to tell the story very well and ably demonstrates how these tales could terrify without some of the standard ‘jump out at you’ trappings of horror. The sense of impending terror is wonderful! I’ve embedded the Escape story below for your listening pleasure or it can be downloaded HERE as an MP3 to take with you and scare others. Just be sure the lights are low and everyone pays attention. You wouldn’t want something like this to happen to you- would you?