Adventures in Bookland: Collected Ghost Stories by M.R. James

Not so long ago, I finished Night Terrors by E.F. Benson so M.R. James’s Collected Ghost Stories makes for an interesting comparison and one, if I’m honest and take off my cap labelled ‘literary snob’, for my part comes down in favour of E.F. Benson. Now, I know James’s stories are seminal, the fountainhead of 20th-century literature’s take on the supernatural, and they are, it’s true, very good. But I must admit a preference for Benson, despite the well-worn framework into which Benson fits most of his stories. There’s a smell of autumn, of the fading of things and places, to Benson’s work that is less present in James’s stories, where it is still summer, although even there, the glories of May and June are past and the prospect is only of decline. But the decline has not yet begun, whereas in Benson’s tales, the leaves have turned and some trees are already bare. Best of all, read both books, one after the other, and compare their differing moods.


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