I have just spent one and a half of my hard-earned Euros for a digital copy of M.R. James’ Complete Ghost Stories. The ebook is published by Macmillan in its Collector’s Library, and comes with an afterword by David Stuart Davies.
This is not the only edition I have of the James stories – I have a paperback edition from Wordsworth Classics here somewhere, and you’ll find at least a James story in any self-respecting collection of classic ghost stories, of which I have a few.
But what happened is, I just wrote a lengthy post about ghosts and Christmas, for the Italian online mag Melange, and while I was preparing a to-read list, I was quite surprised by the fact that M.R. James’ stories are not so easily available in my language.
This gave me pause – because when I first started turning into a “strong reader” (around the age of 10), not only ghost stories were readily available and pretty popular, but there were a number of editions of James’ works, in my language, at least one published by a pretty high-profile, “serious” publisher.
The same can be said of the classic Carnacki stories by William Hope Hodgson, and many others.
While horror is living a new renaissance – and ghost stories are making a comeback after the overload in zombies and vampires of the past decades – in my language you’ll need to buy Peter Straub’s essential Ghost Story second hand – and Amazon asked me 140 euro, today, for such a second-hand copy.
I do not know what it is, that’s keeping my countrymen from the pleasure of old-fashioned ghost-stories – but I read the reviews of the bestsellers in the Horror field, and find repeated references to the gore, the “blood and scum dripping from every page” and wonder if that old fear – that certain strains of horror would in the end de-sensitize the readers – was not after all well funded.
A good ghost story will not drown you in gore, and it will not excite your hunger for violence. A good ghost story is an intellectual affair, it hits you in the brain before it hits you in the gut.
Have the readers (and movie-goers) lost this sense of intellectuale pleasure?
I do not know, but it was because of this sudden sense of loss that, when I spotted the ebook going for the price of a Mars bar, that I decided to pick it up. I’m quite happy to have a digital copy, but even more, I needed to take it in and give it shelter.
And now for Christmas I think I’ll enjoy a few “deep tracks” from M.R. James’ canon.