M. R. James - The Malice of Inanimate Objects Roger Johnson - The Scarecrow Peter Davidson - The Gathering of Dr Oates
Ron Weighell - Dark Devotions: M. R. James and the Magical Tradition Hugh Lamb - Frederick Cowles: 1900-1948
Reviews Rosemary Pardoe - Michael Cox, M. R. James: An Informal Portrait, (Oxford, 1983) David Rowlands - J. S. Leatherbarrow, A Natural Body And A Spiritual Body: Some Worcestershire Encounters With The Supernatural, (privately printed by author, 1983) Rosemary Pardoe - Leslie Halliwell, The Ghost Of Sherlock Holmes: Seventeen Supernatural Stories, (Granada, 1984) Richard Dalby - Susan Hill, The Woman In Black, (Hamish Hamilton, 1983) Rosemary Pardoe - Susan Hill (ed.), Ghost Stories, (Hamish Hamilton, 1983) Rosemary Pardoe -Robertson Davies, High Spirits, (Penguin, 1983) Rosemary Pardoe -John Gordon, Catch Your Death & Other Ghost Stories, (Patrick Hardy, 1984).
Alan Hunter, Allen Koszowski, Jim Pitts, A. F. Kidd, John Borkowski, Wendy Adrian Wees
Such as I'm capable, have already commented upon Malice Of Inanimate Objects and, at some length, The Scarecrow, elsewhere (e.g., The Best Of Ghosts & Scholars, A Ghostly Crew), no point putting anybody through all that again. Suffice to say, #6 already comes highly recommended for those two alone. But what of the remaining content? Ghosts & Scholars didn't do support acts, and the third story, a supernatural horror offering with a spectacularly vicious ending, is no also ran.
Peter Davidson - The Gathering of Dr Oates : This time we're ill-disposed toward the protagonist from the first. The senior tutor at Cambridge regards young Dr. Oates as a snidey little toad, sliming up to geriatric clergy while secretly wishing them dead so he can fill their shoes, and we reckon he's a good judge. But perhaps we shouldn't be too harsh because our man is a terrible spot of bother.
It began when Oates met and befriended (or so here thought) a wealthy young foreign chap, a fellow antiquarian, while exploring the ruins of Petra. The stranger translated for him a stone inscription - an invocation of Baal - then, preying on Oates' greatest fear, set loose a snake, and forced him to renounce his God and repeat the incantation aloud. Oates, terrified, complied. The stranger then had the gall to treat the matter in the most cavalier manner, like it was all just some skit for You've Been Framed. No hard feelings, mate,it was only a joke! Oh, you should have seen your face, etc. Oates' measured response is to batter the stinker to death there and then. He leaves Beirut that same night.
On his return to Cambridge, Mr. Oates publishes a well-received archaeological treatise, Petra Investigated, huge swathes of which are plagiarised from the dead man's papers. Such is the books success, he is awarded a Deanship at the ripe old age of 27. This being Ghosts & Scholars, we know he is not to prosper from his crimes, and sure enough, it is not long before Oates is aware that a stalker tracks his every move.
All this, and we've still the non-fiction content to come.
From the first, I set myself against "literature"; the story was the thing, and no amount of style could persuade me to select a story that lacked genuine, unadulterated horror. For those who wanted something high-brow there was plenty.