I spent a semester at Oxford University during my undergrad days, and among my happy memories of that time is sitting in the Bodleian Library (the Bodleian is supposed to receive a copy of every book published in the UK and has done so since the 17th century), ostensibly to do research for my assigned essays but actually spending much of my time reading collections of ghost stories I couldn't't get find in the U.S.
I got hooked on ghost stories when one of my brothers gave me a book of collected ghost stories in the early 1970s that was illustrated by Edward Gorey. To this day, although I can't remember what the collection was titled, I still think of it as one of the best ghost story collections I've ever read.
So when I came across the Oxford World's Classics collection of M.R. James' "Casting the Runes" and Other Ghost Stories on Amazon, I decided to buy it.. I had read some of his ghost stories before: "Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad," in which an English academic unknowingly summons something that goes bump in the night by blowing on a brass whistle with a Latin phrase inscribed on it; and one of my all-time favorites, "The Mezzotint," that features a spectral figure that moves each night within a painting and brings about the solution to a mystery of the disappearance of an English aristocrat's infant son years before.
I can find it something less than easy to read Victorian authors. The language not surprisingly can seem stilted, and there's that annoying assumption of many of them, when they insert a quote in the original Latin or Greek without a translation, that their readers have had the benefit of an education in the Classics.
However, James' stories, given that they were written more than 80 years ago at the earliest, really don't sound that dated and he does manage to give a chill or two down the spine. The collection includes 21 stories and each story has explanatory notes at the end of collection that will help American readers understand references with which they might not be familiar.
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