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Casting the Runes and Other Ghost Stories [Paperback]

M. R. James
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Feb. 18 2003 Oxford World's Classics
This selection of 21 stories represents the best of James's work, and includes three stories which are not in the Collected Edition.

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"Magnificently, authoritatively edited and annotated."--David Gorman, Northern Illinois University


--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

M.R. James was one of the most accomplished scholars of his generation, a brilliant, internationally known authority on early Christian manuscripts. He was in turn a Fellow, Dean, and Provost of Kings College, Cambridge, and then finally the Provost of Eton, where he died a much-loved and revered figure in 1936. Michael Cox is a senior commissioning editor with Oxford University Press.

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S. BERTRAND DE COMMINGES is a decayed town on the spurs of the Pyrenees, not very far from Toulouse, and still nearer to Bagneres-de-Luchon. Read the first page
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Most but not all of MRJ's supernatural stories Aug. 9 2003
Format:Paperback
If you don't want to pay big bucks for Ash-Tree Press's "A Pleasing Terror" (2001), the complete and heavily annotated supernatural writings of M. R. James (MRJ), then this book might be the next best thing. Cox has collected most of MRJ's stories in this volume and has added a short but decent introduction to this master of the antiquarian ghost story.
The following stories are included in this book:
"Canon Alberic's Scrap-book"--The classical MRJ invocation of a scholar who unwittingly opens the wrong book and pays horribly for his misadventure.
"The Mezzotint"--A collector of topographical pictures purchases a mezzotint with a view of a manor-house from the early part of the eighteenth century. The picture slowly evolves through a story of murder and revenge from beyond the grave.
"Number 13"--A scholar settles into a Danish hotel to research the town's ecclesiastical history and learns more than he ever wanted to know about a bishop who sold his soul to Satan.
"Count Magnus"-- Another story (along with "Number 13") that may have had its origin in MRJ's trips to Scandinavia. Mr. Wraxall, the scholarly hero of this tale dooms himself by reading a forbidden treatise of alchemy and expressing a wish to meet its long-dead (or not so dead) Swedish author.
"'Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad'"-- A Professor takes a golfing vacation on England's East Coast, and agrees to take a look at the site of an ancient Templars' preceptory for an archeologically-inclined friend of his. He finds a whistle inscribed in medieval Latin.
"The Treasure of Abbot Thomas"-- Mr.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Chilling Tales for a Winter's Night Jan. 7 2002
Format:Paperback
As a fan of Victorian gothic fiction, this anthology delivers all that it promises. M.R. James is the king of creating a world of unexplainable situations. However, his endings leave the reader with many questions. Thus, when the reader puts the book down, she is left with the pleasant, tingling feeling of fear. If you like understatement and are a Radcliffe or Monk Lewis fan, then give M.R. James a chance.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Like poetry! Aug. 4 2001
Format:Paperback
They are like good poems in being very re-readable. When you've lived with these stories for a while, you may find yourself picking the book up just to savor once again James's description of a Queen Anne house, or his splendid pastiche of a Victorian traveler's notes on a Scandinavian country, or his word-painting of a lonely stretch of sand on the English east coast. Quite a few readers of James have found they "have to" attempt imitations! James doesn't hustle the reader off to the horrors. At the same time his stories are not too refined for their own good.
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Amazon.com: 4.8 out of 5 stars  20 reviews
90 of 90 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Most but not all of MRJ's supernatural stories Aug. 9 2003
By E. A. Lovitt - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
If you don't want to pay big bucks for Ash-Tree Press's "A Pleasing Terror" (2001), the complete and heavily annotated supernatural writings of M. R. James (MRJ), then this book might be the next best thing. Cox has collected most of MRJ's stories in this volume and has added a short but decent introduction to this master of the antiquarian ghost story.
The following stories are included in this book:
"Canon Alberic's Scrap-book"--The classical MRJ invocation of a scholar who unwittingly opens the wrong book and pays horribly for his misadventure.
"The Mezzotint"--A collector of topographical pictures purchases a mezzotint with a view of a manor-house from the early part of the eighteenth century. The picture slowly evolves through a story of murder and revenge from beyond the grave.
"Number 13"--A scholar settles into a Danish hotel to research the town's ecclesiastical history and learns more than he ever wanted to know about a bishop who sold his soul to Satan.
"Count Magnus"-- Another story (along with "Number 13") that may have had its origin in MRJ's trips to Scandinavia. Mr. Wraxall, the scholarly hero of this tale dooms himself by reading a forbidden treatise of alchemy and expressing a wish to meet its long-dead (or not so dead) Swedish author.
"'Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad'"-- A Professor takes a golfing vacation on England's East Coast, and agrees to take a look at the site of an ancient Templars' preceptory for an archeologically-inclined friend of his. He finds a whistle inscribed in medieval Latin.
"The Treasure of Abbot Thomas"-- Mr. Somerton deciphers a text from a medieval Latin history and an inscription in the painted-glass window of a private chapel, then goes on a treasure hunt in Germany.
"A School Story"-- MRJ was a dean at King's College, Cambridge and he supposedly wrote this story to entertain the King's College Choir. In this tale two middle-aged men are reminiscing about ghosts at boys' schools, and one relates a story of a schoolboy's revenge on a murderous master.
"The Rose Garden"-- Features one of MRJ's less sympathetic female characters. The overbearing Mrs. Anstruther gets her supernatural comeuppance when she insists upon the removal of an old oak post in the rose garden.
"The Tractate Middoth"-- The young Mr. Garrett is asked to find a copy of the "Tractate Middoth" in a "certain famous library" and stumbles upon a cobwebby mystery. Find yourself a quiet, unpopulated corner in the stacks of an old library and see if you can read this story without looking behind you.
"Casting the Runes"-- One of MRJ's most collected stories along with "Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad." This is a tale of a man who unwittingly angers a sorcerer, who is assumed by some Monty scholars to be based on the self-styled 'Great Beast,' occultist Aleister Crowley.
"The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral"-- The Venerable John Benwell Haynes succeeds to his new ecclesiastical position upon the mysterious demise of Archdeacon Pulteney in 1810, but does not find much enjoyment in his new job. In fact, the archdeacon's stall with its carvings of a cat, the King of Hell, and Death becomes a particularly haunting spot for the new prelate.
"Mr Humphreys and His Inheritance"-- Once installed as the new master of his deceased uncle's estate, Mr. Humphreys discovers the plan to an overgrown maze on his property. He decides to investigate the old landscaping feature after stumbling across a set of stone blocks that were once part of the maze. He reconstructs the inscription on them to read: "Penetrans Ad Interior Mortis."
"The Diary of Mr Poynter"--A book collector finds a sample of fabric in an old diary and decides to have it reproduced as curtains for his bedroom.
"An Episode of Cathedral History"--Mr. Lake is deputed to examine the archives of the Cathedral of Southminster, and is curious to see what the ancient building looks like at night. He hears the tale of a rather plain altar-tomb and what transpired when a Victorian Dean attempted to move it.
"The Uncommon Prayer-book"-- Mr. Davidson strikes up a conversation with an old gentleman on a train and is invited to view a disused Chapel. MRJ engulfs his reader in quaint British dialects in this story of a prayer book that would not stay shut.
"A Neighbour's Landmark"-- A gentleman spends a wet August afternoon in his host's library and discovers an old pamphlet with two lines from a country song, "That which walks in Betton Wood/ Knows why it walks or why it cries." When the weather clears, he explores the part of his friend's property that used to be called 'Betton Wood.'
"A Warning to the Curious"--A young man discovers the hiding place of an ancient crown of East Anglia and is haunted by his finding. As in many of MRJ's stories, curiosity is severely punished.
"Rats"--This story almost ruined quaint English inns for me. It has nothing to do with rats and you will wish that it had.
"The Experiment"-- First published in "The Morning Post" in 1931 and uncollected in MRJ's lifetime. A horrid little tale of murder and buried treasure.
"The Malice of Inanimate Objects"--Morbidly humorous story that starts out with the retelling of a fairy tale and ends in death.
"A Vignette"-- This might be a childhood recollection rather than a work of fiction. It has no plot and the setting very much resembles the rectory at Livermere Park where MRJ grew up.
60 of 60 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best ghost stories that I have read May 8 1998
By Robert Moore - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
For several years my daughter and I have made a habit of from time to time gathering all the candles we can muster, lighting them, turn off the electrical lights and reading one of the stories in this collection.
What Conan Doyle is to the detective story, James is to the ghost story. These are not horror stories. No gore is to be found, no monsters, no savagery. One can find a subtle horror, a persistent sense that there are things in this world that we have either forgotten or never discovered.
If one has ever engaged in any historical research on the occult (which I have undertaken as an extreme nonbeliever), one will come across several ancient books and manuscripts in the field that were edited by M. R. James. He was not merely the writer of perfect ghost stories; he was an authority in the field of occult beliefs and practices. This concrete grounding accounts for much of the realistic feel to the researches of many of the characters in his stories.
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perfect Nov. 22 2004
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I first read these stories when I was 13, and after 40 years, they still flash into my mind if I have to walk a dark road at night. Where authors like King and Straub (excellent in their own ways in the genre)need to float gruesome stuff our way to be effective, James does it all with mood. Even if ghost stories are not something you like, these are worth reading just to observe his beautiful use of the English language. I recommend this collection highly.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Most of M.R. James' supernatural stories Dec 13 2010
By E. A. Lovitt - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
If you don't want to pay big bucks for Ash-Tree Press's A Pleasing Terror: The Complete Supernatural Writings(2001), the complete and heavily annotated supernatural writings of M. R. James (MRJ), then this book might be the next best thing. Cox has collected most of MRJ's stories in this volume and has added a short but decent introduction to this master of the antiquarian ghost story.

The following stories are included in this book:

"Canon Alberic's Scrap-book"--The classical MRJ invocation of a scholar who unwittingly opens the wrong book and pays horribly for his misadventure.

"The Mezzotint"--A collector of topographical pictures purchases a mezzotint with a view of a manor-house from the early part of the eighteenth century. The picture slowly evolves through a story of murder and revenge from beyond the grave.

"Number 13"--A scholar settles into a Danish hotel to research the town's ecclesiastical history and learns more than he ever wanted to know about a bishop who sold his soul to Satan.

"Count Magnus"-- Another story (along with "Number 13") that may have had its origin in MRJ's trips to Scandinavia. Mr. Wraxall, the scholarly hero of this tale dooms himself by reading a forbidden treatise of alchemy and expressing a wish to meet its long-dead (or not so dead) Swedish author.

"'Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad'"-- A Professor takes a golfing vacation on England's East Coast, and agrees to take a look at the site of an ancient Templars' preceptory for an archeologically-inclined friend of his. He finds a whistle inscribed in medieval Latin.

"The Treasure of Abbot Thomas"-- Mr. Somerton deciphers a text from a medieval Latin history and an inscription in the painted-glass window of a private chapel, then goes on a treasure hunt in Germany.

"A School Story"-- MRJ was a dean at King's College, Cambridge and he supposedly wrote this story to entertain the King's College Choir. In this tale two middle-aged men are reminiscing about ghosts at boys' schools, and one relates a story of a schoolboy's revenge on a murderous master.

"The Rose Garden"-- Features one of MRJ's less sympathetic female characters. The overbearing Mrs. Anstruther gets her supernatural comeuppance when she insists upon the removal of an old oak post in the rose garden.

"The Tractate Middoth"-- The young Mr. Garrett is asked to find a copy of the "Tractate Middoth" in a "certain famous library" and stumbles upon a cobwebby mystery. Find yourself a quiet, unpopulated corner in the stacks of an old library and see if you can read this story without looking behind you.

"Casting the Runes"-- One of MRJ's most collected stories along with "Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad." This is a tale of a man who unwittingly angers a sorcerer, who is assumed by some Monty scholars to be based on the self-styled 'Great Beast,' occultist Aleister Crowley.

"The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral"-- The Venerable John Benwell Haynes succeeds to his new ecclesiastical position upon the mysterious demise of Archdeacon Pulteney in 1810, but does not find much enjoyment in his new job. In fact, the archdeacon's stall with its carvings of a cat, the King of Hell, and Death becomes a particularly haunting spot for the new prelate. (MGSA)

"Mr Humphreys and His Inheritance"-- Once installed as the new master of his deceased uncle's estate, Mr. Humphreys discovers the plan to an overgrown maze on his property. He decides to investigate the old landscaping feature after stumbling across a set of stone blocks that were once part of the maze. He reconstructs the inscription on them to read: "Penetrans Ad Interior Mortis."

"The Diary of Mr Poynter"--A book collector finds a sample of fabric in an old diary and decides to have it reproduced as curtains for his bedroom.

"An Episode of Cathedral History"--Mr. Lake is deputed to examine the archives of the Cathedral of Southminster, and is curious to see what the ancient building looks like at night. He hears the tale of a rather plain altar-tomb and what transpired when a Victorian Dean attempted to move it.

"The Uncommon Prayer-book"-- Mr. Davidson strikes up a conversation with an old gentleman on a train and is invited to view a disused Chapel. MRJ engulfs his reader in quaint British dialects in this story of a prayer book that would not stay shut.

"A Neighbour's Landmark"-- A gentleman spends a wet August afternoon in his host's library and discovers an old pamphlet with two lines from a country song, "That which walks in Betton Wood/ Knows why it walks or why it cries." When the weather clears, he explores the part of his friend's property that used to be called 'Betton Wood.'

"A Warning to the Curious"--A young man discovers the hiding place of an ancient crown of East Anglia and is haunted by his finding. As in many of MRJ's stories, curiosity is severely punished.

"Rats"--This story almost ruined quaint English inns for me. It has nothing to do with rats and you will wish that it had.

"The Experiment"-- First published in "The Morning Post" in 1931 and uncollected in MRJ's lifetime. A horrid little tale of murder and buried treasure.

"The Malice of Inanimate Objects"--Morbidly humorous story that starts out with the retelling of a fairy tale and ends in death.

"A Vignette"-- This might be a childhood recollection rather than a work of fiction. It has no plot and the setting very much resembles the rectory at Livermere Park where MRJ grew up.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Write a Review, and I'll Come to You, My Lad. Feb. 1 2007
By Armchair Pundit - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
O whistle, an' I'll come to you, my lad;
O whistle, an' I'll come to you, my lad;
Tho' father and mither should baith gae mad,
O whistle, an' I'll come to you, my lad.
(Burns.)

Over the last Twenty years I've purchased many books and got rid of many (After reading them then donating them to charity shops), but this is the only one I've repurchased.
I could never get the scenarios and characters out of my head, the way M R James succinctly describes a scene or a, "terrifying agent of supernatural malice" have resided in my head as much as I would have liked them to leave.
If lots of Gore is your thing you may be disappointed by these stories, but for those of us who like a well written story told with panache and subtlety, then these are for us.
~~~~
For several years in the early 70's when the BBC made "A Ghost Story for Christmas" it was always the M R James stories that disturbed me the most. But even though I was disturbed by them I was always too fascinated to switch the TV off, and whilst the BBC interpretations were good they never quite captured the atmosphere of the written page.
Most of the "Heroes" (For want of a better word) of these stories are intellectuals from the dusty halls of some Academy or other, who are afflicted by intellectual pride or the even graver sin (In M R James stories)of curiosity! They investigate things that should be left well alone.
~~~~
My personal favourites are "The Mezzotint", and "Oh Whistle, and I'll Come to you, my Lad".
The endings of a few of these stories are not completely resolved, and it's because of that, they stay in the mind longer.
It has always amused me that some of the most creepy and ungodly stories ever written in the English language were written by this most devout Christian of men.
~~~~
Stories include:-

Canon Alberic's Scrap-book"

"The Mezzotint"

"Number 13"

"Count Magnus"

"'Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad'"

"The Treasure of Abbot Thomas"

"A School Story"

"The Rose Garden"

"The Tractate Middoth"

"Casting the Runes"

"The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral"

"Mr Humphreys and His Inheritance"

"The Diary of Mr Poynter"

"An Episode of Cathedral History"

"The Uncommon Prayer-book"

"A Neighbour's Landmark"

"A Warning to the Curious"

"Rats"

"The Experiment"

"The Malice of Inanimate Objects"

"A Vignette"
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