REVIEW: “Lost Hearts” by M. R. James

Review of M. R. James, “Lost Hearts,” in Minor Hauntings: Chilling Tales of Spectral Youth, edited by Jen Baker (British Library, 2021): 167-180 — Order here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

Many — but not all — of the stories in this collection are first-person recollections of events experienced first-hand, all told to a present audience who is clearly expecting to receive something extraordinary. James’s narrator is recounting his tale in a similar fashion, but unlike some of the other narrators he doesn’t claim to have witnessed the events himself: In fact, the most perplexing part of the story is how it is that the unnamed narrator actually knows any of these events to recount in the first place, if he did not see them first-hand. In particular, we are given insight into the actions and experiences of Stephen Elliot, an 11yo orphan who has come to live with a distant cousin Mr. Abney, that by rights no one but Elliot himself should have had. So: Who is the narrator, and how does he know the story he is narrating? That’s the mystery I want solved!

(First published in The Pall Mall Magazine, 1895.)

REVIEW: “The Treasure of Abbot Thomas” by M. R. James

Review of M. R. James, “The Treasure of Abbot Thomas”, in Abandoned Places, edited by George R. Galuschak and Chris Cornell (Shohola Press, 2018): 179-197 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

The story opens with a long paragraph of Latin which — I’ll admit — I spent far too long translating before moving on to the next paragraph and laughing when the antiquary reading the book the text is from comments that he still needs to translate the text, and does so in the next paragraph. (Unfortunately, modern spellcheckers tend to choke when it comes to Latin, as I know all to well from my own academic research, which is why, I suspect, the typo in the first line wasn’t caught in editing or proofreading.) And, oh, dear reader, the story has informative footnotes (five of them!), and those who’ve been with SFFReviews from the start know how much I love an informative footnote. All this to say: This is a story basically set up to appeal to me. What appealed even more was when I flipped to the end and read the author’s bio: “Though still well-regarded for his work as a medievalist, he is best known as one of the preeminent voices in modern Gothic horror.” A fellow medievalist who specialises in speculative fiction? How have I not heard of James before? This is one of the things that I love about the anthology: It has introduced me not only to contemporary authors but also historic ones, ones where my chances of otherwise stumbling across them are significantly reduced.

(Originally published in Ghost Stories of an Antiquary, 1904).