Episode 13: The Ghost Stories of MR James

MR James Ghost Stories Words To That Effect Podcast

Words To That Effect + Down Below The Reservoir

This week’s episode, the end of Season 1, is a Christmas Special. It’s a collaboration with the disturbingly good horror podcast, Down Below The Reservoir. The result is an episode about the ghost stories of MR James, followed by an audio-drama production of “Lost Hearts”, one of James’ classic tales.


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MR James

The Definitive MR James Collection (ed. Darryl Jones)

MR James, once renowned as a scholar of medieval manuscripts, is now considered one of the greatest writers of ghost stories in English. But he certainly didn’t see himself that way. The stories he created were written to be read aloud on Christmas Eve, to a select group of colleagues and students in King’s College, Cambridge. It was only later that he began publishing them, and his Collected Ghost Stories has never been out of print since.

His tales have been adapted for stage and screen generation and generation. They are, in many ways, what we think of when we think of the Victorian ghost story: dusty manuscripts, creaking old houses, libraries, or churches, menacing ghostly apparitions. A century later, the stories are unnerving and frightening, especially if read late at night, by candle light, as they very much should be.

Stories like “Casting the Runes”, “O Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad” or “Lost Hearts” are classics, and they still provoke the intended reaction of terror and unease. The stories have become MR James’ legacy.


MR James’ “Lost Hearts” & St Michan’s Church

One of James’ earliest stories is “Lost Hearts”, inspired by a visit to the famous mummies of St Michan’s Church in Dublin. These strange and incredibly well-preserved mummies can still be visited today.

For this episode I visited the crypt to have a look, to trace the origins of James’ ghost stories, and to get some inspiration for the audio-drama version of “Lost Hearts”, performed in collaboration with Down Below The Reservoir.

St Michan's Church (MR James)

St Michan's Church (MR James) St Michan's Church (MR James)










MR James’ “Lost Hearts”: An Audio Drama

This week’s Words To That Effect Episode is followed by an audio drama version of “Lost Hearts”, produced by Graham Tugwell, and with performances by:

Narrator: Graham Tugwell (@somthingstirs)

Stephen / Mrs Bunch: Deirdre Sullivan (@propermiss)

Mr Abney: Conor Reid (@cedreid)

Parkes: James Ward (@jdarganward)

You can listen an entire season of original horror fiction at the Down Below The Reservoir website here.

Down Below The Reservoir Logo


Music & Links

Music this week was by the extremely talented Philip Coleman (listen to his music here), and with a little bit of my own music.

The tracks played, in order, were:

Philip Coleman: Nightmist (Invisible Ink)

Philip Coleman: Chrysalis

Conor Reid: Music To That Effect I

Philip Coleman: Night Echoes


If you’re looking for more horror, check out this episode on zombies

Or, how about the strange intertwining of ghost stories and medicine. Have a listen to this episode on nervous diseases and fiction


If you enjoy the episode and want to find out how to support the show then click here for more information.

(William Edward Hickman Episode) Support the show on Patreon

What’s your favourite MR James ghost story? Have you been to St Michan’s Church? Let me know in the comments below or check out the Words To That Effect Facebook Page


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