Friday, 23 September 2016

'The Mask of the Dead Mamilius'

And here we are at the end of the Third G&S Book of Shadows with Mark Valentine's take on one of M.R. James' lesser, and later, tales. Not exactly a sequel, this, but an erudite take on the same Shakespeare passage that James used to good effect.

The story concerns Lorna, an ambitious and discerning actress who takes a role in The Winter's Tale as Mamilius (who is a boy, yes, it's one of those clever modern productions). As you may know, Mamilius is the only one of Leontes' victims who actually dies as a result of his irrational jealousy - the paranoid tyrant's wife and daughter are merely reported dead. There is something disturbing about this, and the fact that the poor lad is whisked away while in the act of telling a ghost story is apt.

This vignette is, among other things, a meditation upon mortality and the way a good work of fiction can remind us of it in the most effective, and sometimes harrowing, way. And that's as good a conclusion as any to a collection of tales about the dead and their disturbing antics! I've greatly enjoyed third anthology, and can heartily recommend it, and its two predecessors, to anyone who wants interesting and varied takes on some of the best ghost stories ever written.

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