Our frustration that M.R. James is not as popularly recognised as Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft will never cease.The above is a Tweet from the Twitter machine, courtesy of the publisher Shadows at the Door. I'm sure a lot of people will agree with it, but others might quibble. I had a bit of a ponder and a few thoughts (or near-thoughts) emerged.
1, I think M.R. James is probably as well known as Lovecraft to bookish British people, perhaps a little more so. He is also fairly familiar to older TV viewers, like me, thanks to the BBC's dramatisations of his work in the Seventies.
2. Lovecraft produced a larger body of work than M.R. James, including several short novels, As an American writer he has a bigger 'pre-sold' audience than MRJ, an English academic whose output of fiction was relative slight.
3. Poe has had a lot longer to build up a head of steam and of course a great many film, TV, and radio adaptations of his work exist. Lovecraft has also done quite well in this area. Again, M.R. James lags behind somewhat, and quite a few adaptations of his work are lost (i.e. those in the ITV Mystery and Imagination series).
4. Poe and Lovecraft have more immediate appeal, especially to adolescent readers, because they are 'on the nose'. Some of their work demonstrates subtlety and restraint, but a lot of their stories say to the novice reader: "Hey, come and see the freaky shit that's going down!" MRJ's lighter, anecdotal approach might seem rather dull to fans of full-on Gothic horror. He is subtle and witty, as well as erudite, and his work takes a bit more effort to appreciate.
5. M.R. James is classed as a ghost story writer, and this is sometimes taken to mean he produced watered-down, genteel stuff that's not very exciting. Untrue, but labels tend to stick.
A lot more might be said on the subject, especially re: Poe and Lovecraft's attitude to science, an area M.R. James did not overtly concern himself with. But, as I said above, these are just a few of my own half-developed notions.