Friday 16 August 2013

Building a Spooky Library - Introduction

On BBC Radio 3 there's a regular strand called Building a Library. This consists of advice for classical music dunces, like me, on which versions of famous symphonies etc to buy. It occurred to me that a similar strand on this blog might be helpful for those in search of essential texts in the realms of the supernatural.

Like many people, I take it for granted that other people know what I consider to be the 'standard texts' of the ghost story and early supernatural horror. But I'm sure that, just as others may not have read the books in my library, there must be major gaps in my own knowledge.

And then there's the time factor. Some people may have a great knowledge of contemporary authors but be a bit lost with, say, the Victorians. Others may have exactly the opposite problem - which of the moderns should they try? So I'm going to write about books that I have and consider essential, and invite others to suggest authors/texts that I may not have read or even heard of.

Let's begin at the beginning. I wouldn't be doing this if it weren't for the ghost stories of Montague Rhodes James. Cheap editions of his collected stories are widely available - far more so than when I first came across Ghost Stories of an Antiquary back in the early Eighties. If you want a good reading copy you could do worse than the Wordworth edition.

Etexts of the stories can be found here and there, notably at the excellent Thin Ghost site. If you would like a hardback, the best collected stories remains A Pleasing Terror from Ash-Tree Press. It is, however, a fairly weighty tome, as well as being out of print at the moment, so you'd have to seek out a second-hand copy. An eBook is available here. Folio Society editions are also available, but again these can be very expensive. There are many editions on eBay and some seem reasonably priced.

There are also numerous audiobooks. Naxos has a good selection. MRJ is one of the few authors of ghostly fiction to be routinely read/dramatised for radio. The BBC has a selection of Spine Chillers, which are short dramatisations of tales introduced by Derek Jacobi. The success of the series led the BBC to release full-length readings of some MRJ stories by Sir Derek. These are available in two volumes. Many other readings are available.

There are also no shortage of M.R. James adaptations on screen. Strictly speaking only one feature film has been based on one of his stories - Night of the Demon is a fairly free adaptation of 'Casting the Runes'. On television there have been numerous attempts to bring his stories to a wider audience, with variable results. Again, a good source of information is A Thin Ghost.

So, there you have it. Is it a good idea to Build a Spooky Library? Would anyone find it useful?

1 comment:

Steve said...

It's a great idea. I'll look forward to seeing your selections!

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