Ash-Tree Press
P.O. Box 1360, Ashcroft, British Columbia, Canada V0K 1A0
Tel: (250) 453-2045; Fax: (250) 453-2075




General Editors: Christopher Roden and Barbara Roden
With an Introduction by Steve Duffy

ISBN: 1-55310-024-7; xlix + 659pp
Published 1 August 2001 in an edition of 1000 copies

The ghost stories of M. R. James need no introduction. They are widely considered the very best classical supernatural tales ever committed to paper, and a testimony to their quality and universal appeal is the fact that James's Collected Ghost Stories has remained in print since its first publication in 1931. James's ghost stories are a towering achievement, and they continue to dominate the genre more than a century after they first began to appear.

Ash-Tree Press has published collections by many of the writers who followed James and sought to emulate him, and is now proud to have published A Pleasing Terror, which collects all of M. R. James's writings on the supernatural. In addition to the thirty-three stories from Collected Ghost Stories, this volume includes a further three stories, seven story drafts left amongst his papers, all of his introductions and prefaces to his various collections, and his article 'Stories I Have Tried to Write'. In addition, there are the texts of twelve medieval ghost stories discovered and published by James, all of his articles about the ghost story, and his writings on J. Sheridan Le Fanu.

James's many letters also discussed supernatural matters, and A Pleasing Terror includes a selection written to his friend Gwendolen McBryde; and those he wrote to the young Sybil Cropper—which touch on many of the ideas he later developed into his fantasy novel for younger readers, The Five Jars. The complete text of this novel is included, together with James's spoof of Doctor Faustus, the play Auditor and Impresario, which is reprinted here for the first time in almost seventy-five years.

Much important Jamesian scholarship has been produced in recent years, and some of the more important articles are reproduced in A Pleasing Terror. The thirty-three completed ghost stories are fully annotated, and a bibliography provides a starting point for further research. Biographical details are provided by S. G. Lubbock's A Memoir of Montague Rhodes James, and the volume is introduced by Steve Duffy, and has a preface by Christopher and Barbara Roden. Each story is illustrated by Paul Lowe, who has shown himself to be one of the finest interpreters of the ghostly vision of M. R. James.

The 712 pages of A Pleasing Terror bring together all of James's collected ghost stories, and much more besides. The full list of contents is as follows:

Preface by Christopher Roden and Barbara Roden; Introduction by Steve Duffy; A Memoir of Montague Rhodes James by S. G. Lubbock;
GHOST STORIES OF AN ANTIQUARY: Preface; Canon Alberic's Scrap-book; Lost Hearts; The Mezzotint; The Ash-tree; Number 13; Count Magnus; 'Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad'; The Treasure of Abbot Thomas;
MORE GHOST STORIES OF AN ANTIQUARY: Preface; A School Story; The Rose Garden; The Tractate Middoth; Casting the Runes; The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral; Martin's Close; Mr Humphreys and his Inheritance;
A THIN GHOST AND OTHERS: Preface; The Residence at Whitminster; The Diary of Mr Poynter; An Episode of Cathedral History; The Story of a Disappearance and an Appearance; Two Doctors;
A WARNING TO THE CURIOUS AND OTHER GHOST STORIES: Acknowledgments; The Haunted Dolls' House; The Uncommon Prayer-Book; A Neighbour's Landmark; A View from a Hill; A Warning to the Curious; An Evening's Entertainment;
OTHER GHOST STORIES: Preface to Collected Ghost Stories (1931); There was a Man Dwelt by a Churchyard; Rats; After Dark in the Playing Fields; Wailing Well; The Experiment; The Malice of Inanimate Objects; A Vignette;
FRAGMENTS: The Fenstanton Witch; Marcilly-le-Hayer; John Humphreys; A Night in King's College Chapel; The Game of Bear; Speaker Lenthall's Tomb; Merfield House;


ARTICLES: Stories I Have Tried to Write; Some Remarks on Ghost Stories; Ghosts—Treat Them Gently!; Ghost Story Competition; Introduction for Ghosts & Marvels; The Novels and Stories of J. Sheridan Le Fanu; MRJ's Prologue to Madam Crowl's Ghost; MRJ's Epilogue to Madam Crowl's Ghost; MRJ's Introduction to Uncle Silas; Letters: MRJ to Gwendolen McBryde; Letters to a Child;

THE FIVE JARS: MRJ's delightful supernatural novel for younger people;

AUDITOR AND IMPRESARIO: A spoof on Dr Faustus from the pages of The Cambridge Review

APPENDICES: I: James Wilson's Secret by Rosemary Pardoe and Jane Nicholls; II: The Black Pilgrimage by Rosemary Pardoe and Jane Nicholls; III: Irony and Horror: The Art of M. R. James by Samuel D. Russell; IV: Ghosts in Medieval Yorkshire by Jacqueline Simpson; V: An M. R. James Letter Introduced and annotated by Jack Adrian


A Pleasing Terror annotates all of the stories written by M. R. James, and there are thirty-three illustrations by Paul Lowe.

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Review by Gahan Wilson (From Realms of Fantasy: February 2002)

I may or may not have been silly enough to have wondered whether [Ash-Tree Press] would be able to maintain this awesomely high level of quality, but if I did I needn't have done so, for they have managed to do it without any sign of winding themselves. Now, in the spirit of a consistently top athlete who suddenly decides to decorate his career with some world-record-shattering performance, they have actually topped themselves by bringing together an anthology that will henceforth be a proud Mount Everest in the collection of anyone who seriously loves macabre fantasy: A Pleasing Terror, The Complete Supernatural Writings by M. R. James.

It has only one flaw: the subtitle, The Complete Supernatural Works, is incorrect in that it very seriously understates the intricate and gorgeous richness of the volume's contents.

It is most certainly true that A Pleasing Terror does indeed contain the complete supernatural writings of M. R. James, which is to say it has some of the best spooky and horrific fantasy ever put on paper packed between its covers, but it has more than that, much, much more. It is as if, in the dark recesses of some magical library, one had come across a whole, shadowy alcove whose tall shelves were packed with Jamesian gems ranging from his heretofore almost impossible to find to the most delightfully obscure nit picking marginalia.

If by some awful misfortune you have never heard of Montague Rhodes James before, let me have the honor and privilege to inform you that he was (and very much is, since his original four books of sublimely spooky short stories have never once been out of print since they were first assembled into the Collected Ghost Stories way back when in 1931) the author of some of the best truly creepy tales of ghosts, revenants, and other monstrous manifestations ever nightmared up.

I'm careful to throw in the additional terms since James's truly amazing imagination produced such a wide and rich variety of supernatural intruders that ghost stories are only a subsection—although a sizable one—of his art. He also raised demons, introduced us to singularly evil magicians complete with their evil familiars and loathsome curses, necromanced poisonous cadavers from their tombs, and created a whole legion of completely original horrors that have played no small part in inspiring his cleverer readers to pick up their pens and wander in dark gardens of the imagination heretofore untraversed.

Also, very importantly, he demonstrated conclusively how important and effective it was to make these menaces (and they are all menaces—James would have nothing to do with supernatural wusses!) real. Taking his lead from the Irish master of the supernatural, J. Sheridan LeFanu, and expanding  upon it with genius and borrowings from his personal phobias (you will learn many revealing things about those phobias from widely varied material in A Pleasing Terror, by the by), he presents the reader with spooks that are repulsively and intimately physical so that when the reader touches them, or is groped by them, he or she will actually wince away from their astounding nastiness.

James was also a master of the convincing environment, being well aware that the more convincing the haunted house, the more convincing the haunt. He is always careful to give the reader a clear feeling for the landscape before pointing out the odd figure lurking behind its trees, and he made marvelous use of his career as a scholar and a highly respected antiquary. He wrote about what he knew, as they say in the how-to books.

The unnerving shadowy spaces and decidedly creepy furniture of his fictitious old cathedrals are convincing because he was an expert in and a love of real old cathedrals and the reader is almost able to smell and touch the made-up moldering manuscripts which his often fatally snoopy characters come across because he was a bona fide, highly respected expert on unearthing and translating such things in his day-to-day life.

All of this and ever so much more is explored in A Pleasing Terror from a multitude of perspectives.

First, and obviously most importantly, we have the writings of James himself, which include all the well-known stories; others you've very likely never seen; his charming children's book, The Five Jars; a small anthology of letters including a clump of them written to a child who had forever endeared herself to James by bullying him into taking her to see Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show when it successfully stormed London; a wonderful gathering up of articles written by him which concern the art of scary writing; fascinating story fragments; 12 ghost stories translated from the Medieval Latin and, so help me God, a spoof of Doctor Faustus!

Anybody in their right mind ought to be happy to settle for that but, no, the Rodens have seen to it that the book includes a truly dazzling batch of essays on James and his works from the very cream of those obsessed with him (bless their hearts!). The books starts with a preface by the publishers, an introduction by Steve Duffy, and a memoir by James's friend, S. G. Lubbock and it ends with a superb batch of essays by Rosemary Pardoe and Jane Nicholls (fascinating stuff on dear old Count Magnus's Black Pilgrimage therein!); a swell article by Samuel D. Russell from a long-ago fan magazine devoted to H. P. Lovecraft (who was himself a fan of James) going deeply into the important connection between horror and humour (which, as a macabre cartoonist, I have always found profoundly interesting); a lovely essay by Jacqueline Simpson on the profound influence James's scholarly career had on his career as a writer of ominous literature; and it ends with one of James's letters carefully and lovingly annotated and mulled over by Jack Adrian.

Then, at the very end, there is an excellent bibliography and a listing of his works adapted to film, radio, and TV. (Trivia question: How many of James's stories were made into movies? Trivia answer: One. It was 'Casting the Runes' and it was called Curse of the Demon. And it wasn't at all bad except that they should have left out or better built the demon proper.) Then, just to make sure you are having a really good time, the stories are all illustrated (including a superb dust jacket) by Paul Lowe. All of them are excellent both in execution and choice of scene to be depicted. For example, in 'Casting the Runes' he selects the slide in Karswell's evil entertainment for children which shows the increasingly alarmed little boy walking through the woods being followed by a horrible hopping creature. It is hopping perfectly.

I don't have a star system but if I did A Pleasing Terror would get the lot.

Gahan Wilson & Realms of Fantasy 2001

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Ash-Tree Press 2003