Casting the Runes: The Letters of MR James

By Jane Mainley-Piddock

Biography | Halloween
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A first edition hardback copy, the ebook and your name in the back of the book.
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Curated reading list

An accompanying curated reading list designed to give you a deeper appreciation of MR James’s ghost stories, plus everything at the Collectable level.
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Eat like the Everlasting Club

When James read his ghost stories aloud to his friends at their club suppers, this food was served in “a break from the proceedings". Pledge for this to receive recipe sheets and details on how to serve your own “A King’s College Supper”, plus everything at the Collectable level.
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An exclusive Casting the Runes mug, plus everything at the Collectable level.
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A set of four Casting the Runes postcards and everything at the Collectable level.
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Q&A

A telephone call with Jane in which you get to ask any 10 questions about James’s ghost stories, plus everything at the Collectable level.
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Jungian theory

An explanation (by phone or video call) of how to read James’s ghost stories using Jungian theory. This way of reading the stories throws open whole new worlds of reading and thinking.
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Ghostly lunch in Cambridge

Take part in ghostly conversation with Jane, where you get to ask any questions about Jungian theory, writing a PhD, or Jamesian gossip. Includes lunch and everything at the Collectable level.
Travel to Cambridge not included.
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Sneak peak of a PhD

A read of one of Jane's PhD chapters (the PhD is embargoed for 6 years) and a chance to grill her on the contents, plus your name in a special section at the back of the book thanking you for your support, and everything at the Collectable level.
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The much loved author M.R. James is best known today for his hugely popular ghost stories, which have never been out of print since the first collection was issued in 1931. However, it might surprise even the most devoted fan to learn that (unlike such poets as John Keats and authors such as Oscar Wilde), they cannot buy a book of James’s letters.

Unless they have the means to travel to the dreaming spires of the Cambridge University libraries, and negotiate a library system which can be intimidating to the average person (with its hushed interiors and the wearing of white archival gloves), the public can’t access James’s letters. If anyone is inclined to search the shelves of independent or chain book shops or online book purveyors, they will find that everyone else seems to have had their letters published, but alas not poor old James.

This is what you can help to to rectify by supporting this new collection of the author’s letters. In them, we can learn of his fear of spiders (and their hairy legs), his love of cats and his thoughts on other authors such as Henry James and James Joyce. As well as a whole life’s thoughts on a host of subjects.

  • High quality royal hardback format with head and tail bands.
  • Approximately 100 letters, transcribed and annotated by Jane Mainley-Piddock, PhD, from the originals that are kept in libraries at the University of Cambridge.
  • For academics, fans and the general reader.
  • Approximately 420 pages and 100,000 words.

*Book designs, cover and other images are for illustrative purposes and may differ from final design.

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  • Jane Mainley-Piddock avatar

    Jane Mainley-Piddock

    Jane Mainley-Piddock is a British writer, blogger and book reviewer. She specialises in the ghost stories of M R James and the literature of the late Victorian period. She blogs on her website janemainley-piddock.com, where you will also find her poetry and short stories.
    A lover of cats, books and writing, Mainley-Piddock was born in the village of Johnstown near Wrexham. She was educated at Grango School in the village of Rhosllanerchugog, and being a self confessed nerd attended Wolverhampton University, Akron University (Ohio), Glyndwr University (Wrexham) and Abersytwyth University.
    Her favourite authors include Irvine Welsh, Anais Nin, and M R James.
    Favourite Colour: Black
    Favourite food: cheese and chocolate (often eaten together)
    Favourite words: Boudain Noir, Chiaroscuro

  • Letter No.iii. 22 Jan ‘03

    King’s College

    Cambridge

    My dear Apple pie,

    It was indeed a gratification to ‘recieve’, as you so thoughtfully put it, your communication. I feel that I have at least one colleague in the field of ornithological study who does not – as too many so called scientists do – sniff at and deride the records of my observations.

    I am unfortunately confined to my room by the lumbago (a sign of approaching old age), and this has become known to the sparrows who infest the college. They are well aware that I cannot move quickly or indeed move at all without grave personal inconvenience, and the consequence is that they take it in turns to come and sit on my window-sill and laugh. I sent a note to the Provost’s cat – a large animal named Cato, of whom I am a good deal afraid- and he was good enough to what he called “Step round and look in” this afternoon. But I derived but slight benefit from this manoeuvre, for he insisted first on having a copious lunch, and then went to sleep. A particularly insolent sparrow was goading me to madness soon afterwards and being unable to move easily, as I said, I threw a small object, it might have been a book or a chair – at Cato to attract his attention. I am sorry to say he completely lost control of his temper, bit my hand, and left the room. One of the kitchen cats whom I have since asked up, will do nothing but ask in a high irritating voice: “What are you doing now?” “Writing” I say – “and what are you doing now?” “Still writing”, “and what are you going to do next?” “Oh” I say “won’t you have a little milk?” “Yes” says the cat (no “please” or “thank you” or anything of that sort) “and what shall I do after that?” “If you can’t manage to hold your tongue you’ll leave the room after that”. This rather silences the cat for a short time. Then it says “What day is it to-day?” “Thursday – King’s Accession “Why isn’t it King’s College?” “It is called King’s College” “Why did you call it something different?” “Now look here” I said the last time it asked this stupid question “out you go.” It was just beginning to ask “Why do I go out?” when I showed it why with the poker. And now I can hear it still asking questions on the back-stairs. Whether it is the spread of Education or living in what they call an intellectual atmosphere, I don’t know but these University cats are getting beyond me altogether.

    27th Jan.

    This communication has been waiting for some days now. The lumbago has been diminishing, thank you, but as I have had to go out to-night in the rain I dare say it will be better and I shall be worse to-morrow. In any case the inclemency of the weather and my inability to perambulate the rural environs of this town, have precluded me from initiating such a series of observations as might have resulted in bringing me into contact with the ornithological world or as I have seen them not inaptly designated “our Feathered Friends.” You will, I am confident, be quick to excuse the consequent dearth of specific information for which these pages might reasonably be censured. Nor will it, I venture to suggest, escape your notice that my enforced confinement has had the effect of throwing me upon the society of those voiceless yet eloquent companions (I allude to the books which line the walls of my little sanctum) and of purifying if adorning the style in which for the last few lines I have taken the liberty of addressing you.

    Yrs as always

    M.R.J

    Read more...
  • Jane Mainley-Piddock has written 2 private updates. You can pledge to get access to them all.

    28th May 2020 The Fate of the Humble Spook in this age of Surveillance

    The Fate of the Humble Spook in this age of Surveillance



     

    In Oscar Wildes short story ‘The Canterville Ghost’, the ghost Sir Simon De Canterville, has been successfully haunting Canterville Chase for over four centuries, since 1584. His latest success had been to ensure no one from the family had lived in the house since he had put his skeletal hands on the shoulders of the dowager aunt, the…

    16th May 2020 M R James and the time he stalked Queen Victoria

    M R James and his Queen Victoria Fixation



    In today’s world we are very accustomed to what is termed “celebrity culture”, with all of the plethora of reality television shows and the ‘red top’ tabloid papers keeping a breathless public up to date with every facet of their favourite stars life, no matter how trivial. From so called C list celebrity stars up to our own royal family, no one it seems…

    12th May 2020 M R James and The Marriage Problem

    M. R. James and The Marriage Problem

    I am often asked by many people with an interest in M. R. James whether he was homosexual and why (even if he was) he never had a wife somewhere in the background, a la Oscar Wilde. Despite all of this application of various theories on James, no evidence of supposed homosexuality has ever been found. Both his biographers Cox and Pfaff never found anything to…

    6th May 2020 M. R. James the Notorious Arachnaphobe

    James the Notorious Arachnaphobe



    M R James long held a hatred of spiders, noting in one of his letters to his friend Gwendolen McBryde that they terrified him, “Especially the one that turns up unaccountably in the Bath”[1]. That they were a personal motif of horror for him can be located in his stories, of which, three have the terrifying presence of these arachnoid forms, which for a small body…

    30th April 2020 M R James Conan Doyle and Charles Dickens

    M R James and the Edwin Drood Syndicate



    M R James loved to read detective novels in the rare time he had away from his academic work or writing ghostly fiction. His enthusiasm for Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes has been noted by his biographer Richard Pfaff (although he did out Doyle’s “Cribbing of the plot for The Firm of Girdle Stone” which Doyle had taken from Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Uncle Silas…

    20th April 2020 James and The Buffalo Bill Wild West show



     

    [Picture]

    James regulary exchanged letters with the daughter of one of his friends, Walter Fletcher, her name was Sibyl Cropper, but her friends always called her Billy. These letters often belied his occupation as an academic and cataloguer of Mss, provost and curator it would not be automatically compare with the lighter side of life, but the one outstanding characteristic that all of James…

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