Casting the Runes: The Letters of MR James

By Jane Mainley-Piddock

Foreword by Mark Gatiss

Monday, 6 July 2020

Some notes towards a Mythic Jungian analysis of James's ghost stories

James’s stories all feature the appearance of the revenant in response to some feature of “change” in the actions of the characters, the place in which they live, or in the structure of the story.

Whether it is an anima (a female) that has produced this change or another facet of the Jungian persona (self, ego, shadow, and anima/animus) or the phylogenetic inherited archetypal part of the persona has originated the disturbance – the change brings about the revenant attack.

James often (perhaps unconsciously) or deliberately writes this response in the form of a mythic structure that also permeates the story, or mythic symbolism that provides an allegory to the character’s actions.

For instance

No.13 –

An academic is visiting Viborg in Denmark to “research the last days of Catholicism in the country”, in his researches he finds that the room he has chosen moves nightly to accommodate an inter-dimensional ghostly room, (No.13) which is not in the plans of the hotel (a country wide superstition, marking the number 13 as unlucky according to Christian tradition). When the room makes its appearance so too does the revenant.

It seems that this appearance is in response to the protagonist (Mr Anderson – a play on Hans Christian Anderson the Danish author of fairytales) delving into Denmark’s Catholic past). The ghost – a certain Magister Nicholas Francken had been accused of a pact with the devil.

James includes – in the story the symbolism of a letter signed in blood, the superstitions around the no.13, the scarlet woman, a dancing/singing revenant, a box lying between the beams of rooms no.13 and no.14, a locked inter-dimensional inaccessible room and inside the locked box, an astrological work “representing a number of sages seated around a table”.

This imagery and symbolism is connected with the bible, especially the New Testament book of John, concerned with the resurrection of Jesus, after his resurrection Jesus appeared to his disciples in a locked room. The scarlet woman is Mary Magdalene and the astrological work depicts the disciples.

The Experiment

Concerns a woman (Madam Bowles) who with the aid of her son (Joseph) poisoned her husband. However, after his death squire Bowles was found to have been working with Enochian magic, summoning the archangels Raphael and (N) Ares (Uriel/Ariel) the keeper of the winds.

In laying out the body of Squire Bowles, it also transpired that the cloth covering his face and mouth had vanished. This meant that the dead were free to speak, of whatever had happened to them. The widow and her son decide to flee in case it is found out that the cause of Bowles’s death was murder (poison in fact).

The imagery James uses concerns the wind (Ares) trying to hound the pair in their escape, a ferryman (obviously the mythic Chiron) the bearer of souls who ferries the river Styx in the underworld.

The boatman upon telling the Widow/son that there is another passenger that very stormy night, decide to confess their sins rather than face their un-dead accuser.

Therefore a combination of Jungian theory is a very good way in which to read James’s ghost stories, as the way in which James wrote concerns fragmented psyches that are pursued by revenants, usually in response to a change in their circumstances in stories which are rich in mythic symbolism and structure.



Back to project page
Share on social

Top rewards

41 pledges


The ebook
Buy now