Summer reading

Tuesday, 3 July, 2012

The 19th century is drawing to a close as a young Cambridge student travelling through France arrives in the small, decaying cathedral town of Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges, at the foot of the Pyrenees. He spends a day exploring the interior of the cathedral and is encouraged by the sacristan to buy an old scrap book that was created by canon Albéric de Mauléon from volumes in the church library. As the student will later learn, when he begins to read the book, late at night and alone in his Pyrenean room, the devil is very much in the details.

“Best of all, there were twenty leaves of unicial writing in Latin, which, as a few words seen here and there told him at once, must belong to some very early unknown patristic treatise. Could it possibly be a fragment of the copy of Papias ‘On the Words of Our Lord,’ which was known to have existed as late as the twelfth century in Nimes?”

Written in October 1893, “Canon Alberic’s Scrap-Book” was the first horror story published by Montague Rhodes James. It can now be found in the Collected Ghost Stories of M. R. James, edited by Darryl Jones. If you prefer your horror up close and personal, the English actor Robert Lloyd Parry specializes in performing the stories of M. R. James. “Pale, dusky skin, covering nothing but bones and tendons of appalling strength; coarse black hairs, longer than ever grew on a human hand…”

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