Lady Summerisle (strange_complex) wrote,
Lady Summerisle

13. & 14. Leah Moore & John Reppion after M.R. James (2016-17), Ghost Stories of an Antiquary

I received these two volumes of graphic adaptations of M.R. James ghost stories for Christmas, and had read both before the end of Boxing Day. John Reppion, one half of the production team, spoke about how he and Leah Moore had approached the stories and showed us some of the artwork from them at the M.R. James conference I went to in York in late September, and I was impressed enough by what I saw to put them on my Amazon wish-list in anticipation of Christmas. My sister did not disappoint, though opening them on Christmas day at her house proved a little dicier than I had reckoned when Christophe (four years old) saw them, realised that they were basically picture-books and demanded a story... I solemnly obliged, but thankfully (as I'd felt pretty safe in predicting), he'd got bored and wandered off by the end of the second page of 'Count Magnus' - though not before having cause to ask what a 'mausoleum' was!

They contain the same eight stories as the original James collection of the same name, four per volume, but with each story drawn by a different artist in their own distinctive style. Drawing the stories of course forces particular artistic decisions which writing them can elide - particularly whether or not to show monsters which James deliberately only partially describes, or events which are only implied such as Mrs Mothersole transforming into a hare in 'The Ash Tree' - and it was the intelligence with which John talked about the reasoning behind these decisions at the conference which was one of the main factors that made me want to read the books for myself. On the whole, the lean is in favour of showing the monsters (though not Mrs Mothersole's transformation), but usually sparingly - e.g. only partially (like James himself) or not until the very last panel. I think it is the right decision, and actually more Jamesian than not. For all that he argued for treating ghosts 'gently', he does also like to deliver what I have heard called 'the Jamesian punch' - that is, those few very evocative words with which he conveys utter grotesque horror after a long and tense build-up, such as “a mouth, with teeth, and with hair about it, and, he declares, not the mouth of a human being”.

The pleasure of good M.R. James adaptations is that they make you see and appreciate things which you might previously have missed in the stories. I got the same out of the Radio 4 adaptations written by Mark Gatiss which were broadcast in the run-up to Christmas, of which 'The Mezzotint' particularly inspired me to realise in a way I never quite have before how much the story capitalises on and plays around with the subjective real-life experience of viewing art. I think it was having different people playing the various roles (Williams, Binks, Nisbet, etc.), and commenting on the different things which each of them had seen in the picture, that really brought that out, in a way that reading it yourself or hearing a single narrator like Robert Lloyd Parry read the whole thing isn't as likely to capture. Likewise in this collection, I found I appreciated the structure and menace of 'Count Magnus' more than I usually do the written version, and that my rather jaded over-exposure to 'Oh Whistle and I'll Come to You' was overcome by the freshness of experiencing the story in a new medium, with characters whose faces I hadn't seen before. There is also lots of charming detail to soak up in the panels, delivering content not conveyed by either the original stories or the inset narrative bubbles such as images of pages from the manuscripts the characters are poring over or details of the rooms and other locations they inhabit. I can highly recommend both volumes, and hope that John and Leah feel inspired to progress on to some of James' other stories at some stage in the future.

That now concludes my books read for 2018 in the sense of books finished. I selected a volume of ghost stories by Elizabeth Gaskell for the run-up to Christmas, also lent to me by [personal profile] lady_lugosi1313, having enjoyed doing the same with Dickens last year, but haven't yet finished those, so that they will have to count in due course as my first book read of 2019. Another seven films of 2018 yet await...

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Tags: books, books read 2018, christmas, horror, m r james, nephew, reviews, sister

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