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M. R. James
General Editors Christopher Roden and Barbara Roden
Illustrated by Paul Lowe

A Pleasing Terror: The Complete Supernatural Writings
Ash Tree Press
British Columbia Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 1-55310-024-7
Publication Date: 06-01-2001
662 Pages ; $75.00
E Book 09/01/2013: $9.99
Date Reviewed: 02-19-2002 ; Revised / Updated: 09-15-2013
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2013
Index:  Horror  General Fiction  Fantasy  Mystery

Some books are just great books. Others are great Event Books. 'A Pleasing Terror' may sound like a contradiction in terms in these hyper-media days, but this collection from Ash Tree Press was no doubt one of the biggest Event Books of 2001. When it was published, it was a hard book to find, so hard that I had qualms about reviewing a fantastic volume that not everyone is going to have an opportunity to buy. Copies are still available used, but the prices are rather dear. It's fortunate, even for those who own the original, then, that Ash Tree has issued an electronic copy that readers should pick up without hesitation.

If this were simply a collection of all of Montague Rhodes James (1862-1936) supernatural fiction, put into one volume, it would still be an Event Book. But 'A Pleasing Terror' is so much more than simply a collection. It is a work of scholarship and care, beautifully bound and illustrated, and filled with extra material that itself could be collected into a work of great import. Is there such a thing as an 'Ultimate Book'? If there is, then 'A Pleasing Terror' is certainly pictured in the dictionary definition.

'A Pleasing Terror' collects all the supernatural stories of M. R. James. The chances are that you've read some M. R. James, or seen at least the most famous film of his work, 'Curse of the Demon', by Val Lewton. This book brings together all his supernatural stories, his short novel 'The Five Jars', story fragments, articles about supernatural fiction by M. R. James, and a number of the most important articles about M. R. James. It is awesome in its completeness.

Each story is fully footnoted. These footnotes offer a fascinating insight into the writing and thoughts of the author, and of James scholars on the work at hand. In the Kindle version, the footnotes are links. But in the reading experience of the overall collection, the stories in effect become hypertext, with links to one another and other supernatural fiction of the time. The effect on the reader is to offer a very Jamesian scholarly overlay for each of the stories, something one senses that the author himself would approve. There are also a number of excellent articles by leading James scholars, each one fascinating and different.

Beyond the scholarship, the study and care taken in this volume, there's another layer — this it is a flat out beautiful book. Paul Lowe's black and white drawings, done in a variety of styles, all set the perfect note of subtle and overt terror that James himself brings to the stories. If there were but a few, this would be wonderful. But there is an illustration for every single story in this collection. The illustrations themselves are a remarkable feat, and one of the great pleasures of 'A Pleasing Terror'.

The Ebook preserves much of the charm and adds what seems now to be an essential convenience in terms of moving around and electronic footnoting. The type and presentation are crisp and clear. Given the import of the material here, having it to hand is the equivalent of having an encyclopedia of ghost lore and literature. Moreover, James' work is short, sharp and to the point, which makes it ideal to have always at the ready on one's phone. Alas, the illustrations are not included. But given the price, this is a value not to be missed, whether or not you own the original. It's a great way to keep great work ever on the ready.

Over the years, one might well expect one's opinion of a book to change. 'A Pleasing Terror' is still an outstanding book, one that every reader will find of value. If anything I think more of this book now than when it came out. In a better world, these books would be bestsellers. But as it is, at least we now have an electronic edition that is superb, offering all the written content with the convenience and accessibility of the form to the peerless work.

What can one single out of this fantastic volume? Nothing — everything is letter and picture perfect. 'A Pleasing Terror' is simply one of the best books of this — or any year.

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