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A Pleasing Terror

The Complete Supernatural Writings

M. R. James

General Editors Christopher Roden and Barbara Roden

Illustrated by Paul Lowe

Ash Tree Press

British Columbia Hardcover First

ISBN 1-55310-024-7

662 Pages ; $75.00

Date Reviewed: 02-19-2002

Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2002

M.R. James A Pleasing Terror



Horror, Non-Fiction

02-14-02, 03-18-02, 12-31-02, 01-07-03, 08-22-03

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 is no doubt one of the biggest Event Books of 2001. Yes, it's now 2002, but this is a hard book to find, so hard that I have some qualms about reviewing a fantastic volume that not everyone is going to have an opportunity to buy. If this was 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. 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.

Paul Lowe's Illustration for A Neighbour's Landmark
Paul Lowe's Illustration for The Uncommon Prayer Book

Paul Lowe's Illistration for M. R. James' story 'A Neighbour's Landmark' from Ash Tree's 'A Pleasing Terror. It's in one of a number of distinct styles that Paul displays masterfully in this incredible collection.

Paul Lowe's Illustration for James' 'The Uncommon Prayer Book' from Ash Tree's 'A Pleasing Terror. A distinctly different style, equally beauteous. These samples are reduced to death and ground through cheapo scanning software -- don't think that the originals aren't worth framing.

Beyond the scholarship, the study and care taken in this volume, there's another layer -- this 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'. But 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 last -- or any year.