Posted in Short Stories

M. R. James: The Story of a Disappearance and an Appearance

…but there was a thick mist on the way back, and I was not in trim for wandering about unknown pastures, especially on an evening when bushes looked like men, and a cow lowing in the distance might have been the last trump.

The title of M. R. James story “The Story of a Disappearance and an Appearance” is another one of those understated titles – almost to the point of humor. It’s told through the a series of letters from one brother to another regarding the disappearance of their clergyman Uncle Henry.

It’s always a fascination to me how well this letter writing structure can work even if the letters give so much more detail than one would normally expect in a letter. The letters in this story are one sided. We don’t get any replies. This sometimes adds to the comic aspect of the story the way a one-sided telephone conversation can be hilarious. The writing brother will reference something from a response from his brother even though we don’t actually see the response.

These letters are all dated over the days before and after Christmas of 1837. In the introduction to this collection of stories, it’s noted that James was a big fan of Charles Dickens. Outside of the use of ghosts at Christmas, though, this story seems much more original than simply a nod to Dickens. It includes an odd dream of a Punch and Judy puppet show ending with a wild description of an owl after waking.

Also, Uncle Henry is eventually “found”.

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