Posted in Short Stories

M. R. James: The Neighbour’s Landmark

Those who spend the greater part of their time in reading or writing books are, of course, apt to take rather particular notice of accumulations of books when they come across them. They will not pass a stall, a shop, or even a bedroom-shelf without reading some title, and if they find themselves in an unfamiliar library, no host need trouble himself further about their entertainment.

This is how M. R. James’ “A Neighbour’s Landmark” begins. Most readers and book lovers can relate. This love of books also kicks off the story as the narrator finds himself in a new library as described above and stumbles upon a riddle regarding Betton Wood, the once-named land close to where his host lives.

Curiosity takes the narrator on a little stroll (apparently M. R. James enjoyed walks in the country, too, as there seem to be more and more of these occurring in his stories) to this land that used to be called Betton Wood. This is where both the supernatural story and the more earthly, historical story collide and intertwine with each other.

In reading James’ stories, I’m getting a sense that while in many cases, he separates the physical and logical and intellectual from the ethereal and supernatural. So far, though, he manages to weave them together perfectly without making them conflict. Not that a conflict between these two ways of thinking would be bad, they could make for quite a fascinating story. We’ll see where James may take this.

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