Posted in Short Stories

M. R. James: Count Magnus

It was about nine o’clock on a moonlight August night when he neared the place. He was sitting forward, and looking out of the window at the fields and thickets – there was little else to be seen – racing past him. Suddenly he came to a cross-road. At the corner two figures were standing motionless; both were in dark cloaks; the taller one wore a hat, the shorter a hood.

The quotation above from M. R. James’ “Count Magus” actually comes toward the end of the story. The timeline, in addition to the varying narrations within narrations, gives the story an odd feel but that no longer comes as a surprise to me – James seems to always make it work.

Mr. Wraxall, the “he” from the quotation, has written an account that begins three hundred years prior with a “Black Pilgrimage”. It ends with his pursuit by the dark figures mentioned above. This account has been discovered by the purchaser of Mr. Wraxall’s house at least several decades after the account.

All kinds of coffins, bodies with skulls as faces, dark nights, dark figures, meetings at cross-roads, serve up a horror story above all others even though I could probably say that about any M. R. James story.

Interestingly, the ending provides a surprise twist but it’s after the terror has taken place. While not that terrifying, it’s not something I want to spoil for future readers.

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