Fiction Reviews

Phantasmagoria Special Edition Series 3
M. R. James

(2020) Edited by Trevor Kennedy, Independently published, £9.00, trdpbk, 258pp, ISBN: 979-8-556-02554-7


‘Kwality goods’, as a former colleague of mine used to say, and the third in Phantasmagoria Special Edition Series (PSES) oozes quality starting with the cover from Edward Miller (Les Edwards) inspired by the classic M. R. James’ classic short story ‘Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You. My Lad’, depicting something you wouldn’t want to bump into on the coastal path as the Sun goes down. And you don’t need to guess that there are quality goods inside by the list of contributor’s such as M. R. James, Ramsey Campbell, Stephen Gallagher, Stephen Jones, Mark Morris, Adam L. G. Nevill, Kim Newman. And more! And that’s even without listing the artists who include Randy Broecker, Dave Carson, Peter Coleborn, Les Edwards, Stephen Jones, Allen Koszowski, James McBryde, Jim Pitts and G.C.H. Reilly. Quality indeed.

As the title would suggest, this is the third of Phantasmagoria’s Special Editions, the first was devoted to the late British horror master, R. Chetwynd Hayes, celebrating his centenary, while the second issue featured Stephen Jones’ The Lovecraft Squad. Apart from these special editions, Phantasmagoria also comes out regularly in non-special editions with issue 16 appearing last summer, and it’s a real treat for horror enthusiasts everywhere.

This M. R. James special editions is a game of two halves, featuring articles about the man himself including a selected bibliography by Stephen Jones, an article on James’ ghost stories by the late Richard Dalby, even an article on ghost stories by the great man himself, where he mentions stories written by other authors worth looking out for if you have slaked your Jamesian thirst. Kim Newman looks at the famous Omnibus version of ‘Oh, Whistle’ directed by Jonathan Miller and starring Michael Hordern. Other contributors look at adaptations of James work in film, TV and audio, and Ramsey Campbell, Mark Miller and Stephen Gallagher are interviewed about the importance of James, with Miller and Gallagher both adapting his work for audio form. In between the fact, comes the fiction with a variety of Jamesian-like stories by writers such as Adam Nevill, Johnny Mains, Raven Dane and several others. If that wasn’t enough there is some cracking, creepy artwork sprinkled throughout the book by the likes of Randy Broecker, Dave Carson, Allen Koszowski and Jim Pitts, and in particular a cracking portfolio of work by Les Edwards, sadly not in colour, but we do have his great wraparound cover to enjoy.

PSES is a dark delight, harking back to my youth when I used to devour books by the likes of Dennis Gifford and Alan Frank, when I used to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of horror movies, and now I’m lucky if I can remember how to tie my shoelaces. The joy (is that’s the right word) of re-reading ‘Oh, Whistle’ has made me want to read all of James’ work – true confession, I’ve not read all of his stories; and making readers want to read more James is probably one of the goals Kennedy and his contributors want to achieve. It’s also a joy to read one of Ramsey Campbell’s best Jamesian stories in ‘The Guide’ which has a typically Campbellish shudder of an ending; and while I have many of the TV adaptations of the short stories on DVD, it’s just too handy to find them all on You Tube for some late night viewing with the lights turned low, trying not to think too much about why the curtains are moving out of the corner of my eye.

This latest edition of the Phantasmagoria Special Edition Series is highly recommended, and as for me? I’m off to buy PSES 1 and 2. You know it makes sense.

Ian Hunter


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