Thursday, January 27, 2011

Review: Number 13 and Count Magnus and The Treasure of Abbot Thomas by Montague Rhodes James

Ghost Stories of an Antiquary:
by Montague Rhodes James
Ayer Co Pub (1977), Hardcover, 270 pages


‘His back was now to the door. In that moment the door opened, and an arm came out and clawed at his shoulder.’ (page 143)

Mr. Anderson, narrator’s cousin, went to Denmark engaged upon some researches into the history of Danish church. He stays in an inn where the room number 13 is missing. Returning to his room, Mr. Anderson notices that the door refuses to open, he hears some noises in the room: ‘He had tried the wrong door, of course. … He glanced at the number: it was 13.’ (page 120) Finally, entering in his room number 12, it ‘seemed to have contracted in length …’ (page 121)
The landlord confirms to Mr. Anderson that the number 13 room had never existed, but a contract concerning these extraordinary phenomena is discovered: a professor sold himself to ...


Mr. Wraxall wants to write a book about Scandinavia. He learns about an important collection of family papers belonging to the proprietors of an ancient manor-house in Vestergothland.
The earliest owner of the manor was Magnus de la Gardie, buried in the church’s mausoleum. Mr. Wraxall becomes interested in Count Magnus, especially because he had been on the Black Pilgrimage and had brought ‘something or someone back with him.’
‘Just at that instant … I (Mr. Wraxall) felt a blow on my foot. Hastily enough I drew it back, and something fell on the pavement with a clash. It was the third, the last of the three padlocks which had fastened the sarcophagus (Count Magnus’). I stooped to pick it up, and - Heaven is my witness that I am writing only the bare truth - before I had raised myself there was a sound of metal hinges creaking, and I distinctly saw the lid shifting upwards. … I was outside that dreadful building in less time than I can write.’ (page 175)


‘it’s perfectly safe in the daytime.’ (page 243)

The story tells about a hidden treasure of Abbot Thomas. Mr. Somerton is interested in Abbot Thomas’ treasure and discovers that the secret has to be found somewhere in the window. Abbot Thomas himself had placed the window illustrating Job Patriarcha, Johannes Evangelista, and Zacharias Propheta.
Mr. Somerton deciphers the meaning of the series of letters written on the window. But there is also a warning: Gare a qui la touche.
‘Then I heard him call softly: All right, sir; and went on pulling out the great bag, in complete darkness. It hung for an instant on the edge of the hole, then slipped forward on to my chest, and put his arms round my neck.’ (page 264)

M.R. James’ character are always quiet teachers who become actors in supernatural events. James usually doesn’t tells who is the ghost, and he doesn’t explain the causes of the events.
James accompanies the readers by hand towards these irrational phenomenons.
It’s worth reading M.R. James for his excellent style and grammar, maybe coming from his Latin’s study (he was a medieval scholar).

‘I found myself at Steinfeld as soon as the resources of civilizations could put me there.’ (pages 254-5)

The best story is The Treasure of Abbot Thomas, followed by Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad; The Mezzotint.

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