31 Shots of Shock #8: ‘A Warning to the Curious’ by M. R. James

*Title: ‘A Warning to the Curious’ by M.R. James.
Date Read: 08 October 2011
Available Online?: YES, but for this review I read from, M.R. James: The Collected Ghost Stories (Oxford University Press)
Briefly: The narrator relates a story related to him, about a young fellow who visits the seaside town of Seaburgh (a fictionalised version of one of James’ favourite places – Aldeburgh, Suffolk), and becoming overly curious about a legend concerning three Anglican crowns, and the burying of them to protect against foreign invasion.
Afterthoughts: By God, I’m a big fan of M. R. James but even my patience was tested when reading this ‘short’ story. It’s not that it’s a particularly badly written tale (I don’t think James can do ‘badly written’), it’s just, well, it seemed to drag on and on forever, with little in the way of anything interesting happening for the most part. As a tale of terror it works – mainly because a subtle yet palpable tension exists throughout – but the real value of this story in my mind lies with James painting an almost perfect geographical picture of Aldeburgh (the World Travel Blog confirms this). Definitely a story that’s perfect for those who like to explore literary places in the physical world, but as a ghost story meant to thrill and chill? Well, I’ve read better, and especially from James.
Notable Quote: After some remarks, which I forget, he became rather confidential. ‘You’ll think it very odd of me’ (this was the sort of way he began), ‘but the fact is I’ve had something of a shock.’ Well, I recommended a drink of some cheering kind, and we had it. The waiter coming in made an interruption (and I thought our young man seemed very jumpy when the door opened), but after a while he got back to his woes again. There was nobody he knew in the place, and he did happen to know who we both were (it turned out there was some common acquaintance in town), and really he did want a word of advice, if we didn’t mind. Of course we both said: ‘By all means,’ or ‘Not at all,’ and Long put away his cards. And we settled down to hear what his difficulty was.

Rating: ★★½☆☆

*Story read as part of my 2011 31 Shots of Shock reading project.

About Rob

Rob, a self-confessed bibliophile, is without any hope of rehabilitation. He gets unnaturally excited over anything book-shaped, and if book sniffing were a crime then he would have been locked up years ago (which wouldn't bother him in the slightest provided his cell was lined with books).


  1. Far from my favourite of his. It got made into a TV program once bizarrely. A Christmas ghost story sort of thing. He’s written far better though so why this was chosen utterly mystified me.