Welcome back, Fright Fans, to a new offering for Saturday Frights – even if in this particular case it arrives upon a Sunday. While for obvious reasons, I think it’s safe to say that it is in October when most of us begin to turn our thoughts to ghost stories and horror films. Of course it’s not like there haven’t been a few famous stories about ghosts and other supernatural visitations in the month of December over the years – I think an Author known as Charles Dickens helped out with that a little. It’s not Dickens however that we are going to be enjoying for this Saturday Frights but A Warning to the Curious, a story originally published in 1925 by M.R. James. It was part of a collection in fact entitled A Warning to the Curious and other Ghost Stories. Our offering is from Ghost Stories for Christmas which was a BBC2’s remake of the original series of specials – which I believe were aired in the early ’70s. At least in this version we are fortunate enough to have none other than the late and legendary Sir Christopher Lee acting as storyteller, portraying M.R. James!
Which I need to point out is only fitting as the way I understand it, Sir Christopher Lee did in fact meet M.R. James as a young man. The Author happened to be the provost for Eton college and interviewed Lee – who would actually go to Wellington instead.
Now before we dive into the actual story for A Warning to the Curious I want to say we have Rockford Jay to thank for this wonderful Holiday ghost tale. Over on the Saturday Frights Facebook page, Rockford was kind enough to share another Ghost Stories for Christmas episode. Perhaps a warning upfront, I’m not going to lie – this isn’t exactly an uplifting tale, even with Sir Christopher Lee’s enchanting narration.
Lee as M.R. James regales some students in his study, beside a comfortable fireplace. The students, in this case from King’s College, Cambridge have arrived for a Christmas Eve ritual – to hear another spooky offering from James. With A Warning to the Curious it involves M.R. regaling the collected with a Holiday he had taken to Seaburgh with his good friend, Henry Long. Seaburgh is as you might be able to guess a seaside town and while staying there they make an acquaintance with a man named Paxton.
Paxton it seems has a most curious and interesting tale to share with James and Long. A legend known and believed by the inhabitants of Seaburgh, of three anglo-saxon crowns – hidden and containing a power that protects the place from invasion. In the legend, of the three relics – one was washed out to sea from it’s hiding spot, another was dug up and taken elsewhere but the third remains hidden on the island. Also part of the folklore involves the Ager Family, who were the guardians of this remaining crown – but the Family line appears to have ended. Which is how Paxton, to the astonishment of James and Long, admits he had found the location and managed to dig it up and carried it with him. And for reasons that you will learn…all Paxton wishes to do now is put it back and be done with it.
Like any great ghost story and that is certainly what this offering is, the key to the success is it takes it’s time. While some films and television shows will provide jump scares and the like and pull it off – with M.R. James’ story you aren’t so much scared as unnerved. Yet again that is thanks to the talent and power of Sir Christopher Lee’s acting and his masterful tone of voice.