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Author Topic: Pseudopod 275: Wailing Well  (Read 6164 times)
Bdoomed
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« on: April 01, 2012, 12:44:09 PM »

Pseudopod 275: Wailing Well

By M.R. James.
One of the masters of ghost story writing - he codified the subgenre of “the antiquarian ghost story”. Click the link under his name to read more. Almost all of his works are now in the public domain. This tale was written in 1927 to be read ’round the campfire to Scouts at their summer camp. It can be read online here

“Two ingredients most valuable in the concocting of a ghost story are the atmosphere and the nicely managed crescendo.… Let us, then, be introduced to the actors in a placid way; let us see them going about their ordinary business, undisturbed by forebodings, pleased with their surroundings; and into this calm environment let the ominous thing put out its head, unobtrusively at first, and then more insistently, until it holds the stage. Another requisite, in my opinion, is that the ghost should be malevolent or odious: amiable and helpful apparitions are all very well in fairy tales or in local legends, but I have no use for them in a fictitious ghost story.’”


Your reader this week is David Moore - click his name to visit his Livejournal page. David works for Solaris and Abaddon Books, reads stories for DARK FICTION audio magazine (check out some stories he’s narrated here, here & here) and has a story coming up in the April 4th released anthology PANDEMONIUM: STORIES IN THE SMOKE, in which Charles Dickens is given the genre treatment. He has earned the gentle ministrations of our tentacles and our unending gratitude for a late-game save!

“‘I don’t know as there’s anything much wrong with the water,’ said the shepherd. ‘All I know is, my old dog wouldn’t go through that field, let alone me or anyone else that’s got a morsel of brains in their heads.’

‘More fool them,’ said Stanley Judkins, at once rudely and ungrammatically. ‘Who ever took any harm going there?’ he added.

‘Three women and a man,’ said the shepherd gravely. ‘Now just you listen to me. I know these ’ere parts and you don’t, and I can tell you this much: for these ten years last past there ain’t been a sheep fed in that field, nor a crop raised off of it — and it’s good land, too. You can pretty well see from here what a state it’s got into with brambles and suckers and trash of all kinds. You’ve got a glass, young gentleman,’ he said to Wilfred Pipsqueak, ‘you can tell with that anyway.’

‘Yes,’ said Wilfred, ‘but I see there’s tracks in it. Someone must go through it sometimes.’

‘Tracks!’ said the shepherd. ‘I believe you I see four tracks: three women and a man.’

‘What d’you mean, three women and a man?’ said Stanley, turning over for the first time and looking at the shepherd (he had been talking with his back to him till this moment: he was an ill-mannered boy).

‘Mean? Why, what I says: three women and a man.’

‘Who are they?’ asked Algernon. ‘Why do they go there?’

‘There’s some p’r’aps could tell you who they was,’ said the shepherd, ‘but it was afore my time they come by their end. And why they goes there still is more than the children of men can tell: except I’ve heard they was all bad ‘uns when they was alive.””




Listen to this week's Pseudopod.
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Fenrix
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« Reply #1 on: April 02, 2012, 12:14:00 AM »

And though I stand as King Under the Mountain, I am burdened yet again with the need to locate and read another collection of ghost stories. I've been working my way through the complete works of Ambrose Bierce for a while, which I picked up because Episode 200 and Oil of Dog kept picking at the corner of my brain.

The two could have been contemporaries, although geography and their loyalty to region would conspire to keep them apart. Based on the provided quote, I think he would be bothered by the all-too-frequent non-malevolent ghosts of Bierce.

Anyone have suggestions for the best collection of James's work?
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Sgarre1
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« Reply #2 on: April 02, 2012, 08:45:51 PM »

As James is now in the public domain, there are quite a few "complete tales" out there (he wasn't particularly prolific).

Re:  Bierce/James - I think James would have looked askance at the pre-Freudian proto-psychology of Bierce pieces like "The Death of Halpin Frayser" and, as James was very obviously a religious man, the cynical, gloomy view of the afterlife in a story like "The Moonlit Road" (RASHOMAN before there was RASHOMAN!) would have struck him as irreligious (to say nothing of THE DEVIL'S DICTIONARY).  He might have dug "The Middle Toe Of The Right Foot", though!

Bierce would have probably found James too stuffy and dusty of an academic.
« Last Edit: April 02, 2012, 10:07:19 PM by Sgarre1 » Logged
Balu
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« Reply #3 on: April 04, 2012, 05:59:18 PM »

It's great to see these classics getting the Pseudopod treatment.

The moral of the story was very apt - using your head and relying on yourself, not adults, is pretty much exactly what the Baden Powell wanted to teach. I like that it translated all the way through, even to the point where the young listeners were left to work out the moral for themselves.

It makes sense that this one was written specifically for the Scouts. This guy really knew his audience.
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Umbrageofsnow
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« Reply #4 on: April 05, 2012, 02:40:32 PM »

I've been working my way through the complete works of Ambrose Bierce for a while, which I picked up because Episode 200 and Oil of Dog kept picking at the corner of my brain.
...
Anyone have suggestions for the best collection of James's work?

I'm glad I'm not the only one who went out and bought the complete works of Bierce after Episode 200!

As far as James goes, I've been reading stories of his on and around Christmas for a couple years now, and he really isn't that prolific.  Off the top of my head, I think he only published around 30 or so stories, most of them relatively short. They are all or mostly all in the Public Domain, so Wikisource and Gutenberg are reasonable places to read them, although I am quite a fan of the Librivox recording of "Ghost Stories of An Antiquary" read by Peter Yearsley.  He has an excellent voice and is probably my favorite Librivox reader.  The Librivox version of "Ghost Stories of an Antiquary" is actually James' first two collections (out of 4).  The first eight stories are from the original book of the same name, and the rest are from "More Ghost Stories of an Antiquary" which was published a couple of years later.  I'd start there, if only because I find audio fiction goes faster for me in terms of actually getting around to reading it.

That said, you need to pay attention to some of the endings and I know I got more out of some stories by reading/listening to them more than once.

I think the 8 stories in "Ghost Stories of an Antiquary" (I've typed that too many times, haven't I) are a pretty good overview of James.  They aren't universally his strongest stories, but neither are they his weakest.  I'd put "The Ash Tree", "Lost Hearts", and "Oh Whistle and I'll Come to You My Lad" in my all-time James favorites, but tastes vary.

 I do think that those first 8 stories hit most of his major themes and techniques and give a pretty good overview of his writing though.  And some are weird little gems.  For example, I didn't find "Canon Alberic's Scrap-Book" scary at all, but it's still one of those stories I find myself thinking about at weird times, and I'm not really sure what quality gives it that.

One last thing: WHATEVER YOU DO, DO NOT LISTEN TO "THE TREASURE OF ABBOT THOMAS" IN AUDIO.  It is one of the only stories not made for reading aloud.  It contains long stretches of Latin and gibberish cipher letters that look much better on the page than read aloud.  It isn't a bad story, but it is unlistenable.  But being the thorough folks they are, Librivox recorded it anyway.

Anyway, if you didn't pick up on it, I'm quite the M.R. James fan and I'd always be happy to talk about any of the stories with you if you want discussion.  Maybe we should start an M.R. James book-club next Christmas or something...
« Last Edit: April 05, 2012, 02:44:18 PM by Umbrageofsnow » Logged
ElectricPaladin
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« Reply #5 on: April 05, 2012, 02:44:23 PM »

One last thing: WHATEVER YOU DO, DO NOT LISTEN TO "THE TREASURE OF ABBOT THOMAS" IN AUDIO.  It is one of the only stories not made for reading aloud.  It contains long stretches of Latin and gibberish cypher letters that look much better on the page than read aloud.  It isn't a bad story, but it is unlistenable.  But being the thorough folks they are, Librivox recorded it anyway.

For the same reason, there will never be an audio book of House of Leaves...
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Sgarre1
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« Reply #6 on: April 07, 2012, 05:58:40 PM »

My original intention was to do "The Mezzotint".  I forget why I abandoned that - perhaps it was the static, observational aspect of the "horror element" in it.  The BBC, of course, has been doing superior readings of James for years - as well as notable TV adaptations - and I didn't think I could top the reading of "A Warning To The Curious" that was included on the BFI dvd of their production of that story.  KPFA's THE BLACK MASS has already done superior versions of "The Ash Tree" and "An Evening's Entertainment" back in the 1960s.

I ended up choosing "Wailing Well" for two reasons (although I must admit that the jokey names caused me a little worry).  One was that it was specifically written to be read aloud and two was that the climax had always stuck in my head as very modern - a moment of horror reduced by distance to a wordless spectacle which can only be observed and not influenced in any way.  Oh, and additionally that the climax is a nasty piece of work indeed, as the poor kid is subsumed into the monstrous group!
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Yaekmon
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« Reply #7 on: April 09, 2012, 10:21:21 PM »

Oh, and additionally that the climax is a nasty piece of work indeed, as the poor kid is subsumed into the monstrous group!

I agree, it's this corruption that makes the story truly horrific, and is the basis for much of the "monster" type horror stories: particularly vampire and zombie stories. If the boy had simply died, that would have been tragic, but he was transformed - damned to walk the earth as a hungry spectre - and presumably robbed of his ascent into heaven.

Perhaps a slightly heavy-handed parable about the consequences of disobeying one's elders!
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haneybd87
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« Reply #8 on: April 10, 2012, 12:36:16 PM »

Was the narrator of this drunk? He kept slurring and stuttering, he was very hard to understand.
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« Reply #9 on: April 11, 2012, 05:29:20 PM »

Was the narrator of this drunk? He kept slurring and stuttering, he was very hard to understand.

Rule One, people.  Is it that hard to remember a single rule?
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« Reply #10 on: April 15, 2012, 10:58:53 AM »

I understood him just fine.


I really enjoyed the tale. A good mixture of humor and horror.

It is wonderful that you are giving props to the old masters. It felt the tiniest bit dated. For my tastes, I would have liked a little more time spent when they watched him encounter the ghosts.

Anyone for a toasted marshmallow? I like mine flaming.

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« Reply #11 on: April 18, 2012, 08:23:41 AM »

Was the narrator of this drunk? He kept slurring and stuttering, he was very hard to understand.

Rule One, people.  Is it that hard to remember a single rule?
How was I being insulting? I was merely stating the truth, he sounded drunk and was hard to understand.
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Bdoomed
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« Reply #12 on: April 18, 2012, 09:59:51 AM »

Was the narrator of this drunk? He kept slurring and stuttering, he was very hard to understand.

Rule One, people.  Is it that hard to remember a single rule?
How was I being insulting? I was merely stating the truth, he sounded drunk and was hard to understand.
Would you like to be similarly accused of being drunk in a narration you donated your free time to make?  No?  Well there you go.

There are nicer ways of saying what you wanted to say, is all.  Smiley
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Fenrix
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« Reply #13 on: April 21, 2012, 11:21:24 AM »

Was the narrator of this drunk? He kept slurring and stuttering, he was very hard to understand.

Rule One, people.  Is it that hard to remember a single rule?
How was I being insulting? I was merely stating the truth, he sounded drunk and was hard to understand.

Your message comes across like that of an uncouth nerf herder who punches kittens, skimps on tips, and asks for chocolate when someone hands you a free vanilla ice cream cone. I'm not being insulting, I'm merely stating the truth.

What it sounded like to me was he filled in for a reading on a very short deadline and did it in a single take or a minimal number of takes. Have you ever tried reading something from the written page without making any mistakes, stutters, stumbles, or "uh's", all while trying to get compelling tone, inflection, and pacing? I challenge you to try it out some time and rethink how you approach the matter.
« Last Edit: April 21, 2012, 08:41:05 PM by Fenrix » Logged

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« Reply #14 on: May 14, 2012, 11:26:17 AM »

I had no problems with the reading.  I like M.R. James's voice and I did not have any trouble understanding it, despite listening at 80mph and trying to keep the volume only just loud enough to hear so as not to annoy the other passengers. 

This was a fun bit of classical style horror, with a moral.  It was obvious pretty early on that the unruly boy would meet an unpleasant end, but I didn't mind that, it was just a buildup to the inevitable.  I tend to like a lot of stories from this era just for the style of the narrative voice that was popular in those days.
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Marguerite
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« Reply #15 on: May 23, 2012, 05:23:38 PM »

I particularly enjoyed M.R. James' reading, because I thought his pronounced and differentiated accents (I could tell the shepherd and teachers apart) made the piece more immersive.
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« Reply #16 on: July 02, 2014, 01:36:09 PM »

I have always loved M.R. James' ghost stories, ever since I was a kid. He is probably my favourite. I love his style of the ghost being there all along, pursuing the protagonist (and the reader) and you didn't even realise until it was too late.

I'm sorry to see this is the only story of his on Pseudopod, I noticed that the Mezzotint was nearly chosen. It is my favourite story of his and would love to hear it.
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Sgarre1
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« Reply #17 on: July 03, 2014, 07:26:53 AM »

Happy to have picked one you liked.  My soft rule for Pseudopod is that I'd like to give the "Classic" authors one slot only - only because there are so many yet to do.  But things may change in regards to that, who can say?
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Fenrix
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« Reply #18 on: July 03, 2014, 08:12:21 AM »

It's worth mentioning that the most recent episode of A Podcast to the Curious was about The Wailing Well. http://www.mrjamespodcast.com/2014/06/episode-37-wailing-well/

Fans of this story should check it out, and fans of M R James should check out the podcast as a whole.
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« Reply #19 on: July 08, 2014, 11:06:11 PM »

Ooh, MR James podcast!  Is it like the HPL Literary Podcast (which I really liked except when they kept staunchly insisting that he totes wasn't racist because they liked his writing)?
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