Leave Me on “Seen”

I remember when Facebook first introduced the feature which would tell people when somebody had opened the messages they had sent them. I always wondered why. I thought to myself that, not only would it be bad for those who suffer from anxiety and fear that their friends are annoyed by their messages, but it puts pressure on people to reply quickly in order to avoid upsetting their friends and making them feel like they don’t care. When speaking to a friend recently, they suggested that it might have been introduced in order to increase the chances people would reply and therefore spend more time in their Messenger app (or on the Facebook website) where they could then be exposed to more advertisements. I’m sure she hit the nail on the head. It’s a subject I wrote about a couple of years ago.

Today, following the global pandemic, life sure has changed. Most significantly, I would say, the pace of things has slowed down a lot. I lost my job due to redundancy a few months ago, but even before that life was a slower pace. Other than working, I’d not do anything else in the day and the thought of doing more was tiring – a stark contrast to the days when I’d go out, visit people and do lots of things after going to work (and in the actual office, rather than from home).

What does that have to do with anything? Well, I find it even harder to keep on top of my messages than I ever did before. It’s to the point where I also expect other people to reply in an equally timely manner. I can remember when one of my messages being “seen” but a reply not sent felt like a bad thing. These days, I’d say it actually feels like a slight positive. If they read it right away, that means they were so excited to see my message they wanted to read it right away – of course, the reply can come days or weeks later, but being “seen” feels good. It’s nice how a former negative has become a current positive (if only a mild one).

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Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move

This game was an interesting development in the Mario vs. Donkey Kong series. Most significantly, it brought the series into 3D for the first time and changed the gameplay quite significantly. On a lesser note, it took “vs.” out of the title, which I liked because I like both Mario and Donkey Kong and I don’t want them to fight one another.

When I first started the game, my initial impression wasn’t great. It feels like it was more cheaply made than the games which went before it in that it has no storyline or opening cutscene and Mario, Donkey Kong and Pauline (the only characters outside of the Minis) only appear as almost entirely static images on the menus. Sometimes they blink and that’s the only thing which stops them from just being pictures. Their presence in the game is minimal. Additionally, the 3D graphics are all very basic and the music, while not bad, is very generic and not all that memorable.

But, you know what? I was wrong to judge it too hastily, because this is actually an excellent game and just as good, if not better, as what went before in the series. The way that the Minis are used has been completely reinvented and the new formula is highly addictive and rewarding.

While the previous three games had been based on directing Minis through 2D maps, you now have to get them from one point to another on a 3D grid-based map. They’ll emerge from a Warp Pipe and you then have to place tiles onto the grid to make a path for them. Different tiles lead the Minis in different direction (so, for example, one might be a straight line going downward, while another is a curve to the right) and you have to place them carefully in order to take them through the safest path. This same gameplay is applied across various game modes.

In Mario’s Main Event, you have to guide your Mini from point A to point B, collecting coins and avoiding obstacles as you go. You are given a random selection of tiles in order to make the path for the Minis and it often won’t be what you’re expecting, so you’ll have to think on your toes. You can’t stop to think because your Mini will fall into the void if you haven’t placed enough tiles for them and you automatically fail if you allow too many tiles to appear without placing them. In Puzzle Palace, you have a set number of certain tiles and there is one specific way to make the right path for your Mini – it creates a very different dynamic, though is still very fun. In Many Mini Mayhem, you have multiple Minis on the map at once and you have to get them all to the exit. In Giant Jungle, your Mini is put onto a giant grid, much bigger than any of the others and you’re timed to get them to the exit, with lots of coins hidden throughout the map for you to collect. Every mode is fun, but I found Mario’s Main Event and Puzzle Palace the most enjoyable, while Giant Jungle was, sadly, my least favourite. Completing these levels gets you stars and these stars are then used to unlock toys in a toy collection, the toys are all different Minis and it’s a good incentive to keep playing.

There are also four mini-games which you can play simply for high scores. One has you throw Mini-Marios at a cube in the sky to break it. One has you fishing for Fly Guys as they fly past. Another has you adjusting the height of Mini-Marios on a platform in order to avoid Bullet Bills. One last one has you throwing Mini-Marios at targets to earn points. They’re all basic, but they’re all pretty fun. The Fly Guy fishing game is probably my favourite.

As usual for the Mario vs. Donkey Kong series, I wish it contained more Donkey Kong elements as aside from Donkey Kong, Pauline and a few jungle palm trees, there’s practically nothing and most of the content is based on Mario games. On the bright side, you can choose which Mini you use (Mini-Mario, Donkey Kong, Pauline, Toad or Princess Peach), so I had Mini-Donkey Kong out all the time.

I think this game is an overlooked gem. Sitting quietly in the 3DS eShop, I feel like a lot of people might never have even heard this, which is a real shame. I used to play this game on the bus and do one or two levels every day. I really enjoyed it and looked forward to playing it. If you’re looking for a fantastic puzzle game to add to your 3DS library, then make it this one!

Rating: 8.8/10

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A Dramatic Change of Taste

I generally like most food (so long as it’s vegetarian friendly). In fact, over the years, a few people have commented that I tend to describe an allegedly unusually large amount of things as “delicious.” Speaking of which, I recently decided to try a type of jalapeno flavoured vegan cheddar cheese. A nice combination of things, I thought, and something that would doubtlessly go very nice in a toasted sandwich.

So I bought the vegan cheese and then the next day used it in a toasted sandwich. As expected, I loved it. It was delicious. I started having it in a sandwich every day for lunch. Roughly a week went past and before long, I didn’t have much left. On the morning I expected to be eating the last of it, I woke up with a strange feeling. I didn’t want to eat any of it. The thought of eating any more utterly repulsed me. I felt like I’d actually be sick if I did eat it. This was odd, because I’d never found myself suddenly hating something before.

I thought to myself “I guess I just don’t want it today” and I didn’t have it. Days went past and now I don’t think I ever will eat the last of it. Whenever I think of it, it’s as if I’m thinking of a really disgusting food. It’s interesting, I think, in that it shows how fickle our sense of taste is. Just like that, we can find we don’t like something. Likewise, I’m sure, we can find that we suddenly do like something too. Our sense of taste can change just like that. There had been times with me previously where certain foods had become less exciting because I’d had them so many times, but I had never gone from loving something to hating something in the space of a day.

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Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne

If you’re after a classic nineteenth century adventure novel, then this is one book I heartily recommend. I’m happy to say that this is one of my very favourites of its kind.

The story follows a group of three people (Professor Aronnax, his servant Conseil and a whaler called Ned Land) who find themselves on board the Nautilus, a highly advanced submarine belonging to the mysterious Captain Nemo. The four of them become involved in various adventures under the sea, all while wondering if any of them will ever get a chance to get home.

Captain Nemo is probably my favourite thing about this book. He’s such an enigmatic character. He has exiled himself to the bottom of the sea, after growing to hate humanity. This is possible due to the extremely advanced capabilities of his submarine and the fact that he makes genius use of the resources available to him under the water. It made me ponder the question, could somebody really manage to live exclusively under the ocean? It’s quite a whimsical image. On board, he has a huge library filled with many books and the idea of this library travelling under the sea was really very charming to me. This was just one of several things which Captain Nemo and his crew have on their vessel.

It wasn’t just his curious living situation which drew me to him though. As the story goes on, you’re left to decide for yourself whether or not Nemo is a sympathetic character and, for me, he certainly was. He acts as a kind of antagonist in that he doesn’t want to allow Aronnax, Conseil or Land to return to land – but this is because he doesn’t want to break his exile. By the end of the novel, you still don’t really know too much about his origins, but I read him as a man who was rebelling against the colonial attitudes of his time. Someone who didn’t want to associate with the increasingly destructive nature of humankind and so had become misanthropic… yet, despite his cold exterior, he’s shown to be a very compassionate man who is very sensitive to the great social injustices of the world. He’s a fascinating character.

The other characters were all pretty likeable too. Ned Land does sometimes come across as a bit of an idiot (and I’m not too keen on him, being a whaler), but even he has his moments. But besides Nemo, I’d say that it was Conseil who was my favourite. He is insanely loyal to Aronnax, even to the extent of endangering his own life, but despite all this, he never loses his calm demeanour – this contrasts (sometimes comedically) against Ned, who’s always quite hot headed. Meanwhile, Aronnax acts as a level-headed mediator and narrator of the story. Aronnax is fascinated by Nemo and is conflicted about whether he truly wants to leave behind the exciting life under the sea, unlike Ned, who definitely wants to get home ASAP. The contrasting interests of the different characters makes for some great reading.

Finally, as someone who finds the ocean really interesting, I enjoyed it being used as the setting for the story. In addition to using several real-life natural phenomenon as story points, it even delves into the world of mythology. At several points throughout the story, the characters head out on the sea bed in diving suits and I just find the whole thing terribly exciting. Plus, you have to respect the fact that Jules Verne did a pretty good job at predicting some of the ways in which submarine technology would improve in the coming years. There was so much to love about this book and if you’ve not read it yet, I strongly recommend it!

Rating: 9.6/10

Buy it here.

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Top 10 Songs from “Weird Al” Yankovic

For my third Top 10 music playlist, I’m covering another artist who was, at one point, my favourite musician: “Weird Al” Yankovic! Around the ages of 13 and 14, I was obsessed with him and barely ever listened to music by anybody else. Nowadays, he may not be my favourite, but I still have a lot of respect for him and his music. Indeed, considering his huge library of exceptional work, it was hard to choose just ten for my playlist!

Sadly, I think people can be quick to dismiss parody music as “silly” and as not holding any real value, but I love his music. A lot of the time, I prefer Weird Al’s parodies over the original songs they’re based on. If I’m having a bad day, his high energy, comedic music is a great way to help lift my spirits. Also, thanks to him making parodies of so many different artists, I have actually been introduced to a number of musicians who I might not have come across otherwise.

It’s not just parodies either. Though his songs are always comedic in some way, he has completely original pieces too and these are equally as good. I love his sense of humour – it’s wacky, but well-intentioned. He doesn’t go out of his way to tear anybody down, but instead sings about day to day things which many people will relate to or understand. I’ve tried to include a nice mixture of parodies and original pieces in my selection below:

  1. Bohemian Polka
  2. White & Nerdy
  3. Everything You Know Is Wrong
  4. Whatever You Like
  5. Headline News
  6. A Complicated Song
  7. Virus Alert
  8. I Was Only Kidding
  9. You Don’t Love Me Anymore
  10. Jurassic Park

If you’ve never listened to Weird Al before, I hope you will enjoy sampling his songs in my playlist and if you’re a fan, I hope you agree with my choices! He’s a fantastic musician and covers a broad range of musical styles in his work, so I think a lot of people will be able to enjoy him.

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Shovel Knight

Shovel Knight was a game which had been on my radar for a while. To me it looked like it was kind of fun, but I also thought that it looked like one of those 2D platformers which focuses too much on being excessively difficult to emulate the style of, say, Mega Man on the NES. I don’t really enjoy excessive difficulty, so that didn’t appeal to me very much. It also looked like it was built on the foundation of NES era nostalgia. While I do like quite a few NES games, I wouldn’t say I was nostalgic for the console. Because of these factors, it took me quite a while to finally give it a chance.

When I did finally sit down and play Shovel Knight, I realised that I should have done so much sooner. This is a game filled with characters I find quite endearing, a setting I genuinely enjoy exploring, a really amazing soundtrack and, most importantly, air-tight gameplay which is endlessly fun. If you’ve ever enjoyed a 2D platformer, I think you’ll love this as it’s one of the best I’ve ever played.

While you might expect the story of a game called Shovel Knight to be a bit goofy, it has some genuine heart in it. Shovel Knight and Shield Knight adventured together for years until Shield Knight became trapped within the Tower of Fate. Years later, torn up by the loss of their friend, Shovel Knight then discovers than an the evil Enchantress has taken over the Tower of Fate and recruited knights across the land to work from her. Shovel Knight then heads out across the land to evict the evil Enchantress from the Tower of Fate, fighting her knights along the way. (I used neutral pronouns because you can decide if Shovel Knight is a man or a woman and even whether or not that affects the story and how people talk to you, which I liked.)

You make your way across a world map, going through several very distinct levels which each have an enemy knight to fight at the end. For example, you go through a creepy graveyard-based level to fight Spectre Knight, you go through a submarine at the bottom of the ocean to fight Treasure Knight and through a fleet of air ships to fight Propeller Knight. Though occasionally a little hard, the game always had a fair level of difficulty and I thoroughly enjoyed every single level. The 8-bit art has been used to create some really beautiful scenery, to an extent which was never possible on actual 8-bit consoles. Every level has its own unique background music too and these 8-bit tunes are wonderfully atmospheric, further adding to the experience.

The game uses check points, but doesn’t have a life system. If you die, you drop some money and go back to the check point. It is possible to recollect the money you dropped the first time, but if you die again, it’s gone for good and you drop more. If you want a real challenge (which I never did) you can destroy the check points to get some extra money.

Money is quite important too. There are a couple of towns and villages you can visit where you can buy new items to attack with (these can also be found in levels), new armour or health upgrades. These are mostly optional, but are well worth tracking down to give yourself an easier time later on. The towns are also home to several little side quests. They’re all populated with bizarre, whimsical characters and they often made me laugh. It was a pleasure interacting with them and it helped make the world feel more lived-in.

I would recommend this game to anyone, even if they don’t like the NES or that era of gaming. I feel like it takes all the best elements of games like Super Mario Bros. 3, Zelda II and Castlevania and mixes them together to create something that surpasses anything that was ever actually possible back in the 80s. It’s like revisiting an old game and finding its aged perfectly and is actually just as amazing as all the people who played it as kids back in the day always said it was.

Rating: 9.5/10

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Cancel Culture

I wanted to write a little bit about so-called “Cancel Culture” since it’s such a hot topic at the moment. What I find frustrating is that so many people, no matter what their perspective on the matter is, seem to write about the subject inaccurately. I thought I’d go over different points related to it and what my own perspective is.

The first is the notion that this concept is anything new. People no longer wishing to consume media from a certain creator after they are revealed to have done something bad or after revealing that they have negative views is nothing new. For example, when Gary Glitter was arrested for paedophilia in 2007 interest in his music took a sharp decline and people on both the left and the right of the political spectrum can agree that it’s reasonable to not want support someone like that. It’s only natural that people would be less interested in something if they consider its creator to be a bad person. You can’t force someone to like something (or someone).

The second is the idea that anyone has really been cancelled at all. J. K. Rowling is an example of somebody who claims to have been cancelled due to her attitudes about trans-women. The reality is that she still has an enormous platform and most publications will happily print whatever she wants to say. I’m also sure no publishing house would turn her down if she wanted to write a book about trans-issues, because she’s just such a big name. She hasn’t been ‘cancelled’ in any sense – all that has happened is that people have asked her to apologise after she has said things which have been deemed as offensive. Her voice has not been oppressed in any way whatsoever. It’s all about her ego.

The third point I want to address is the idea that “Cancel Culture” is a behaviour exclusively exhibited by people who hold on to left-wing beliefs. This is not true. I’ve been involved in the Doctor Who fandom for well over ten years. I can remember people responding to LGBT representation in the show by saying that they would no longer be watching it due to the clear “gay agenda” behind it. More recently, people claimed they would not watch due to the casting of Jodie Whittaker as the first female Doctor in the TV series. This is exactly the same mentality. I don’t think these people were wrong to do this – they’re entitled to watch whatever they want.

My fourth point is with regard to certain episodes of old sitcoms (or entire series) being removed from streaming sites. This is not what any modern day social movement is asking for. Yes, there is a minority of people within these movements who call for things like this, but ultimately the action is being taken by large corporations in an attempt to give solidarity to current social movements. I think this is unproductive as it shifts the conversation on to something which it was never about to begin with. For reference, I think that this kind of thing is harmful. I do think attitudes in certain older shows can be harmful as well, but we mustn’t forget about them, that would be white washing history and acting like these things were never problems to begin with. Furthermore, there is nothing wrong with people watching and enjoying this older shows in spite of these issues – you can enjoy something while also acknowledging that parts of it are problematic. Indeed, something can be simultaneously progressive and problematic at the same time – just look at 60s Star Trek: progressive on issues of race, but uncomfortably sexist at times.

An example of this harmful censorship is the way that some schools in America have banned To Kill a Mocking-Bird due to featuring the N-word. This was an accurate representation of the time and the novel was actually written to raise awareness of the problems of racism. A simple note about historic context should suffice in nearly all situations where peopled are worried about content like this.

So, in conclusion, so-called “Cancel Culture” is nothing new, just a flimsy moral panic created by the media. It’s only natural that people would choose to not to watch things which come from people they dislike and, though usually politically motivated, it’s something that occurs across the political spectrum. It’s a complete non-issue, if you ask me, but I feel that it is being used to avoid talking about more serious problems, because this is ‘easy’ for the average person to understand and take a stance on. People can watch or not watch whatever they want. They always have done and they always will do.

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The Prime Minister’s Cat by Alice Guile

I always like the opportunity to read and review the novels written by people know, and The Prime Minister’s Cat is an example of this. Knowing as many writers as I do, perhaps I should make a special section for books by people I know.

Having said that, my feelings on this book are mixed. The story follows the story of a kitten named Barry who ends up homeless and then goes on a journey which ultimately leads him to become the prime minister’s cat, meeting several colourful characters along the way.

This is a book for children. When I first started, I was reminded of the writing style of Roald Dahl and at only 51 pages, it won’t be difficult for children to finish. The sentences are written simply and structured in a way which is appropriate for the target audience. Additionally, the story of cats and kittens will be appealing to children who will be able to relate the anthropomorphised characters to the animals they have in their own lives. I must also admit that I was rooting for things to go well for Barry, as he’s a nice and inoffensive cat who never really does anything wrong.

So why are my feelings mixed? Well, as much as it is a children’s story about a cat, it was still set within the real world. Nobody knows that the animals secretly talk to each other in their own language and that’s how it fits into reality, which is fine… but I struggled with is how several details didn’t seem true to life. A woman is sent into a care home and the process through which this happens is largely over-simplified and done very speedily. At one point, Barry hides in a restaurant’s dumb waiter and eats a little bit of the food from each plate as it goes up. I really struggled to imagine how a cat could hide undetected in a dumb waiter, especially while eating some of the food (which I’d think would leave obvious signs). A lot of the side characters were just stereotypes too – for example, the French waiter who is very uptight and speaks in a very heavily French accent (which is written in the text when he speaks). I don’t think it’s a good idea to include stereotypes in children’s fiction. These are just a couple of examples, but there were other issues.

A final niggle, was that there were a fair few errors in spelling and formatting. For young children learning to read, I think it’s especially important that these things be ironed out. Meanwhile, things like the font randomly changing sizes between paragraphs just grated on me a little. These may not bother other people quite so much as they do me, but as someone who has done a lot of work as an editor and proofreader, they really leapt out and were quite distracting.

Overall, it’s a book that you can read in just a couple of days. There are a few fun little references to history throughout it and some genuinely funny moments (The President of the United States’ reaction to seeing a rat, for example, made me laugh out loud), but I can’t deny that there are problems with it.

Rating: 5/10

Buy it here.

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Faith in Humanity

Following the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States and of the results of the EU referendum, I made a blog post about how despite all that, my faith in humanity had remained strong. That most harmful attitudes are born out of ignorance rather than of bad intentions and that it was important not to mistake one for the other. I should start by saying that I still stand by what I said in that earlier entry, but that the events of 2020 (in particular, the ongoing pandemic) have certainly made my faith waver.

I suppose it can be put down to pure ignorance, but it’s very depressing to see quite so many people completely disregarding any guidelines during the pandemic, even though it could literally save lives. I find myself somewhat frustrated, after going out of my way to ensure the safety of others, only to find very few (if any) others making the same effort during any given venture out of the house. I understand that a lot of people will be ignorant, or won’t believe the situation to be all that serious due to the attitudes and behaviour of the government, but it becomes increasingly difficult to believe that this is the primary route cause of this behaviour, rather than people simply not wanting to make the effort.

But as much as this may have caused my faith in humanity to waver, it hasn’t extinguished it entirely. Indeed, the main thing that stops me from despairing of the human race entirely, is the kindness and empathy of my friends. On top of a long history of expressing that kindness towards me and conducting excellently themselves as people, I see them respond to the situation and take it seriously. For that I am very grateful and it is nice to receive confirmation, once again, that my friends are the best of humanity.

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Collected Ghost Stories by M. R. James

I’ve always thought that short stories were an excellent medium for the horror genre. Often things are creepier when they’re more mysterious and in these stories, M. R. James follows this philosophy perfectly. Each one gives you just enough information that you know something spooky is happening and you have clues laying around to put together and come to conclusions of your own, but a lot of things remain shrouded in mystery. Some of the following stories are rather frightening, while one or two fall a bit flat. Interestingly, there’s a dark sense of humour which seems to run through a few of them too. Anyway, here are my thoughts on each of his stories:

Canon Alberic’s Scrapbook
The first story in the anthology gets things off to a good start. A man called Dennistoun (a pseudonym) comes to study an old church in a small French town. The people he meets are all very nervous about something and he soon finds a creepy old scrapbook. I felt uneasy throughout – a great ghost story.

Lost Hearts
A young orphan named Stephen Elliott is adopted by his eccentric cousin Mr. Abney and lives with him in his secluded country home. Befriending the housekeeper Mrs. Bunch, he discovers that he’s actually the third child to be adopted by Abney, with the other two having gone missing. Things get very sinister in this one towards the end. A dark tale indeed.

The Mezzotint
A man comes into possession of a print of a house. At first it doesn’t seem too interesting – though later he looks at it and realises that there’s a person in the picture too. Later he looks again and they’re in a different position. Not quite as creepy as the previous two, I didn’t think, but an interesting and mysterious tale nonetheless.

The Ash Tree
In the past, a woman is executed for being a witch – a dreadful occasion. Later, the man who condemned her dies mysteriously. Did she somehow kill him from beyond the grave? Things get fairly creepy towards the end, but I was somewhat torn about how I felt with James’ depiction of the witch trials and their victims. It felt a touch insensitive.

Number 13
This was a really good one. A man stays in a hotel and sees that they don’t have a listing for room 13, but instead go from 12 to 14. But then, despite its apparent non-existence, he finds it in the corridor and hears strange sounds coming from within. Very clever and a real spine tingler!

Count Magnus
A man visits a small town in Sweden in order to write a travel guide to the area. While there, he finds information about a mysterious and ruthless man, Count Magnus, who used to live there. I can’t really tell you anything without spoiling it and ruining the tension, but I found this one the most disturbing so far, in my journey through the book.

‘Oh, Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad’
A rational man who does not believe in ghosts agrees to check out an old ruin by the sea for someone while on holiday. As I’m sure you can guess, he has experiences which cause him to doubt his disbelief in ghosts! This one is more of a slow build than the others and the finale is pretty darn scary.

The Treasure of Abbot Thomas
This is one which I wouldn’t say is necessarily creepy and tense all the way through, but has a nice sense of mystery about it. A man named Mr. Somerton starts searching for the supposed lost treasure of the long dead Abbot Thomas. I really like it’s ending and thought it was appropriately spooky.

A School Story
This one was noticeably more simple than the ones which went before it and I suppose it did feel a bit weaker because of it – nonetheless, it is still a pretty scary story and I felt it was quite a bit darker than the other stories in that it focused on school boys, rather than adults.

The Rose Garden
A couple who have recently purchased a new property are keen to put a rose garden in place in certain spot in the grounds. Unfortunately, treading into that area results in people suffering from horrible nightmares. A dark history surrounding the patch of ground is soon discovered. Not quite as scary as the others, but still pretty good.

The Tractate Middoth
This was a bit of a weird one, I thought. It starts with a creepy encounter in a library with a mysterious figure taking the book somebody is looking for, but then disappearing without trace. It then ties into a bizarre family history, which involved a comically bitter old man. It certainly wasn’t a boring read, but not exactly the frightening tale some of the others were.

Casting the Runes
After a string of stories which I felt weren’t quite as good as the rest, I was really pleased with this one. A man submits a paper on witchcraft and it is dismissed by an expert from the British Museum. It soon becomes apparent that the author of the paper is tracking down the man who dismissed it. This one was a bit longer, but it had the perfect amount of mysterious and unnerving goings on. One of the best.

The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral
This one didn’t stand out to me particularly. It involves some mysterious deaths with suggested supernatural involvement and, admittedly, it is a bit creepy at times, but overall, despite being one of the longer ones in the collection, it was also one of the least memorable.

Martin’s Close
I really enjoyed this one. It’s very different in that it is mostly told as a transcript from a trial held hundreds of years ago, in which a man (George Martin) is accused of murdering a young woman (Ann Clark). What sets this apart from the others, is that I was much more invested in the characters and felt that they were developed to a greater extent than those in the other stories, who felt more like they were just there to experience something ghostly.

Mr Humphreys and His Inheritance
Mr Humphreys inherits a country estate from his recently deceased uncle. This estate includes a large, neglected hedge maze with a dark history. As someone who quite likes hedge mazes and appreciates their capacity to be quite creepy, I really enjoyed this one.

The Residence at Whitminster
This story tells of two creepy instances happening in the lives of people living in an estate at Whitminster at two different points in history. Unfortunately, this was another which failed to leave very much of an impression on me.

The Diary of Mr Poynter
A man named James Denton comes into possession of an old diary which, of course, once belonged to a man named Mr Poynter. Inside, there’s a piece of paper with a very weird design on it. What I liked about this particular story was that it was more mysterious than some of the others and what happens in the end is really bizarre and suitably frightening.

An Episode of Cathedral History
M. R. James hated it when people modernised or changed ancient churches and cathedrals. This comes across heavily in all of the stories. This one is almost darkly comical in the way that he punishes characters for the sin of a modernised refurbishment.

Two Doctors
The story tells the tale of two doctors – one interested in the occult, one against it. One of them dies and the other is implicated in their murder. Unfortunately, this was another which fell short for me. I felt that Martin’s Close was a much better story centred around a murder.

The Haunted Dolls’ House
Endearingly, this story ends with an apology from James, saying that it’s basically the same idea as The Mezzotint – I disagree with that. In it, somebody comes into possession of a creepy dolls house… the dolls within seem to enact a very distressing story. A short one, but a good one. I may even consider it better than The Mezzotint.

The Uncommon Prayer-Book
A man named Davidson finds out a set of antique prayer-books which are very atypical and potentially highly valuable… but they seem to have a dark history behind them. I was pretty satisfied with how this one played out.

A Neighbour’s Landmark
A fairly straight forward ghost story about a haunted wood, with the ghostly activity the result of an injustice in the past. It works pretty well and I enjoyed it, with some fairly frightening moments.

A View from a Hill
This is more of an unusual one and I appreciated it for its originality. A young man looks through an old pair of binoculars and sees things on the horizon which don’t align with what he can see without them and what others know of the landscape. He soon finds that those binoculars have a strange history attached to them…

A Warning to the Curious
This was one of my favourite in the collection. It’s about a legend surrounding three crowns hidden around a coastal area which supposedly keep the country safe from foreign invaders. Naturally, a young academic ends up investigating this and looking for the crowns. I can’t really talk about it without spoiling anything, but it had a lot of very creepy moments which worked well.

An Evening’s Entertainment
This story takes a somewhat unusual format: it’s essentially a transcript of people telling stories around the fire place late at night. I enjoyed this quite a lot. The story it tells is a tragic one and features what has been speculated to be a romantic/sexual relationship between two men. It certainly makes sense to read the characters like that and I thought it made for an interesting read.

There was a Man Dwelt by a Churchyard
This story rather cleverly ties into The Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare in that James completes a ghost story which begins to be told within the play and is never finished. Though the story is a relatively basic one, I did enjoy the concept behind it and it’s short enough to not outstay its welcome.

Rats
This was one of the slightly shorter stories, but it did a good job of packing a nice spooking punch. A man goes to stay in an isolated inn and finds something very strange in one of the rooms – perhaps rats scurrying under the sheet of a bed? I quite liked its conclusion.

After Dark in the Playing Fields
This was a strange one, certainly the most absurd in the collection. A man encounters a talking owl while out on a night walk. They bicker with one another and it’s pretty funny… though the very ending may just send a chill down your spine.

Wailing Well
The last story in the collection is one of my favourites, so it’s nice that ends with a bang, so to speak. This is another of the darkly comic ones, with the main character being a trouble making school boy who wants to investigate an old haunted well (even though everyone tells him not to). The ‘ghost’ of this story is definitely the creepiest one and it’s ending is really dark.

After the last story, James also talks a little about some story ideas he had, but couldn’t ever finish, which are interesting to read. Overall, there are some fantastic stories in this collection. Having read them all, a few thoughts I have on his work on the whole are that he never really features women in his stories (they have tiny roles, if they’re in it at all) and practically all of his main characters feel like exactly the same person (a na├»ve academic looking to investigate historic mysteries or curiosities) and when I read them all consecutively, I did somewhat wish there was more variety, though in isolation it’s not a problem with any individual story. It is also noticeable to me that his longer stories (the ones around 20 pages long) tend to drag a bit and he’s at his best when he sticks to 10 pages or less. Nonetheless there are exceptions to all of these points and, on the whole, I consider this a collection of some high quality short stories and I can recommend it to any fans of horror!

Rating: 8.4/10

Buy it here.

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