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The Haunted Dolls' House

The Haunted Dolls' House

by M R James

The Haunted Dolls' House

Antiquarian Paxton travels to a small town on the coast of Norfolk and learns of a legend concerning three crowns buried on the coast thousands of years ago to protect the land against marauding Vikings. Paxton tries to find the remaining crown, unaware of the supernatural presence that protects it.

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M R James

Montague Rhodes James was born at Goodnestone Parsonage in Kent in 1862, where his father was curate. From an early age James developed an interest in medieval books and antiquities and was more likely to be found poring over old volumes in the library than playing with other children. He himself recalled that at his first children's party, he 'burst into tears and requested to be led from the apartment', and was easily comforted by being taken to the library and left there. When he was six, he became ill with bronchitis and, while recuperating, expressed a desire to see a seventeenth-century Dutch bible, which belonged to a friend of his father's, Bishop Ryle. It was duly sent to him and he reportedly sat up in bed, examining the volume intently.

James was educated at Eton and then at King's College, Cambridge, where he became assistant in classical archaeology at the Fitzwilliam Museum. He was elected a Fellow of King's after writing a dissertation, The Apocalypse of St Peter, and then lectured in Divinity, becoming Dean of the College in 1889. A distinguished medievalist, he published a number of bibliographical and palaeographical works, often editing volumes for specialized bibliographical and historical societies. James was exceptionally gifted and his unusually keen memory and hard work meant that he often produced pioneering studies. His translation of the Apocryphal New Testament in 1924 was one such work. He was made Provost of King's in 1905 and was Vice Chancellor of the University from 1913 to 1915. In 1918 he became Provost of Eton. He made many trips to Europe, often for research, the first of which was made with a friend on a double tricycle. M. R. James died in 1936.

Although a great scholar of his day, it is now for his ghost stories, many set in East Anglia, that James is best remembered. Fascinated by the supernatural, he was an admirer of the Irish mystery-writer Sheridan Le Fanu, whose ghost stories he edited. His stories were usually first published in magazines such as the Cambridge Review, but some were written for special occasions. Wailing Well is one such story, composed for the gathering of the Eton College Boy Scouts in 1927. The stories were published in several volumes between 1904 and 1931, including Ghost Stories of an Antiquary (1904), A Thin Ghost and Others (1919) and A Warning to the Curious (1925). His memoirs, Eton and King's, were published in 1926.