Horror as a genre has been popular in English Literature ever since Mary Shelley decided to pen down Frankenstein, and several authors have tried their hand at exploring the possibilities of creating a good horror story. It sure is a delight for any reader, the kind that you visualize at the back of your mind till the end of the day, and the kind that you can not wipe out of your mind even while you sleep. The Haunted Doll’s House by M. R. James is a collection of a few such short stories that leave you amazed in horror and surprise, the titular story being the best one.
The Haunted Doll’s House (Review)
Any fan of the horror genre will be acquainted with James’s stories, and his unique writing style that critics have termed as ”Jamesian”, a style characterized by an antique or seaside setting, reserved protagonists who maintain a certain distance from the normal world and a fascination for antique objects. All these motifs are widely present even in this collection of short stories, and they surely form a perfect concoction for brewing a spine-tingling horror story. Most of the stories in this collection have been taken from James’s 1904 collection Ghost Stories from The Antiquary, one of his most popular short story collections.
The exploration of haunting residing in certain objects is probably an old but nevertheless interesting motif. The Doll’s House in the titular story is a strange antique object that Mr. Dillet acquires and invites strange phenomena to occur in his life. In ‘O Whistle, and I’ll come to you, My Lad’, another captivating short story titled after a poem by Robert Burns, James uses a strange whistle found by a professor to arouse fear. The whistle reeks of antiquity, with two Latin phrases, one of which translates to – ‘Who is this who is coming?’ In ‘The Ash-Tree’, an ancient ash tree outside the window causes trouble in the life of Sir Richard Fell, who inherits the house. These antique objects arouse both interest and curiosity in the reader, something I anticipate while reading a book.
Critics have often tried to apply a psychoanalytic approach to James’s stories to discern psychological undercurrents in the stories. For most parts of it, you meet characters who are fragmented from society or do not actively participate with it. The question of whether the haunting is of the objects or a delusion of the individual remains, and no matter how the reader wants to approach the text, there remains room for further analysis. These horror stories are best suited for winter reading with a cup of coffee or tea, and if you are comfortable with a little complex language, you will enjoy this book immensely. The spaces provided for the reader to let their imagination fill the blanks and the often ambiguous endings, make them ideal short stories as well. This book certainly deserves a 5-star rating!