‘The Game Of Bear’ – An Incomplete M.R. James story
The handwritten manuscript of ‘The Game Of Bear’ was found within the author’s archive of papers at King’s College, Cambridge and concerns the curious case of Henry Purdue, a man preyed upon by a sinister cousin who considers herself somehow wronged by the family. One of Purdue’s school friends, now an elderly man, recounts the uncanny tale to another friend, while grandchildren cause havoc playing ‘the dreadful game of “Bear”’ up and down the staircase.
The story is typical James: it is set in a rural, close-knit East Anglian location, a church and an inheritance both feature and the protagonists, Purdue and his two friends, are elderly men and Cambridge graduates. The house where the spooky goings on occur is a grand and secluded mansion, which stands on its own in the clearing of a wood.
Frustratingly, there is no record of when ‘The Game of Bear’ was written, nor whether it was intended for any particular publication. Permission for its publication 150 years after the author’s birth has been kindly granted by the family of M.R. James, and the story was transcribed by Rosemary Pardoe, who publishes the Ghosts & Scholars M.R. James Newsletter, a small-press print magazine devoted to James and other writers of his tradition.
M.R. James – The Greatest Victorian Ghost Story Writer
Montague Rhodes James was born on 1 August 1862 in Goodnestone Parsonage near Canterbury, Kent. While best known for his ghost stories, all written under the name M.R. James, he was also a medieval scholar and educator of some note, holding the post of provost at both King’s College, Cambridge, from 1905 to 1918, and Eton College, from 1918 to 1936. He also served as director of Cambridge’s Fitzwilliam Museum, from 1893 to 1908, for which he secured a great number of important paintings and manuscripts, including several Titians.
Say the name M.R. James to anyone with a predilection for ghouls and the supernatural and you’ll meet a fan of the long deceased writer’s work. Although August 2012 marks the 150th anniversary of his birth, the whispering drama of M.R. James tales continues to create new recruits. James’ narratives are led by furtive academics and antiquarians and their uncanny discoveries, and many classic devices used by the author are now enshrined within the ghost writing rulebook.
James ghost stories were published in the following collections: Ghost Stories of an Antiquary, 1904; More Ghost Stories of an Antiquary, 1911; A Thin Ghost and Others, 1919; A Warning to the Curious and Other Ghost Stories, 1936.
The best-known and most loved M.R. James stories were re-imagined in the 20th century in a series of BBC short films, ‘A Ghost Story for Christmas’, which aired between 1971 and 1978 on BBC1. This series was revived in 2005 on BBC4.