Author: Montague Rhodes James
Title: A View from a Hill
Published: 2011, Wordsworth Tales of Mystery and the Supernatural, ebook edition (originally published 1925 in The Living Age and then subsequently in James’ 1925 collection A Warning to the Curious and Other Ghost Stories)
A historian, Fanshawe, visits his friend in South West England to visit the local area. On climbing a local hill and seeing a strange sight through some unusual binoculars which belong to his friend, Fanshawe begins to investigate.
This had been on my to-read list for some time, after first reading about it in various “scariest short stories” lists. I had never read any M. R. James before this either, so I thought this might be a good introduction to his work. I bought the ebook of the Wordsworth edition (detailed above) and I’ll be reading it on and off over the next few months.
This was a good short story and it’s seemingly a good introduction to James’ style. I didn’t really think it was all that effective as a “horror” story, and I was also kind of puzzled as to how it made these “scariest story” lists. It was definitely creepy but I think some of the other aspects of the tale outweighed any of the dread and terror from the tale. For instance, the three main characters seem pretty flat and I don’t recall any reason given for Fanshawe’s visit to his friend’s home. Not that this kind of exposition is required for a scary story, but it just made the subsequent horror less effective.
Still, the scary parts are executed well: Patten’s descriptions of the mysterious historian Baxter are very good – the images of Baxter’s collection of boiled bones, and the exclamation of “Do you want to look through a dead man’s eyes?” are very effective. Also, Fanshawe’s incident in the forest atop the hill is chilling, with suggestions of unseen entities grabbing at Fanshawe’s legs as he tries to escape.
This was an enjoyable, short read but if it wasn’t so well known I’d say it was ultimately forgettable. Some of the concepts, especially the “dead man’s eyes” were interesting but overall it wasn’t a tale that spooked me. I did like James’ writing style and I will be reading more of his – I think the next tale I read will be “Oh, Whistle and I’ll Come to you, my Lad”.