Christmas is the season of goodwill to all, a time for merriment, joy, peace and… horror?
I think that perhaps it is a British tradition, but spine-tingling terror is as much a part of Christmas as Christmas pudding, carols from King’s College Chapel and the Queen’s speech.
M R James, a historian at King’s College, Cambridge, is now most well known for his tales of terror and the supernatural. He initially penned his stories for the entertainment of friends and students. At King’s, he started a tradition of writing a ghost story to be read, after the carol service and dinner in hall. Retiring to his rooms in the college, he would read that year’s story to the assembled group, huddled together in the candlelight.
James’s ghost stories were published and well received, and amongst those who admired and were influenced by his work are HP Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith and Stephen King.
From the select milieu of Cambridge, James’s stories have been brought to a wider audience. In the 1970s, the BBC broadcast annually A Ghost Story for Christmas, over half of which were based on stories by James. BBC Radio has also frequently returned to James at Christmas, broadcasting readings of his stories in 1986, 2000, 2005 and 2006. The 2000 readings were by Christopher Lee, who also read a selection of Edgar Allan Poe stories over the Christmas season in 2004.
It seems that the gothic goes hand in hand with the festive, a tradition I am trying to continue. Last year I wrote and podcasted a Christmas story about a demon haunting a church. This year I have another Christmas story, featuring some of the same characters – rather than a demon haunting a church, this story involves a Lovecraftian Elder God returning just in time for the festive season.
Mistletoe, holly, and eldritch horror – isn’t that what Christmas is all about?