Tales of the Supernatural
Volume Two

Author: M. R. James
Read by: Ian Fairbairn, Geoffrey Bayldon and Gareth David-Lloyd
Fantom Films
RRP: £12.99
ISBN: 978 1 906263 03 4
Available 01 October 2007

M. R. James is one of the finest English language ghostwriters ever published. These short stories are not only classics of their genre, but are outstanding examples of beautifully paced understated terror and sociological horror - reaching to the dark expanse of the unconscious mind...

Montague Rhodes James (1862-1936) was a British mediaeval scholar and prodigious writer of ghost stories, much admired by H. P. Lovecraft and often held to be the best twentieth centuries writer of ghost stories.

Fantom Films have fulfilled the wishes of their audience by following up the excellent Tales of the Supernatural: Volume One, with a second volume. This second outing is read by Gareth David Lloyd, filling in time before the return of Torchwood; Phil Reynolds, who is quickly becoming a Fantom regular; and Ian Fairbairn, who has been on our screens, in many guises, for many years.

The double CD set contains a further four stories: The Ash Tree (1904), A View from a Hill (1925), The Tractate Middoth (1911) and Canon Alderic's Scrapbook (1895). All fall into the British tradition of healthy scares without a multitude of severed limbs and copious buckets of blood and will appeal to fans of Dennis Wheatley's work or the sort of horror that Hammer used to put out at its height. The whole thing runs to a very reasonable 135 minutes.

All the stories are well read, but if I had to pick a favourite it would have to be Phil Reynolds reading of The Tractate Middoth, a convoluted story of a will hidden in a book. Of course, as it's a M. R. James story, there's a lot more going on, involving black robed phantoms going bump in the night.

One of the things which will need to be pointed out to a modern audience is M. R. James's use of language, which would have been fine for his contemporaries, but whose rhythms and construction can sometimes sound a little anachronistic.

The only thing which lets the set down is the packaging. It would have been nice to have a list of who had read what, but mostly the biggest problem was with the blurb which introduces the three vocal talents whose text is so small as to be rendered unreadable without a magnifying glass.

Unusually, for a CD, the package comes with extras. For PDA owners who like to read on the train, Fantom has included the four stories in PDF format. Also there is the first part of In Conversation with Ian Fairbairn, which is the same as the original audio produced by Fantom, good bargain if you didn't buy it, a bit of a p*sser if you did.

Still, these are minor niggles which, given the quality of writing and the vocal talent involved, can easily be ignored. Fantom have produced a quality product for horror fans everywhere, so there is only one thing left to ask, how long till volume three?

Charles Packer

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