“M.R. James is the greatest master of the ghost story. Henry James, Sheridan Le Fanu, and H. Russell Wakefield are equal seconds.”
What Betjeman left for the facts to point out, is that all four of these men were the sons of Protestant ministers. Even the famous Henry James was the son of Henry James, Sr., a conscientious, writing lay-evangelist for the theology of Emmanuel Swedenborg.
If you add the two other luminaries of the genre, Arthur Machen and Algernon Blackwood, then every single practitioner of the ghost story in our language, prior to H.P. Lovecraft, was the son of a Protestant clergyman. (Blackwood’s father was a lay preacher and lay elder of the Sandemanian Church.)
(Oh, and remember that A.C. Benson, another master of the ghost story, was the son of … The Archbishop of Canterbury!)
What do you make of this? Every one of these “Stephen Kings” of their day was the child of a minister-father.
Well, I think you can understand why they had to write literature of exorcism. Fathers can be demons — often unwittingly — and exorcisms of some emotional kind are sometimes required.
Moreover, the fathers of our “weird tale” writers were strong characters. They were not to be “defeated’ at home, or successfully engaged directly. The warfare had to be Phantastic, in a parallel universe, like the Bronte children’s ‘Angria’ and ‘Grondal’. In fantasy, and for boys it was typically Gothic fantasy, the battles could be fought, and maybe the war won. No wonder, at least to me, that these creators of disturbing and often inspired ‘parallel universes’ had forceful, sincere, and somewhat overwhelming fathers.
Podcast 110 closes with a song of son-to-father love, and, more important, father-to-son love. It was recorded in 1969 by The Winstons, and is called “Color Him Father”.
This podcast has been in the making for 55 years. I received my first Kipling — The Jungle Book, Volumes I and II — in 1957. After being inspired much later, by “The Gardener”, stunned by “The Church that was at Antioch”, puzzled utterly by “Mrs. Bathurst”, moved to follow by “The Miracle of Purun Bhagat”, laid low by “If –”, and finally reconciled by, well, you’ll have to listen, I’ve now recorded a talk on the great seer.
The cast focuses on Kipling’s 1890 short story “At the End of the Passage”, which exists in the twilight zone between death and life. It is a truly great religious story and was written when he was only 25! It captures in the highest and also the deepest pitch the struggle for “life” that is waged by the human ego. It is an epic story, in my opinion, captured in just a few pages. It connects with George Harrison’s struggle, too, a noble struggle, waged over decades, to be ready for death. I couldn’t praise this story highly enough.
Episode 111 ends with a familiar poem, which I once would have dismissed as Polonius-like. (I was wrong.) There’s a homework assignment, too, from 1901. I hope you’ll like it. It’s probably old-hat.
The podcast is dedicated, with admiration and respect, to Todd Brewer.