“A Warning to the Curious”
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The first sentence of the 1925 story by M. R. James, whose title I’ve borrowed for this chapter, includes the phrase, “The reader is asked to consider” (1986, 203). He or she is addressed, with considerable courtesy, by a narrator who proceeds to recount a third-party narrative that twice removes said reader from the story’s ghostly events. Through this direct appeal, one is invited to participate in what is perhaps James’s darkest effort, and yet consideration of a narrative told at such distance from the reader precludes the kind of investment that might provoke genuine horror. In fact, what one is asked to consider is a quaint coastal town in the Suffolk region of England that “[recalls] the early chapters of Great Expectations” (ibid.). The reader is instantly confronted with the fact, and the historically rich craft, of literature. You are reading fiction, it says in a manner of speaking, and that is all. It is a tactical maneuver that in no way detracts from the story’s ability to paint a vivid portrait of its ghastly incidents, though it nevertheless succeeds in eliminating the liminal quality that has come to define much horror fiction.
KeywordsNorth Wall Liminal Space Gallery Space Sexual Empowerment Thin Neck
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