Introduction to
The Best of Ghosts & Scholars

by Rosemary Pardoe

I produced my first fanzine at the age of seventeen, which means I've been publishing small press booklets almost continuously now for half my life. It seems such a normal part of life to me that it sometimes comes as a surprise when other people make it clear that they think it's rather an unusual way to pass the time. The less said about most of my earlier publications the better, but at least the experience I acquired doing them meant that when I got the idea for Ghosts & Scholars in 1979, I knew roughly what I was about.

I had been introduced to the ghost stories of M.R. James in 1969, and afterwards spent some time trying to find other antiquarian ghost tales of the same type. I discovered A.N.L. Munby's The Alabaster Hand, which was in print in paperback, but that was all. I now know, of course, that there were and are many other Jamesian writers, but at that time I didn't have the contacts to tell me about them. If I had, perhaps I would never have created Ghosts & Scholars at all. For my plan was to produce a small press booklet containing just the sort of stories I liked but couldn't find. I think the name Ghosts & Scholars must have arisen, fully formed, along with the idea. I certainly can't remember agonising over what title to use.

I say that the plan was to produce a small press booklet, and I do mean just one. This is why the first issue was not numbered. However, having mentioned my idea in a few suitable places, I found myself with more material than I could fit into one booklet; hence More Ghosts & Scholars in the following year. Still no number, and no plan to make a continuing series. But the stories and articles kept coming in, and I realised that I had too many contacts, among them both fine writers and fine experts on the subject, to give up after two issues. When G&S 3 came out in 1981, I had sufficient contributions on file to last until issue 6. Now, with issue 8 on the horizon, I have sufficient to last until issue 11.

I've always been aware that a magazine with such fairly limited subject matter could get stale, and I've been ready at all stages to convert it into a more general magazine devoted to the 'traditional English ghost story'. The time when this is likely to happen keeps getting further away though, as there is no point in doing it until I start running out of good Jamesian material, both fiction and non-fiction. Perhaps issue 12 will be the one, but that remains to be seen. I suspect I would have even more material on file were it not for the fact that for several years I have not been accepting unsolicited manuscripts.

When Richard Fawcett suggested that I select my favourite stories from the first six, out-of-print issues of G&S for inclusion in this volume, I had mixed feelings. For a start I knew it would be hard to pick favourites - I like all the stories, otherwise I wouldn't have published them. Then I was aware that several tales from the booklets had been reprinted by Karl Edward Wagner in The Year's Best Horror Stories for DAW, and I was not keen to overlap too much. In fact the latter consideration actually helped me. In excluding some stories it made my choice from among the other (equally good!) ones easier. Of the following eight tales, only two have been previously reprinted in English: one by Karl and the other in Twilight Zone.

My selection from the first G&S is "An Incident in the City" by A.F. (Chico) Kidd. Chico has contributed numerous stories to Haunted Library publications, and one - "Old Hobby Horse" from G&S 3 - was reprinted in Year's Best Horror X. "Incident" was inspired by her years as a law student in London, and beautifully evokes the eeriness of the City at the weekend. The book, by the way, really exists!

From More G&S I have chosen two stories: "The Catacomb" by Peter Shilston and "The Fifteenth Evening" by David G. Rowlands. "The Catacomb" was the second tale contributed to G&S by Peter (the first being "Old Johannes" in issue one). Obviously Karl Wagner agrees with me that it is a real tour-de-force, for he reprinted it in YBH IX. The introduction there reveals that the tale was based on an actual visit which Peter made to Sicily. The setting is inspired partly by Cefalu and partly by the Capuchin cemetery in Palermo.

It was Hugh Lamb who introduced me to David Rowlands, for which I shall be eternally grateful to him. "The Fifteenth Evening" was the first tale by David to appear in G&S, since when he has proved to be one of my most popular writers, especially when his stories feature the likeable Catholic priest, Father O'Connor. In 1980 I produced Eye Hath Not Seen, a booklet entirely devoted to such tales; but it is long out of print. Two of David's stories, "Wyntours" and "The Executor", have been used by Karl Wagner. From G&S 3, David has also been my 'editorial consultant', which essentially means that he helps me choose and criticise all fiction submissions. Most recently, two of his tales appeared in a collection of Essex ghost stories, A Graven Image, which I produced in 1985.

When Ramsey Campbell's "The Burning" was featured as the lead story in G&S 3 it caused a certain amount of controversy, as several people argued that it was not at all Jamesian. Perhaps it isn't in the narrower sense of the word, but for me it is a superbly disturbing re-examination of the scenario in the final part of MRJ's "After Dark in the Playing Fields", where the narrator fears to go out after nightfall for: "I find I do not like a crowd after dark - for example at the Fourth of June fireworks. You see... such curious faces: and the people to whom they belong flit about so oddly, often at your elbow when you least expect it, and looking close into your face, as if they were searching for someone - who may be thankful, I think, if they do not find him". I have never asked Ramsey whether "The Burning" was consciously based on this, but whether conscious or unconscious, the link is certainly there.

The Reverend William Fairlie Clarke died in 1950, leaving a number of manuscript ghost stories which came into the hands of his daughter, Monica Fairlie Clarke. These were passed on to me (thanks to Hugh Lamb again) in 1981. I thought that three were excellent and promptly set about publishing them. The two longest went to form a booklet, 99 Bridge Street, in 1982; while the most Jamesian, "The Poor Nun of Burtisford", appeared in G&S 4 and is my selection from that issue. William Fairlie Clarke was, by a strange coincidence, the god-son of MRJ's father. He wrote his stories in the 1920s, but never made any serious attempt to get them published. Sadly, Monica Fairlie Clarke died recently, but I'm glad that she was able to see her father's stories in print before she became too ill to appreciate them. "Poor Nun" has the distinction of being the only item from G&S ever to have been reprinted in Dutch!

The second David Rowlands story in this booklet, "Conkers", is from G&S 5. Unusually for a Father O'Connor narrative, it is told in the first person by the good Father himself. It also features a 'cameo' appearance by Jane Bradshawe, the central character in a series of ghost stories by Mary Ann Allen (one, "The Gravedigger and Death", appeared in G&S 5). The true identity of Ms Allen is not one of the world's best kept secrets.

The lead story in G&S 6 was a real find. Thanks to the investigations of Michael Cox, the writer of M.R. James: An Informal Portrait (Oxford University Press, 1983), I was able to reprint a lost tale by MRJ himself. "The Malice of Inanimate Objects" was published in an obscure Eton ephemeral, The Masquerade, in 1933, and quickly forgotten, so that I was the first person to reprint it. It has since appeared in Twilight Zone. Some have said that it is a very slight piece and not worthy of MRJ, but I can't agree. It is, admittedly, little more than a black joke, but it is a deliciously wicked one, and I can almost hear MRJ chuckling as he wrote it.

I would have liked to include another of the stories from G&S 6 in this volume: Roger Johnson's "The Scarecrow". However, it has only recently been reprinted in Year's Best Horror Stories XIII, and it seemed pointless to reprint it again so soon. Yet, since Roger's tales have been amongst the most popular in the more recent Haunted Library publications, I felt that I really ought to have something by him. Unfortunately, although he has contributed to Saints & Relics ("The Wall Painting", reprinted in YBH XII) and has recently had two stories in A Graven Image, "The Scarecrow" is so far the only tale of his to be published in G&S. Thus I have decided to feature a completely new story by him. "The Watchman" was to be the lead in G&S 9, but will not now appear there.

The artwork (including the front-cover) for "The Watchman" is by Tony Patrick. Other artwork in this booklet is reprinted from G&S. Both Alan Hunter and Allen Koszowski are thankfully still contributing excellent work for me, but regrettably David Lloyd has given up small press projects to concentrate on comics.

I ought to add, finally, that while I hope this little booklet is a representative sampler of the fiction and artwork in G&S, one other equally important facet is missing from it. Articles and other non-fiction have been taking up roughly 50% of the space in recent issues, and I am as interested in that side of things as I am in the fiction. However, it doesn't so easily lend itself to this kind of selective collection.

Now, cliché it certainly is, but I would still like to dedicate this to all those people who have made Ghosts & Scholars a success; especially those who, by their enthusiasm, have managed to keep me enthusiastic through the years. Prominent among them has been Karl Edward Wagner who has very kindly provided the Guest Introduction here. And, of course, special thanks must go to Richard Fawcett, both for suggesting this volume and for making it possible.

Copyright (c) 1986 Rosemary Pardoe

Note: It's intriguing to look at this snapshot in time and see what I thought about G&S fourteen years ago. I could hardly have realised then that I would still be editing the zine in 2000! Of course, G&S never did need to widen its scope to cover "the traditional English ghost story", and I'm very glad it didn't as I've become less and less enamoured of that rather dull genre over the years. I don't really know why I considered MRJ a representative of the genre in the first place, for he clearly isn't. On other matters in this "Introduction", though, my views haven't changed greatly - I'm not sure whether I find that encouraging or depressing! One thing is for sure, the line-up of stories in The Best of G&S was a very strong one, and most of them have since seen further reprinting.

Incidentally, the booklet was dedicated "To all the many fans of M.R. James, especially Manly Wade Wellman, with respect and admiration". If I remember rightly, Wellman was seriously ill at the time and died soon afterwards. The dedication was at the request of Richard Fawcett, and since The Best of G&S was his idea and he was publishing it, I was happy to go along with the suggestion. But I did wonder privately whether Wellman had any relevance to the subject matter of the booklet. In retrospect, though, I think Richard was spot on, for the influence of MRJ is subtly evident in a fair amount of Wellman's supernatural fiction, as he himself admitted. This is true not only of specifics (e.g. his tale inspired by MRJ's "lamia" in "An Episode of Cathedral History"), but also more generally in his utilisation for authentic background of real 'strange' books like Big Albert and The Long Lost Friend.

Rosemary Pardoe, April 3, 2000

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