The Christmas Ghost Stories of Lawrence Gordon Clark ed. by Tony Earnshaw. Book review

The Christmas Ghost Stories of Lawrence Gordon Clark edited by Tony Earnshaw, Spectral Press, p/b, £15.00, Website

Reviewed by David Brzeski

This was an interesting book to review. I was already familiar with a great deal of the contents—as, I suspect, will be most of the people who buy it. In fact I own multiple copies of the seven M.R. James stories reprinted here, both in book form and on my Kindle.

I could review those stories, but I won’t. As I said, almost everyone will be perfectly familiar with the work of the master of the classic British ghost story. The stories in this volume have been selected because they are the basis for the excellent TV adaptations, directed by Lawrence Gordon Clark and broadcast on BBC1 over various Christmas holidays.

The book opens with an nice foreword by Mark Gatiss, which is followed by an informative introduction, by Tony Earnshaw. Earnshaw provides us with lots of information about how he became friends with Lawrence Gordon Clark, how the Christmas Ghost Story tradition came about and how Clark built the team, which stayed together for most of the productions.

Following that, we get to the actual stories, each one prefaced with a piece by Clark himself, full of fascinating details on the making of the TV adaptations. We also get a complete credits listing, both for people in front and behind the cameras.

The stories covered in order are…

‘The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral’

‘A Warning to the Curious’

‘Lost Hearts’

‘The Treasure of Abbot Thomas’

‘The Ash Tree’

‘Casting the Runes’

‘Count Magnus’

Clark’s introductions, while fairly short, are both interesting and enlightening. I’ve always had a tendency toward purism concerning adaptations from literary works into other media, but Clark has certainly broadened my understanding of why changes are, or in some cases have to be, made to the source material.

The .pdf file I was sent for review purposes is actually of the hardcover edition, which also includes an extensive interview that Tony Earnshaw conducted with Lawrence Gordon Clark. This, apart from the James stories themselves, was actually my favourite part of the book, and I feel it may have been a mistake to limit this to those who could afford the £45 hardcover edition. The paperback does, however, have the full Lawrence Gordon Clark filmography (I was quite surprised to discover just how many fondly remembered TV shows Lawrence Gordon Clark directed.) There is also a list of his various awards and a short M.R. James biography. The simple, yet stylish illustrations, by Nick Gucker, on the title page of each story could easily have fit in with a collection from James’ era. The excellent photographs, for the most part supplied by Mark Davies and Graham Morris, are a welcome bonus.

If you loved Lawrence Gordon Clark’s Christmas Ghost Story adaptations, but have never read the original M.R. James tales, then this book is pretty essential. Even if you’re already very familiar with those stories, it’s still worth having for the extras, but I would recommend picking up the hardcover, if you can afford it.

At the time of writing, I believe there are still copies of the hardcover edition available. The signed limited edition, which includes the unfilmed Basil Copper screenplay for ‘Count Magnus’ is, unfortunately sold out.