Review of “A View from a Hill” (1925)


M. R. James (writer).

Read in 2017.

Across a broad level plain they looked upon ranges of great hills, whose uplands — some green, some furred with woods — caught the light of a sun, westering but not yet low. And all the plain was fertile, though the river which traversed it was nowhere seen. There were copses, green wheat, hedges and pasture-land: the little compact white moving cloud marked the evening train. Then the eye picked out red farms and grey houses, and nearer home scattered cottages, and then the Hall, nestled under the hill.

The landscape focus of “A Neighbour’s Landmark” (1925) is combined here with a plot almost in the vein of “Herbert West—Reanimator” (1922) but less grotesque. Baxter with his alchemy and his “Borgia box” is practically a Lovecraft villain. A quick reference to Yog-Sothoth would not have looked out of place. Incidentally it is James’s best work. As in “The Picture in the House” (1921), there’s even a bicycle playing a role, although the implication that ghosts attack it is over the top. A bigger problem for the cosmicist reader is how entering a church breaks the looking glass; there’s a disappointing smugness in that superstition. Contrast “The Haunted Dolls’ House” (1925) where a conspicuously privileged point of view is produced from a miniature rather than a hill, and likewise haunted.

References here: The Case of Charles Dexter Ward (1927).

text fiction