(original here. blogger does not claim photo credit)
M.R. James is one of my all-time favorite ghost writers, and ‘Lost Hearts’-while not being my favorite of his work-is certainly a dynamic piece.
The story is a fairly typical James piece in that the characterization is somewhat limited to the plot of the story; in the case of ‘Lost Hearts’ all we are told of the main character is that his name is Stephen and he is to live with his cousin. All we are told of the cousin (at least until the climax of the story) is that he is an older gentleman interested in Greek antiquities and seemingly quite interested in the comfort of his new charge. The story is almost a snapshot in time, with details that sometimes feel as though they were thrown into the story casually. In the case of less capable writers, this can weaken the overall effect. In James’ work, it ends up feeling like the story is being told to you as opposed to being a deliberate work of fiction.
A relatively short piece, ‘Lost Hearts’ relates the events of 1812 once the main character, a child named Stephen, is orphaned and is invited to stay with a distant cousin. The housekeeper mentions that while this is a surprising occurance, it is also not the first time that this man has taken in children. However, those children had disappeared-but it was the assumption of those on the property that they had left on their own accord. As the year progresses, though, events begin to suggest that there may be something more to the cousin’s motives.
What is interesting-for me anyway- is how many of the images that James used in this piece are still familar. While James may not be as discussed he should be as an influence on modern horror, this piece was written in 1895. The ghosts that Stephen encounters would not seem out of place in a modern horror piece at all. Neither would be the monster that he finds in an out of the way bathroom; in fact, I realized that while reading this, I was making mental connections to recent films. The imagery that James was able to put to paper in 1895 have remained so attractive that they’re still appealing in an era of heavy CGI effects.