Sunday, February 3, 2013

Drawing on the Past #10: GILBERT JAMES

Work: The Five Jars by M.R. James
(Edward Arnold & Co., 1922)

Artist: Gilbert James

The Five Jars is subtitled "Being More or Less of a Fairy Tale Contained in a Letter to a Young Person." Its author M.R. James is better known as a writer of ghost stories for adults. Whether or not the story is truly intended for young people is a matter of opinion. The whimsical drawings by Gilbert James seem to imply that it is. A mix of the fanciful, the creepy, and the bizarre the story would appeal to any reader who appreciates the outre and the supernatural in fiction.

Once available only in its original rare 1st edition or the somewhat scarcer 1927 reprint (a copy of which I own and is pictured above) The Five Jars has been extensively reprinted in a variety of hardback and paperback editions. Numerous POD and eBooks make it even easier for anyone interested in reading the light and fanciful tale.

Below a sampling of the seven illustrations by James.  I found little on the artist other than that he illustrated in full color an edition of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (L. C. Page, 1899).

Click to enlarge any of the pictures below for better viewing.


  1. John, I think it's delightful how the reading paths of my blogging friends cross with mine. I just picked up a copy of M R James's The Haunted Dolls' House this year. Having never heard of him before, the back cover made me think it would be a good find for the R.I.P. Challenge this fall. Look for that review in October or so.

    1. Never heard of M.R. James? Say it isn't so! You're in for a real treat. He's considered the master of "material horror" and practically invented the antiquarian ghost story now imitated a hundredfold.

    2. Sorry, John--but I'm afraid so. I'm not a big fan of horror/ghost stories/what-have-you anymore (went on a binge back when I was young and more fearless). I step out of my comfort zone every fall with Carl and his R.I.P. Challenge...

  2. I absolutely love those illustrations, particularly "The Cat Takes Action." Thanks for including those in your post.

  3. I have a collection of his ghost stories but was not aware of this. Lovely illustrations. I wish adult books had more.

  4. Those illos have an oddly modern look to them. Or, to be precise, they suggest a modern artist's effort to achieve a retro-Edwardian look. In short, they remind me of Edward Gorey's work.