It’s sort of strange how omnipresent H. P. Lovecraft is in horror conversations, even now. The legacy of his particular branch of weird is substantial — and, largely, a conversation we are saving for later on. Don’t worry, there is still a lot to say.
A less well-known figure holds a much closer place in my heart: M. R. James.
On the surface, it is strange to compare these two men. James was the father of the antiquarian ghost story. Lovecraft basically created the genre of cosmic horror. And yet, there really is a great deal of common ground. They were, in fact, contemporaries, and died within a year of one another (James in 1936, Lovecraft in 1937). Both wrote stories that took their sensibilities from earlier time periods. Both have had impacts on the horror genre that they never would have foreseen. Both were solitary men whose sexuality is a preoccupation of modern scholars. And, most importantly, both based their horror in a fear of the Outside, of the arcane, and of the forbidden.
Perhaps it’s best to start with some brief biographical notes.