Mystery and imagination lost hearts

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mystery and imagination lost hearts

Lost Hearts by M.R. James

Lost Hearts is a short story from Ghost Stories of an Antiquary, published in 1904. It is a lesser tale, and although appealing to modern tastes, is not a typical tale from M.R. James.

The tale begins with the description of an old country house, Answarby Hall in Lincolnshire, towards which a young boy, Stephen Elliot, is travelling. He has been recently orphaned and a distant cousin, a Mr Abney, who is much older, has agreed to give him a home. This is a surprise to the people who know Mr Abney, as he is something of a recluse; a Professor of Greek at Cambridge University and particularly interested in Pagan religions. He is not known to have any interest in children.

He welcomes Stephen effusively, strangely asking the boy how old he was twice within the first few minutes. Steven and the reader find this rather puzzling. Perhaps it is just eccentricity on the part of an old man.

Steven settles into the household, and questions the servants - Mrs. Bunch and Mr. Parkes - about Mr Abney. They tell Steven that the Professor is very kind. They remember for instance, that he has befriended two children on earlier occasions. (view spoiler)[ The first child was a gypsy girl, who stayed for only three weeks before mysteriously disappearing. The next was a boy called Jevanny. He was also homeless and had arrived playing a hurdy-gurdy one day. Mr. Abney took him in, but he also mysteriously disappeared after a short time. Although the servants do not feel at all surprised by this, the reader feels that Steven at least should have been.

Steven has a couple of very unsettling experiences. Once he sees an emaciated body of a young girl lying in the bathtub. He concludes that it was a trick of the light through the glazed bathroom door. On another occasion his nightgown is found by the servant to have been slashed over and over again, and there are scratchmarks on the door, both of which are inexplicable. On yet another occasion he overhears the butler telling the servant about some rats whom he heard whispering and talking in the cellar. When he catches sight of Stephen, the butler makes out that he had been joking. At this point the story loses some credibility. A sense of dread should have been conveyed, but there is no sense that the characters are made to feel jittery in any way.

After Stephen has been living at Answarby Hall for a while, Mr. Abney asks him if he could come to see him at 11pm one evening in March. It is a strange request, he says, but he would be busy with his papers and not have any time before then, and he would like to talk to Stephen about his future. Stephen agrees, and while he is waiting sees two strange apparitions outside the house - a boy and a girl. The girl reminds him of the image he had seen in the bathroom. She is clasping her hand over her chest, and as she moves it aside, Stephen sees a gaping hole in her chest. Despite this frightening experience, Stephen keeps his appointment and knocks on the Professors door at 11pm.

Before he can go in however, there is a frightful shriek. When the door is finally opened Mr Abney is found to be dead, with his chest slashed and his heart exposed. He has a ghastly expression on his face. A knife lies close by, but the knife is perfectly clean. Papers and diagrams are spread about chaotically. The verdict of the coroner later is that a wild beast must have entered the house and attacked the man.

However, later papers come to light which mean that the adult Stephen comes to a very different conclusion. Mr Abney had been obsessed by the concept of immortality, and kept a journal of his experiments. The journal detailed theories which he had held, derived from occult practises.

One of them was that the consuming of the hearts of 3 children, before the age of 12, would make him able to fly and make him immortal. It was important that the hearts be cut from the living body, burnt, mixed with port and consumed. The professor wrote that he had hidden their bodies in an unused bathroom and a wine cellar. In other parts of the diaries Mr Abney recorded the psychic forms of the children, their leaden features and hideously long nails. They returned after their death, but had little weight or substance, so he thought they were weak and did not pose a threat to him. He viewed these psychic forms as a small price to pay for immortality. (hide spoiler)]


This is a much more explicit horror story than we are used to from the pen of M.R. James. The themes are the same - the interference with arcane mysteries, the supernatural element, the remote musty setting, the scholar at the heart of the story and the ideas of both obsession and guilt. But the sense of menace and dread is largely lost. Perhaps it has been sacrificed (view spoiler)[ along with the children in order (hide spoiler)] to make the tale more gruesome and explicitly horrific. Or perhaps it is simply that the protagonist is a child, and M.R. James did not manage to convey such feelings of trepidation and dread from a childs point of view as easily as he managed to with his adult characters. It is a popular story nonetheless, and often dramatised to enhance its shocker elements, but it is not one of his best.
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Lost Hearts

Mystery and Imagination – Lost Hearts – March 5th 1966

Sign in. Watch now. Title: Lost Hearts 05 Mar I cannot remember much about my school days, I was sixteen at the time, but this sticks very firmly in the memory from those days. The beginning was innocent enough but earlier episodes gave this an added frisson of anticipation. We did not have TV so I watched this series at a friends home on the outskirts of Sheffield. The last bus had gone by the end of the programme and a five mile walk at night, past a railway tunnel entrance, Sheffield Corporation's nuclear bunker, and a cemetery had me walking along the white line down the centre of the road, ready to jump either way.

James , originally published in It was later collected in his book Ghost Stories of an Antiquary. The tale tells the story of Stephen Elliott, a young orphan boy, who is sent to stay with his much older cousin, Mr Abney, at a remote country mansion, Aswarby Hall , in Lincolnshire. His cousin is a reclusive alchemist obsessed with making himself immortal. Stephen is repeatedly troubled by visions of a young gypsy girl and a travelling Italian boy with their hearts missing. However, no archive recordings of this episode are known to exist. The shortest of the adaptations, it was first broadcast on Christmas Day at pm.

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Sign in. Find showtimes, watch trailers, browse photos, track your Watchlist and rate your favorite movies and TV shows on your phone or tablet! IMDb More. Hide Spoilers. Summary of "Lost Hearts" gilllew 3 November I well remember seeing the "Mystery and Imagination's "Lost Hearts" in early at the age of Even after all these years,never have forgotten how scared I was watched it at a friend of my Parents's house Remember the scene where he "Sleepwalks" Stephen into the Bathroom and the spirit of the girl rising out of the bath.

James read an early version of the story at a Cambridge literary society gathering in , and the short story was published in the December issue of the Pall Mall Magazine. The story was later collected in the anthology Ghost Stories of an Antiquary The story opens with a young orphan named Stephen arriving at Aswarby Hall, the country estate of his elderly uncle, Mr. Although Mr. Abney is known as a recluse, Stephen learns that he is a kind man who has taken in other disadvantaged children in the past. Those children did not stay long, but Stephen is quite happy in his new life at the Hall.

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