100 Ghosts: Number 13 by M R James


Number 13 is one of my favourite M R James stories. This is slightly odd as I'm not keen on ghosts who make impossible physical changes to things - even if I don't believe in ghosts I want their fictional representatives to at least be remotely credible. The physical change here is quite a major one, the numbered room of the title, which seems to come and go at will, baffling the resident of an ancient hotel in the Danish city of Viborg. The resident, it will come as no surprise, is a scholar, researching Christianity in early modern Denmark. His research will lead him to a rather startling conclusion regarding the shapeshifting nature of his creaky old digs.


I think I love it so much maybe at least partly because when I think of it I hear Christopher Lee's narration from the selection he did for the BBC in 2000, which is now available on Audible. The BBC also made it into one of their Ghost Stories for Christmas in 2006, which is available on Youtube. Another illustration I almost abandoned, but I have clawed it back from oblivion by throwing many digital effects at it courtesy of Procreate, Instagram and my new discovery Snapseed. Ironically (and slightly alarmingly given my status as rookie heraldic artist), I possibly found the small and very weird coat of arms (snakes as mantling! A skull instead of a helm!) particularly troublesome. The symbols around the margins are actually Icelandic magical staves, including my favourite one, to 'put fear into an enemy', which is the one on the bottom right, and now thanks to my filter frenzy, virtually indistinguishable. (Short and slightly off the topic advert: If you're ever in the Icelandic town of Hólmavik go and visit the Museum of Witchcraft which is brimming with staves, and also a pair of necropants - magical trousers made out of human skin. I bloody love Iceland.)

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