My Dear Jane, You remember that you were puzzled when I told you I had heard something from the owls—or if not puzzled (for I know you have some experience of these things), you were at any rate anxious to know exactly how it happened.
–M R James - The five jars - c.1922
Available free from Gutenberg
This novel takes the form of a letter from our nameless narrator to Jane, he wants to explain how it is that he was talking to owls, for he mentioned in passing to her that he had some bit of news from them. One day, while out in the woods he fell asleep and dreamt of a plant. And when he woke he thought he heard some words from a stream, something like “trickle up”
So he follows the stream’s advice, and eventually uncovers a little box, and in the box are five jars. The five jars of the title. Contained within these five jars are ointments of some description, and when applied to the human body produce some amazing effects.
This is a strange odd little story. I’m familiar with James’ work more from his ghost stories, and when I first started this I was surprised to learn that it wasn’t a collection of short stories but a novel. I think it is his only novel. If you are familiar with the ghost stories you might appreciate the style in which this is told. Even the most surreal of experiences are handled in a very matter of fact, straight-forward matter. It was written, I think, as a children’s story, and so it certainly lacks that horror filled atmosphere of many of James’ shorter works, but it is still entertaining.
I enjoyed it, but found it decidedly strange.