Monday, October 17, 2022

The Centenary of The Five Jars

In October 1922, M.R. James published his only novel, a short (eight chapters) children's fantasy in which a man, by applying ointment from five jars he finds in a metal box, gains certain perceptive abilities, and comes to see and communicate with animals and some previously-unseen small fairy beings. There are also some malevolent beings who seek to obtain the jars. 

When I first read the book years ago I felt it was simpatico with Tolkien's earliest fairy writings, from the late 1910s and early 1920s, published posthumously as The Book of Lost Tales, though I don't mean to suggest that either writer influenced the other. (Tolkien apparently knew Ghost Stories of an Antiquary, but we don't know when he read it.) But if Tolkien had found a copy of The Five Jars after its publication one hundred years ago this month, I think he would have enjoyed it. The Five Jars is a fine encapsulation of English fairy lore of the 1920s.

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