Saturday, April 02, 2011

The Mezzotint by Montague Rhodes James

The Mezzotint by Montague Rhodes James

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

How does he do it? How does Mr. James write such fantastic tales of terror? This story starts so benignly, I had this false sense of security. I was fooled but good. The conversational tone, and the dry, academic characters had me wondering where this story was going. Soon, I came to realize exactly what was going on. Our narrator collects pictures of homes. He gets a lead on a mezzotint (a metal engraving with a great deal of distinction between shades of light and dark) that he considers rather substandard for the two guineas the dealer is asking for. Only this is a special picture. It changes, you see. As the narrator becomes aware that this photo has some unlikely qualities, the unease builds. The narrator asks others to look at the picture, and they see something changing as well. What is one to think of this mezzotint?

It’s amazing that this story can be so eerie and disarming, even without knowing exactly what the nature of the mezzotint’s ability is. Is this a ghost story? Dark fantasy? What’s the nature of the figure in the picture? Mr. James doesn’t reveal that. It doesn’t matter. The story has served its purpose. The mood, setting, and plot deliver one heck of a read.

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