English - Favourite Haunts: Resources

By Monahan, Jerome | Times Educational Supplement, December 14, 2012 | Go to article overview

English - Favourite Haunts: Resources


Monahan, Jerome, Times Educational Supplement


A festive set of ghost stories supplies spectral stimulus.

The British Film Institute (BFI) has come up with the perfect Christmas gift for English teachers - a complete collection of the BBC's Ghost Stories for Christmas, originally broadcast in the 1970s and now available as a DVD boxed set. Each film is the ideal length for a lesson and opens up the delights of such Victorian and Edwardian classics as Charles Dickens' The Signal-Man and M.R.James' The Treasure of Abbot Thomas and A Warning to the Curious (pictured above).

It might seem sacrilegious to suggest it, but at their best these adaptations actually improve on their literary originals. In A Warning to the Curious, for example, the protagonist Paxton is something of a cipher. But in the 1972 Lawrence Gordon Clark screen version he has an entirely convincing and sympathetic back story, hinting at recent unemployment and a deep resentment of those born to receive a better education than he.

The character's single-minded pursuit of a buried Anglo-Saxon crown - in spite of nasty supernatural warnings to desist - therefore makes psychological sense and provides a great lesson to pupils about character motivation in supernatural fiction.

Another hugely satisfying addition comes in John Bowen's 1974 adaptation of The Treasure of Abbot Thomas. The Reverend Justin Somerton's fall from lofty, rational superiority to deceitful money-grubbing treasure-hunting is depicted as an actual descent into the abyss - or a medieval culvert or drain - from which he emerges begrimed and inexorably pursued by the "thing of slime" set to guard the secreted riches. No key stage 3 or 4 class I have taught using this film has failed to spot the significance of this incident. …

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