The Five Jars
The Five Jars, by M. R. James
I read a bunch of M. R. James short stories for Witch Week -- watch out for my article later this week -- and watched some BBC adaptations too. I also discovered a book I hadn't run into before -- The Five Jars, a short novel for children that nevertheless has many of James' favorite elements. It's written as a letter to "Jane."
James tells the story of how he went on a forest ramble and found a magic spring. He's given directions and digs up an ancient box with five tiny jars in it, and dreams of how they are to be used. Each day, he can gain a new skill with the contents of one jar. He becomes able to understand the language of animals, see the unseen, and so on, but there are evil forces after the box and it must be carefully guarded. At last he is even able to visit the homes of some of the people he has got to know.
This novella was charming -- so much fun, unusual for a children's fantasy story, and a little bit spooky.