Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Friday, September 23, 2011

"Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad" by M. R. James

"Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad" by M. R. James (1904, 8 pages)

Montague Rhodes James
Early English Master of the Ghost Story

I have been having a lot of fun reading and posting on stories for Carl V's R I P reading event (Sept 1 to Oct 31-the easy rules are on his web page) devoted to paranormal and Gothic literature.   

A lot of paranormal and Gothic stories have as one of their central characters a professor.   He is often a bachelor (as one said in the old days "a confirmed bachelor"), very learned in some completely obscure topics such as Third century Anatolian ceramics, sheltered from the ways of the work a day world and off on a holiday or a trip somewhere as the story opens.   This is no accident.  Several of the authors that first made the ghost story a popular genre in England exactly fit this description.   

Montague Rhodes James (often designated as M. R. Janes-1862 to 1936-UK) attended Kings College,  Cambridge as an undergraduate and basically never left.   He lived there most all his life, never married, and became Provost of the college.   He was also a very highly respected medieval scholar.   His specialty was medieval Latin and English church history of the period.   He also wrote a popular guide book to English abbeys.  He is still read widely today for his wonderful ghost stories most of which he originally wrote to be read aloud to friends at college.   His first published collection of ghost stories was Ghost Stories of an Antiquarian (1904 in which "Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad" first appeared).   I was very happy when I read Professor James held Sheridan Le Fanu in such high esteem that he wrote an introduction to two of his books.  

The central character in "Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad"  is Professor Parkin of Cambridge who is on a solitary holiday at a hotel somewhere on the east coast of England.   Professor Perkins is given to long walks and as he is walking through an overgrown unkempt cemetery he notices something protruding from one of the graves.   He assumes it is an old bone but when he uncovers it he finds a whistle.    As he begins to walk back to the hotel he notices a dark figure way in the background that seems to be watching him.   

Back in his room he looks the whistle over.   It has an inscription, in Latin, that translates as "Who is this who is coming".   That evening he cleans up the whistle and blows it.   It produces a strange and unearthly sound.    Later that evening he will be awoken by strange sounds.  When he is at breakfast one of the other guests asks him if he believes in ghosts and Parkin basically says the whole notion is silly.    He is, however, very disturbed when the chamber maid tells him that someone slept in the second bed in his room last night.    He begins to wonder who the phantom that seemed to follow him from a long way off after he took the whistle was.  (Spoiler alert)   That night he awakes in terror as the sheets in the second bad begin to flap and he sees the shadowing figure that followed him after he took the whistle arise from the other bed.   

"Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad" can be read online here.   Many more of his ghost stories can also found online.

I really like his prose style.   Here is a good sample:

The speech served to remind Parkins of his little discovery of that afternoon. It was with some considerable curiosity that he turned it over by the light of his candles. It was of bronze, he now saw, and was shaped very much after the manner of the modern dog-whistle; in fact it was - yes, certainly it was - actually no more nor less than a whistle. He put it to his lips, but it was quite full of a fine, caked-up sand or earth, which would not yield to knocking, but must be loosened with a knife. 

I enjoyed reading this story and I think most other people will also.  It is a gentle work meant to entertain, not terrify.   I hope to read more of his stories in the future.

The next older paranormal writer I will post on will be James Buchan.

Mel u


Fred said...

Mel u,

MR James and Algernon Blackwood are favorites of mine. You also might want to look into the works of Oliver Onion.

I consider Blackwood's "The Willows" to be the best supernatural tale ever written. Oliver Onions's "The Beckoning Fair One" is also a great story.

"Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come To You, My Lad" is my favorite MR James tale, so far.

Another favorite character in many of these stories is the pastor or minister who likes to delve into old books and manuscripts or exploring old buildings, especially old abandoned churches and chapels and graveyards!

Mel u said...

Fred-I just booked marked the Oliver Onion story you mentioned-he is a new to me writer-I will for sure read this story-I also want to read the Willows-how do you feel about the work of Sheridan Le Fanu? thanks very much as always for your reading ideas and comments

Kailana said...

I have never heard of this before. Thanks for bringing it to my attention!

Buried In Print said...

I read this one last year as my introduction to his tales (for the same challenge!) and quite liked it: an old-fashioned but sweetly satisfying tale, with just the perfect amount of chill to it. Thanks for reminding me that I should make a point of finding more of his stories. Enjoy the rest of your scary tales!

Cath said...

Definitely one of my favourite M.R. James stories, this one. But most of them are excellent. I love The Ash Tree and Vignette.

E.F. Benson is another ghost story writer who is well worth trying.

I've made a note of a couple of recs here in the comments and will look those up. Think I might have read the Blackwood but not the Onions.

Nice reviews.

Jodie Robson said...

When I was growing up the BBC used to show an M.R. James story every Christmas and I remember this one particularly, as I had been looking forward to enormously. Just as it was getting to the end the TV screen went black, although we still had the sound - the noise of the sheets flapping, and not knowing what was happening was possibly even scarier than being able to see it. I had nightmares for weeks! It's still a favourite story.

Fred said...

Mel u,

LeFanu is a good writer. I've read a number of his short stories. "Green Tea" and "Carmilla" being the two the stand out the most.

I would rank him behind Blackwood and MR James.