Oh, Whistle, And I’ll Come to You, My Lad by M.R. James (1904)
Tuesday’s Tale of Terror November 12, 2014
If you’ve never read M.R. James’ Oh, Whistle, And I’ll come to You, My Lad you will find this to have all the classic elements of a good old-fashioned supernatural tale. If you’ve ever lay in your childhood darkened bed and shivered at the thought of some spook lurking about, this story will recall that heart-pounding fear and dread. M.R. James was a master of ghost stories and Oh, Whistle is thought to be one of his finest and most popular.
Do you really believe in ghosts? Do you believe that the human dead might retain their nature, their very essence in this world? If your answer is no, you might like Professor Parkins, a precise young man, scrupulously honest and polite, and a Professor of Ontograpy at St. James College, who does not believe in ghosts. Parkin’s scholarly pride prevails here: Ontograpy is the study of the nature and essence of things, specifically that which is concerned with the responses of organic beings to their physical environment.
Professor Parkins takes a holiday to the shore at Burnstow, lodging at the Globe Inn. Desiring solitary walks along the cliffs and beach—and a bit of golf—tea and tobacco and the acquaintance of Colonel Wilson, the professor sets out to stroll by the ruins not far from the inn. These ruins are known to be the preceptory of the Knights of Templars. Parkins comes upon what was likely a church altar, broken mortar and bricks, and something else intrigues him. He digs up a metal tube of considerable age. He is certain of its historic value and pockets the odd piece.
Alone on the cliffs in the approaching night sky, the sea goes dim. Murmurings flow off the churning waves as a bitter wind kicks up. Is that someone behind him? A figure? A wavy figure? He might have imagined a childhood fantasy of a darkened figure with horns and wings. But no. This is just another lonely soul wandering the coastal cliffs. Or is it?
Once back in his room at the Globe Inn, Parkins examines the odd metal piece and concludes that this is an old whistle. He finds an inscription quis est iste qui uenit. Who is this who is coming?
Who indeed, Parkins wonders and tests it out, not just once but twice he blows the whistle. What do you think emerges at such a call from a man who does not believe in spirits? And how will he spend the night in his bed, in a restful sleep or …?
Read the short story Oh, Whistle, And I’ll Come to You, My Lad here at Gaslight.
Narrations of James’ stories are a special treat. His stories lend themselves to read-alouds far more than most authors, I think, because they are written so fluently and create an intimacy that is irresistible.
For a full text narration of Oh, Whistle, you can read it here at Tales to Terrify. An excellent production, narrated by Jack Calverley. Sit back, close your eyes and let this narrative take you into the shadowy world of M.R. James.
For an adapted text version, the famous Robert Powell reads a very haunting version of Oh, Whistle from a traditional English study by lamplight and fireside. Very atmospheric if you want to see your reader telling you the story. Listen to Part One here at YouTube and Part Two at YouTube (total time about 20 minutes)
And, you might like the 1968 film adaptation on YouTube, by BBC TV directed by Jonathan Miller, staring Michael Hordern and Ambrose Coghill. Not a whole lot of dialogue going on here, but that haunting quiet adds to the spooky mood of the thrashing sea and descending winds, not to mention some fine photography of the eastern English coastline. At the inn, there is an interesting debate between the intellectual Parkins and the Colonel on the survival of the personality at death. (run time is 42 minutes) Watch it here at YouTube.
Please post if you have other M.R. James’s stories that you would like to recommend. The Ash Tree is one of my favorites and is featured here in January 2012 archives.
Other Reading Web Sites to Visit
For Authors/Writers: The Writer Unboxed