Stories that inspired M.R. James

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Episode 7b – Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad

January 28, 2012 | Episodes | Comments (21)

Photo by David Senior ( episode features the second half of our podcast extravaganza on M.R. James’s seaside shocker ‘Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad’. Neither beach nor bedtime will ever be the same again!

Thanks again to Tom Hemmings who lent us his wonderful voice for the readings, and to Dave Senior (EastScapes) for the excellent groyne photo.

Show notes:

For more ‘Oh, Whistle…’-related links, see the post for Episode 7a.


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  1. A Rat In The Wall says:

    The description of the ghost actually reminds me more of a person in a funeral shawl or something. But I can understand the whole sheeted ghost thing, too!

    You guys are getting better by the week, I’m loving the podcast – can’t wait for Casting The Runes!

  2. Will says:

    A funeral shawl, that’s a cool idea and completely hadn’t occured to me! I love how much in M.R. James is so open to different interpretations.

  3. Wayne Noble says:

    Have you noticed how ‘Oh Whistle…’ is one of the few stories in which nobody dies?

  4. Frank says:

    Just a note: I’d always thought the frequent references to Parkins “improving his game” were a sort of winking reference to drinking. Consider the following lines:

    ” Professor Parkins, one of whose principal characteristics was pluck, spent the greater part of the day following his arrival at Burnstow in what he had called improving his game, in company with this Colonel Wilson: and during the afternoon–whether the process of improvement were to blame or not, I am not sure–the Colonel’s demeanour assumed a colouring so lurid that even Parkins jibbed at the thought of walking home with him from the links. He determined, after a short and furtive look at that bristling moustache and those incarnadined, features, that it would be wiser to allow the influences of tea and tobacco to do what they could with the Colonel before the dinner-hour should render a meeting inevitable.”

    I took that to mean they were drinking on the links — perhaps out of flasks — and the Colonel’s face was reddening as a result. There’s also the line:

    “When, therefore, he retired towards twelve o’clock, he felt that he had spent his evening in quite a satisfactory way, and that, even for so long as a fortnight or three weeks, life at the Globe would be supportable under similar conditions–‘especially,’ thought he, ‘if I go on improving my game.'”

    … which I took to mean that they were out there getting good and liquored up, which is the only thing making the golfing tolerable to Parkins.

    I’m probably wrong, but I’ve been reading it that way for so long it’s been burned into my mind.

    • Will says:

      That’s great! It had never occured to me to read it like that but I love the idea of the Colonel and Parkens getting slowly sloshed as they slog around the links.
      It would also explain why, after the ‘face of crumpled linen’ incident, the colonel feels the need to clear Parkins of “ready suspicions of delirium tremens”!

      • Daniel Eriksson says:

        this is the way i’m reading this story in the future! The stumbling upon the ruins doesn’t seem so weird so weird to me now.

  5. Henrik Johnny Sunnerfors says:

    After following an american Lovecraft podcast for some time, I felt sorry I couldn’t find a British M.R. James podcast, thus, your podcast was very pleasant news as it is also a very good podcast. Do you make your episodes chronologically, according to when James’s stories were first written/published, and when is, if so, the The residence at Whitminster episode gonna air? Do you believe you’ll make a two-parter of any other story as well?… In any case, make sure your podcast always lands on all eight. Thanks for a great podcast and the effort put into it. – Henrik, Stockholm.

    • Will says:

      Glad you are enjoying the podcast! Yes, we are trying to do the stories roughly chronologically so if we keep going at our current rate we hopefully should get to ‘Residence…’ in late summer/early autumn.

  6. Nairn says:

    Great podcast, by the way – I’m enjoying working my way through the episodes in an un-Jamesian Prairie heatwave. Here’s what’s always bothered me about “Oh, whistle…”, and it’s the whistle itself. You could probably say this about quite a few of Monty’s McGuffins, but what is the practical value in possessing a phantom-summoning whistle? What were the Templars intending to use if for? It doesn’t protect the preceptory, or any buried treasure (so far as we know) – it just drives people who blow it crazy, to no apparent advantage. Why anyone would go to the trouble to make it is beyond me.

    Yours in abject pedantry,


    • Mike says:

      Hi Nairn, thanks for your comment. Yes, quite a few stories are based on malignant objects, which are quite random in their hauntings. Maybe a templar practical joke, or a boobytrap for papists come to requisition their treasure?

      We get the wet end of the jetstream this year…

    • Perhaps the whistle was intended as a test of faith? New initiates might have been required to blow it, and those lacking conviction to articles of the order would be targeted by the sheet-specter, while true faith would drive it off. Just a wild guess on my part.

  7. Ernst Bitterman says:

    I’m a little late to the party as well, but I guess the searing weather of the North American steppes drives some of us to long for the cooling summer drizzles of England. I had recently re-read the story, then watched the ’68 production, and finally listened to the two-parter here, and it only now occurs to me that Peter Jackson may have lifted the pernicious bedding of this story for part of the thrills in “The Frighteners”; the initial manifestation of the villain in that film is more or less two dimensional, and the sight of it bounding purposefully across rooftops does quite set the heart sideways.

    …and pondering Nairn’s comment, one might fall back on a Lovecraftian “because horrible things will be” non-reason, or an (apparently) Jamesian underlining of the ineffable evil of Papists, or perhaps someone thought of a Templar preceptory as a medieval equivalent of the big warehouse at the end of “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. Who knows what else might be under all that sand?

  8. Matt B says:

    Just a little addition for those interested in possible locations drawn on by M R James:,_Suffolk

    Dunwich is just north of Aldeburgh (Seaburgh in A Warning to the Curious) and fits as a location for the Templar Preceptory.

  9. Rich says:

    Really enjoying these podcasts, and ‘Whistle’ has always been one of my favourite James stories (definitely one of the Top Three, as you observe elsewhere.)

    One of James’ greatest attributes as a writer is his ability to keep the Thing very much in the corner of the reader’s eye, even when it is finally revealed, by selecting small but suggestive details about it – the ‘leather bag’ that puts its arms around Somerton down the well, and the ‘face of crumpled linen’ in this story, a detail that has stuck with me ever since I first read the story years ago.

    I’ve been working on some illustrations to James’ stories, and thought you might like a look;

  10. Carol Mikolj says:

    Sorry for the extremely late comment… just to say that when the small boy talks about the figure at Parkins’ window ‘wiving’ at him, that should be pronounced to rhyme with ‘wife’, not ‘whiff’. The boy’s accent then makes sense in the vernacular.

    Also to say I am loving the podcast! For a long time MRJ fan like me, it’s a real treat. Well done boys and keep up the good work!

  11. Richard Leigh says:

    I think that Parkins’ obsessive need to oppose superstition suggests something in himself that he’s trying to avoid. Maybe this is another instance of MRJ’s repressed fears. He was expected to join the clergy but disappointed his parents in this regard. He was deeply interested in the Apocrypha and in the remnants of paganism. He was thoroughly averse to thinking.

  12. Karen says:

    I rather love the Colonel. He may be a little blimpish in some respects, but when faced with what he feels is the bullying of a small child, he’s determined to protect the kid and encourage him to defend himself, as well as to ensure that the bully’s brought to justice. I like that in an adult.

  13. Marcia says:

    Finally got hold of the 2010 with John Hurt. It was a good ghost story but it had nothing important to share with the M.R. James story. They changed everything including the man’s name (Parkin, not Parkins). The import of the item, a ring not a whistle, made zero sense as it was not an object that could be activated like a whistle so we’re left to assume that picking it up and reading it was enough to start a haunting. Then the haunting is tied back to his catatonic wife so again, it has nothing to do with the original story. And frankly I had trouble figuring out what the heck was happening at the end, so while it was a well done tale, I sort of hated it. It’s just not Oh Whistle at all.
    Did anyone ever discuss it on the chats?

  14. Nadia V says:

    I read the story first and then went on to the 1968 short film. I had zero expectations. Parkin seemed like such a harmless and awkward person, truly a wonderful performance until the end. But during the dream sequence I had a real jump scare! I wasn’t expecting that reaction. After that, my tension increased. Then at the end, seeing this self-absorbed character disintegrating at the sight of this unknown thing was really disturbing. Creepy stuff!
    It was so like what Lovecraft kept babbling about in his stories, the whole thing about people driven mad by terror.

  15. ROBIN KENT says:

    There’s been a reading of this by the Guardian’s short story series fairly recently, too. Live here:

    Miss your podcasts!

  16. Rich Portlock says:

    It’s not a weird spelling of “waved”; it’s a phonetic version of the dialect and should be pronounced “why-ved”

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