Saturday, October 6, 2012

James-A-Day: Oh, Whistle and I'll Come to You, My Lad

"Oh, Whistle and I'll Come to You, My Lad" strikes me as a bit different than the stories we've read so far.  Of course we still have the scholar who is messing about with things he ought not, but a whistle that calls up a wind and a specter seems like something new.  I really like the whole bedclothes/fabric/crumpled linen theme--fabric can be scary!

I particularly like the title, which is from a Burns song and ought to be romantic--but instead it's menacing.

This is often considered MRJ's best story, and it's thought that he got the idea from a dream he described: "...a face was looking my way. It was not monstrous, not pale, fleshless, spectral. Malevolent I thought and think it was; at any rate the eyes were large and open and fixed. It was pink and, I thought, hot, and just above the eyes the border of a white linen drapery hung down from the brows."  I don't know how similar that really is, except for the linen, but James seems to consider linen to be a potentially frightening fabric.  His ghosts seem to wear linen an awful lot.

I thought the Colonel was a bit of a different twist as well.  James' less-educated minor characters are often a little bit ridiculous, and the Colonel is written that way.  But he's also the one with the sense to know that you shouldn't go around blowing mysterious whistles buried in Templar ruins.  Parkins' rather snobbish refusal to consider the reality of the supernatural is ridiculed more, and the Colonel turns out to be the smart one.  (I really like the bit where he calls Parkins a Sadducee, and Parkins thinks they were the only sensible people in the Old Testament anyway.  Sadducees were a priestly group that did not believe in an afterlife; they disagreed with Pharisees on that point.)

Do you love the Professor of Ontography?  I do like the funny scholarly titles that get slipped in every so often.

One of my favorite children's authors is John Bellairs, who wrote Gothic horror stories for a younger audience.  MRJ was one of his main inspirations and his stories are often similar in flavor, with ancient relics and churches, bits of Latin and arcane knowledge.  Bellairs did have a humorous (and silly) streak, though, whereas James is rarely funny.  Anyway, there are a few elements that Bellairs just plain lifted from James stories.  The hooded, tentacled creature from yesterday's story is one, and the whistle that summons is another.  Bellairs' whistle is silver and calls up a Lamia, though.  (Actually, in looking up the book just now, I realized that it's really one of the follow-up books by Brad Strickland--but I'm pretty sure he's writing them from outlines and plot ideas that Bellairs wrote.)


Nancy Leek said...

I learn a new term with each story. In "Number 13" it was "corbie steps" (a stair-stepped gable, like on old Dutch houses) and in this one it is "groynes," which are there, I guess, to keep the sand from shifting and eroding on the beach.

The central image of the animated bedclothes is excellent---the idea that something as everyday as the sheets on the bed could take on the aspect of horror. The illustration of the fabric ghost looming over Parkins looks like it was influenced by the ghost woodcuts of Yoshitoshi, although I can't find one that comes close. Has the same atmosphere though.

I also admire James's little observations of human nature such as this one: "Few people can resist the temptation to try a little amateur research in a department quite outside their own, if only for the satisfaction of showing how successful they would have been had they only taken it up seriously."

Cat said...

I can see why this is one of his best. The atmosphere is fantastic, lots of humour - loved the Colonel - and I think most people can relate to being frightened at some time by something as ordinary as sheets or hanging clothes in the dark.