Sunday, July 17, 2011

Quis Est Iste Qui Venit

Illustration by James Bryde (1904)

This is our first Spooky Sunday post. Tonight we'll be featuring one of my favorite ghost stories by one of my favorite ghost story writers, "Oh, Whistle And I'll Come, My Lad" by M. R. James. Written in 1904, this is a story of an amateur antiquarian discovering an "accursed" item that brings the horrific attention of a supernatural entity. This basic plot line has gone on to become a staple of the Horror genre, but I feel that James does it first and best.

It's not about gore or thrills that make this story stand out. In fact, these elements that so dominate modern Horror are hardly present at all. Rather, it is the thick atmosphere of dread. Very little gets described or explained, but James suggests and hints at a world of terror, just beyond the reader's ability to fully comprehend. This story leaves an impression of the malevolent dead, waiting to prey upon the hapless and helpless living when the unwritten rules that separate the waking world from the Underworld are accidentally transgressed.

Montague Rhodes James

Here is my favorite part of story:

He blew tentatively and stopped suddenly, startled and yet pleased at the note he had elicited. It had a quality of infinite distance in it, and, soft as it was, he somehow felt it must be audible for miles round. It was a sound, too, that seemed to have the power (which many scents possess) of forming pictures in the brain. He saw quite clearly for a moment a vision of a wide, dark expanse at night, with a fresh wind blowing and in the midst a lonely figure - how employed, he could not tell. Perhaps he would have seen more had not the picture been broken by the sudden surge of a gust of wind against his casement, so sudden that it made him look up, just in time to see the white glint of a sea-bird's wing somewhere outside the dark panes.

I highly recommend reading the whole story yourself.

It's public domain, so there are endless electronic versions to be found on the internets, including here at Wikisource. But if you're not the reading type, here's a decent adaptation narrated by Robert Powell in a 1986 BBC production.

Here's M. R. James' Wikipedia page.

And a copy of "Oh, Whistle And I'll Come to You, My Lad" can be found at Wikisource here.


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