"Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad"

by M. R. James
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Last Updated on August 20, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 367

Professor Parkins

Professor Parkins is the story's main character, or protagonist. He is a professor of biology at Cambridge University and, on principle, will not subscribe to any belief in the supernatural or even admit the possibility of anything outside the world he considers to be reality, the world about which he teaches. He is young and somewhat inflexible, preferring the accuracy of rational truth over most other considerations. He has no sense of humor and is rather like "an old woman" and "henlike . . . in his little ways," according to the narrator. However, when he has an encounter that defies any natural explanation (an entity, apparently summoned by a whistle, that wraps itself in bed sheets), which provokes feelings that defy any natural explanation (why should he be so frightened of the entity that he would leap from his window to avoid its touch?), he finds that the world may yet contain elements that he does not and perhaps cannot understand.

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Mr. Rogers

Mr. Rogers is a colleague of Parkins's, and the narrator describes him as "rude." He invites himself on Parkins's golf holiday, joking that he can help to keep the ghosts at bay, knowing that such a statement will irritate the young professor. Rogers doesn't (or pretends not to) pick up on Parkins's reluctance to have Rogers join him on his vacation, and he plans to join Parkins in Burnstow a few days after Parkins arrives. After Parkins's frightening encounter with a local spirit, however, his feelings regarding Rogers's arrival change dramatically.

Colonel Wilson

Colonel Wilson is Parkins's golfing partner in Burnstow. He is a bit older than Parkins and a believer in superstitions. It is the colonel who seems to understand what Parkins has done by blowing the old bronze whistle he found buried at a Knights Templar site, the colonel who puts together the clues from what the local boy saw in Parkins's hotel room window, and the colonel who saves Parkins from falling out this window when he is attacked by the linen-draped spirit. Were it not for the colonel's flexibility of belief, Parkins would probably be dead by the story's end. He contrasts Parkins in order to show how problematic Parkins's philosophical rigidity is.

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