Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Whistling Room

1910 Short Story by William Hope Hodgson

One of Hodgson's Carnacki the Ghost-Finder stories, a sort of supernatural answer to Sherlock Holmes. Some of Carnacki's cases have mundane solutions, and some supernatural, so you're left unsure of things until near the end, thereby avoiding the Scooby-Doo/Dresdan Files failure of always falling on one side or the other.

Basically a guy buys a (maybe) haunted castle, makes several bets that he'll stay there for a number of months, and then hires Carnacki to figure out if it really is haunted. Obviously anyone he made a bet with has motive to try faking him out, but the reputation is pre-existing.

I enjoy the Sherlock Holmes feel: the story is told by Carnacki after he has half-finished his investigation, to his friends over dinner in his flat. One of these friends then relates the story to us. The whole thing is full of references to previous adventures, and I suspect some of those references were never written, in the style of Arthur Conan Doyle's fictional self-references (I haven't read all the Carnacki stories, so I can't be sure, but I definitely get that impression).

As to this story in particular, the pace moves along rapidly, and I'm really in edge-of-my-seat territory towards the end, despite the 1910-style prose. The characters are pretty flat, and there is no metaphor or subtlety, but the whole thing is still a good, fun read, and it is just a really strange (and therefore interesting) story, both in the actual solution to the case and in the techniques Carnacki uses and off-handedly references during the course of his investigation.

The climax could be read as a bit of deus-ex-machina, but essentially Carnacki still has to take action, he is only given an opening to do so, and it doesn't absolutely resolve everything, so I'm a bit more okay with it. I also like the implications of much grander things implied here, in a pre-Lovecraft Lovecraftian fashion.

A very strange story, not the best written (and I feel I can expect more from Hodgson given books like The House on the Borderland), but I really like the style and this is fun just for some of the bizarre pseudoscience used in the investigation. 3 numbered wafers out of 5.

P.S. This is available free online here, and in plenty of other places, since it is public domain.

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