(Spoiler Alert: This post discusses plot points of the story “The Whistling Room”. If you have not read this story and do not wish to have it spoiled, stop reading now. If you’d like to read the story and then come back to this post, you can read it here.)
Today we examine what is probably the second most popular Carnacki story written by William Hope Hodgson: “The Whistling Room”. Originally appearing in the March, 1910, issue of The Idler, this story has been reprinted at least 23 times in English and several times in foreign languages as well. It was also adapted for television in 1954 as an episode of The Pepsi-Cola Playhouse with Alan Napier as Carnacki.
The original appearance in The Idler contained a brief forward from the editors:
Complaints continue to reach us from all parts of the country to the effect that Mr. W. HOPE HODGESON’s “Carnacki” stories are producing a widespread epidemic of Nervous Prostration! So far from being able to reassure or calm our nervous readers, we are compelled to warn them that “The Whistling Room”, which we publish this month, is worse than ever. Our advertising manager had to go to bed for two days after reading the advance sheets; a proof reader has sent in his resignation; and, worst of all, our smartest office boy — But this is no place to bewail or seek for sympathy. Yet another of those stories will appear in April!
Amusing as this hyperbole is, the story is one of the most effect Carnacki stories in the Hodgson canon. Much of this is a result of Hodgson’s deft handling of the plot which, in lesser hands, would have been absurd. Even today, it is difficult to imagine how this story could be adapted for television or film and be as effective as Hodgson’s prose.
The usual gang is summoned to Carnacki’s house for the usual meal and story but this time is different. For once, Carnacki has called his friends while in the middle of a case. He hopes, in fact, to be able to make some sense of the whole thing before returning.
Once again, Carnacki has been to Ireland. This time Iastrae Castle which is “twenty miles northeast of Galway”. (It is interesting to note the use of Ireland both here and in the novel, The House on the Borderland. Clearly, his time there while a youth made an impression upon Hodgson.) Carnacki has come at the request of a Mr. Tassoc who has recently bought the castle and is having problems with a ‘haunted room’. A recent arrival in Ireland, Tassoc has also wooed and won the hand of local beauty, Miss Donnehue, much to the chagrin of neighborhood lads.
The room, Tassoc explains, emits an eerie whistle at night and has begun to unnerve Tassoc, his brother and servant. Tassoc is certain that the whistling is being caused by the rejected suitors who had all bet Tassoc that he would not stay six months in the place. Determined to get to the bottom of the business, Tassoc has brought Carnacki into the case.
Shortly after his arrival, they hear “an extraordinary hooning whistle, monstrous and inhuman”. The men rush to the room and Tassoc opens the door:
“As the door flew open, the sound beat out at us, with an effect impossible to explain to one who has not heard it – with a certain, horrible personal note in it; as if in there in the darkness you could picture the room rocking and creaking in a mad, vile glee to its own filthy piping and whistling and hooning. To stand there and listen, was to be stunned by Realisation. It was as if someone showed you the mouth of a vast pit suddenly, and said: – That’s Hell. And you knew that they had spoken the truth. Do you get it, even a little bit?”
Something tells Carnacki to get everyone out of the empty room and he quickly does so just as an “extraordinary yelling scream” comes into the whistling. Certain that they have just escaped great danger, the men go to steady their nerves with a few drinks. After the house has gone to sleep, Carnacki sneaks out and goes to the now-quiet room to prepares some of his ‘tests’. He wears a “protection belt” of garlic around his neck but feels that even this may not be enough.
Opening the door, Carnacki is filled with an sense of danger but pushes himself to put up his ‘tests’ consist of long strings of hair across the windows and large fireplace.
“I stood a few seconds, waiting, and nothing happened, and the empty room showed bare from corner to corner. And then, you know, I realised that the room was full of an abominable silence; can you understand that? A sort of purposeful silence, just as sickening as any of the filthy noises the Things have power to make. Do you remember what I told you about that ‘Silent Garden’ business? Well, this room had just that same malevolent silence – the beastly quietness of a thing that is looking at you and not seeable itself, and thinks that it has got you. Oh, I recognised it instantly, and I whipped the top off my lantern, so as to have light over the whole room.”
Just as he is finishing, Carnacki feels the room change and a “low, mocking whistle grew in the room”. It is then that Carnacki is sure that he has “come across one of those rare and horrible cases of the Inanimate reproducing the functions of the Animate.” Overwhelmed with fear, Carnacki bolts out of the door. Leaning against the opposite wall of the corridor, Carnacki recalls the passage from the Sigsand MS; “’thyr be noe sayfetie to be gained bye gayrds of holieness when the monyster hath pow’r to speak throe woode and stoene.”
Carnacki returns to his room where, shortly, Tassoc joins him unable to sleep with the unending whistling. Tassoc is determined to bolt into the room and put paid to the matter but Carnacki restrains him by stating that the room is “about as dangerous as it well can be”.
The next morning, Carnacki finds that all of the hairs he placed the night before, except for one, were unbroken. Nothing had entered or left that room while the whistling had occurred. For the next three weeks, Carnacki examines every inch of the room as well as the castle but finds nothing. But every night, the unholy whistling continues.
Then, one night, Carnacki hears some men outside and wonders if he has been mistaken all along. Could it merely be a plot to drive Tassoc away? But a careful watch for the next five days reveals no one around the Castle.
When he receives an urgent cable, Carnacki has to return to London but cautions Tassoc not to enter the room under any conditions. It is at this point that he has called his friends together to tell them this half-story before returning.
Two weeks later, Carnacki has returned and relates the rest of the tale.
Returning back to the Castle late, Carnacki is approaching it as he hears the hellish whistling again. Inspired, he gets a ladder and climbs up outside to look into the room through the window. It is then that he sees the most horrible sight yet:
“And then, you know, I saw something. The floor in the middle of the huge, empty room, was puckered upwards in the centre into a strange, soft-looking mound, parted at the top into an ever-changing hole, that pulsated to that great, gentle hooning. At times, as I watched, I saw the heaving of the indented mound, gap across with a queer, inward suction, as with the drawing of an enormous breath; then the thing would dilate and pout once more to the incredible melody. And suddenly, as I stared, dumb, it came to me that the thing was living. I was looking at two enormous, blackened lips, blistered and brutal, there in the pale moonlight….”
The room itself is physically whistling.
Terrified, Carnacki listens as the whistling becomes “a mad screaming note” and then the lips fade away. Suddenly, Carnacki hears Tassoc’s voice calling for help from inside the room. Afraid that the man has ignored Carnacki’s warning and become trapped in the haunted room, Carnacki breaks the window and climbs into the room… only to find nothing there.
With a suddenly realization, Carnacki knows that the room has deliberately lured him inside.
“On my left the end wall had bellied-in towards me, in a pair of gargantuan lips, black and utterly monstrous, to within a yard of my face. I fumbled for a mad instant at my revolver; not for it, but myself, for the danger was a thousand times worse than death. And then, suddenly, the Unknown Last Line of the Saaamaaa Ritual was whispered quite audibly in the room. Instantly, the thing happened that I have known once before. There came a sense as of dust falling continually and monotonously, and I knew that my life hung uncertain and suspended for a flash, in a brief, reeling vertigo of unseeable things, Then that ended, and I knew that I might live. My soul and body blended again, and life and power came to me. I dashed furiously at the window, and hurled myself out head-foremost, for I can tell you that I had stopped being afraid of death. I crashed down on to the ladder, and slithered, grabbing and grabbing; and so came some way or other alive to the bottom. And there I sat in the soft, wet grass, with the moonlight all about me; and far above, through the broken window of the Room, there was a low whistling.”
Certain now that the room is dangerous, Carnacki tells Tassoc to have the entire thing torn down and every fragment burnt down in a blast furnace, erected within a pentacle. As the workmen destroy the room, a scrollwork of stone is found in the masonry over the great fireplace. It tells the story of the jester, Dian Tiansay, who had made the “Song of Foolishness” upon King Ernore and sang it to King Alzof.
Tassoc shows Carnacki a parchment in the library of the Castle which gives more details. The two Kings had been bitter enemies by birthright but without any real harm until Dian Tiansay made the Song of Foolishness upon Ernore. Enraged, Ernore wages war upon Alzof, eventually taking his castle and burning the rival king. Ernore takes Tiansay back to his castle and tortures the jester by ripping out his tongue and keeping Tiansay’s wife for himself.
One night, Tiansay’s wife is missing only to be found in the “Whistling Room”, dead and in her husband’s arms. Tiansay is whistling the Song of Foolishness which he can no longer sing. At this, Tiansay is burned alive in the room’s fireplace but he never stops whistling until he dies. Thereafter, the room was curse with the sound of Tiansay whistling, always whistling at night, the Song of Foolishness.
It is Carnacki’s theory that the hate grew and grew over the years to the point where it had grown so powerful. Also, he discovers that Tassoc’s fiancée was descended from King Alzof and, at the end of his tale, wonders what would have happened if she had ever entered that room.
“The Whistling Room” remains one of Hodgson’s most effective Carnacki stories. Not only is the haunting genuine but it is one of the most dangerous that Carnacki faces in Hodgson’s stories. The threat is not only to his body but to his very soul as well.
The legend behind the haunting is particularly interesting and is slightly reminiscent of many of the tales of Lord Dunsany. The “Song of Foolishness” is never stated but we are led to believe that this was something so embarrassing and humiliating that Alzof had no choice but to go to war over it.
In this story, we hear about even more of Carnacki’s untold stories. They are: The Buzzing Case, The “Grey Dog” Case, The “Yellow Finger” Experiments, The “Silent Garden”, The “Grunting Man” Case and The “Nodding Door” Case. We don’t know anything about these cases except as they relate to the “Whistling Room” Case. Based on the hints, we can say that these are not only all cases in which the ‘haunting’ was real but also very dangerous.
Also in this story, we hear about the mysterious “Unknown Last Line of the Saaamaaa Ritual”. Again, we do not know what this line actually is or why is it “Unknown” if Carnacki knows and has used the Saaamaaa Ritual in the past? In this case, something outside utters the Last Line, presumably to protect Carnacki. Even Carnacki doesn’t know who or what recited that Last Line. Arkright, one of Carnacki friends makes this astonishing statement:
“One other thing,” said Arkright, “have you any idea what governs the use of the Unknown Last Line of the Saaamaaa Ritual? I know, of course, that it was used by the Ab-human Priests in the Incantation of the Raaee; but what used it on your behalf, and what made it?”
What were these “Ab-human Priests”? Or “the Incantation of the Raaee”?? We never know. Hodgson drops these tantalizing leads much in the same way Arthur Conan Doyle hinted about ‘unwritten cases’ in his Sherlock Holmes stories.
Carnacki states that he believes that there are outside forces intervening between the Outer Monstrosities and the human soul. This is one of the instances where Carnacki comes close to some of the concepts of Hodgson’s The Night Land. Just as there are evil forces around us, there are forces kind to humanity as well.
Clearly this is one of Carnacki’s greatest cases and, not surprisingly, one that he is happy to have survived.