Whistle - By James

Introductory Note by Willie Morris

James Jones died in the hospital in Southampton, Long Island, New York, on May 9, 1977, of congestive heart failure. He was fifty-five.

Whistle was to have had thirty-four chapters. Jones had completed somewhat more than half of Chapter 31 when he again became seriously ill. However, he had already plotted in considerable, and indeed almost finished detail his remaining material.

I was his friend and neighbor, and in tape recordings and conversations with me over several months prior to his death, he left no doubt of his intentions for the concluding three chapters. As late as two days before he died, he was speaking into a tape recorder in the hospital.

He planned for these last chapters to be relatively short. The ending of Whistle was firmly in his mind. All he lacked was time. Had he lived another month, I believe he would have written these chapters to his satisfaction. But he leaves what is essentially, by any judgment, a finished work.

In his note about this book, Jones has described his intentions on the scope of this work. This is the third novel in his war trilogy: From Here to Eternity (1951) being the first, then The Thin Red Line (1962), and now Whistle.

He was obsessed by Whistle. He worked on it off and on for a very long time. He kept coming back to it, and it kept “turning on its spit in my head for nearly thirty years.” After his first attack in 1970, he had two recurrences of his serious heart ailment, and I sensed he had a premonition that he was fighting against time to complete this book. For the last two years, in the attic of his farmhouse in Sagaponack, Long Island, he worked twelve to fourteen hours a day on it. He survived another attack in January 1977, and between then and his death he went back to writing several hours a day. As a precaution he also made the tape recordings and the notes.

Jones wished to have a few introductory words about why the name of his city in Whistle is Luxor, rather than Memphis, Tennessee. In his notes and in an earlier essay, he wrote:

Luxor in fact does not exist. There is no town of Luxor, Tennessee. There is no Luxor in the United States.

Luxor is really Memphis. I spent eight months there in 1943 in the Kennedy General Army Hospital. I was 22.

But Luxor is also Nashville. When I was sent back to duty from Kennedy General, I went to Camp Campbell, Kentucky, which was close to Nashville. Nashville supplanted Memphis as our liberty town. Luxor has recognizable traces of both. In my book I did not want to break off with the characters, love affairs, habitudes, hangouts, familiarities, and personal relationships of Memphis. For these reasons I was obliged to turn the real Camp Campbell into my Camp O’Bruyerre, and place it near Memphis.

So I have called my city Luxor and used the Memphis that I remembered. Or imagined I remembered. People who know Memphis will find my city disturbingly familiar. And then suddenly and even more disturbingly, not familiar at all. They should not think of it as Memphis, but as Luxor. Sole owner and Prop., Jas. Jones, who must also take full responsibility.

A brief explanation about the Epilogue:

In Chapter 31, there is a set of asterisks. This is the point that Jones reached in Chapter 31. As reconstructed from his own thoughts and language, and at his request, I have put down in considerable detail his intentions for the concluding three and a half chapters. Nothing has been included that he did not expressly wish for these chapters. The last, indented section of the Epilogue is the author’s own words, from a recording made only a few days before he died.


I first began actual work on Whistle in 1968, but the book goes back a much longer time than that. It was conceived as far back as 1947, when I was still first writing to Maxwell Perkins about my characters Warden and Prewitt, and the book I wanted to write about World War II. When I was beginning From Here to Eternity, then still untitled, I meant for that book to carry its people from the peacetime Army on through Guadalcanal and New Georgia, to the return of the wounded to the United States. A time span corresponding to my own experience. But long before I reached the middle of it I