Alasdair Hutton

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Alasdair Hutton

Alasdair Hutton’s book reviews

Salute to Adventurers is one of John Buchan's early adventure stories. It is a rattling good yarn in the typical Buchan manner with a young man, Andrew Garvald, unexpectedly caught up in a cycle of events which carries him into contact with a wild preacher and his eldritch group of anything but Sweet Singers in the Lammermuir Hills of Scotland, a beautiful girl whose word frees him from the prison cell into which he has been thrust by the dragoons and a desire to stretch his wings in his uncle's business in the emerging American colony of Virginia. There he encounters the classic Buchan elements of people who are more than they seem, conspiracies, shadowy figures whose names can only be whispered in certain places and hanging over all a grave threat to the survival of the colonists from Indian forces massing beyond the mountains and controlled by a mysterious European figure. Needless to say, through a chain of skilfully-worked events, Andrew Garvald saves the colony and wins the lady. It is a first-class tale which was written in the same year as The Thirty-Nine Steps and has certainly been overshadowed by that greater story with its more contemporary appeal at the time. Salute to Adventurers is finely crafted with meticulous research and Buchan's genius for creating the sight and the smell of the countryside and particularly of his beloved hills as it urges the reader through the dangers to the triumphant conclusion.

Alasdair Hutton
April 2001
This is a book for young and old and especially for the historically minded to dwell on and even drool over. (G M Trevelyan the historian was a case in point!) The First World War had reinforced Buchan's knowledge of France and interest in the New World, and especially in Abraham Lincoln. Buchan had been fascinated from early days with 'The road the King of Errin goes' in foklore, and used the idea of the 'King's path' in an earlier work on Sir Walter Raleigh. In this post- First World War novel Buchan presents Lincoln's courageous Presidency in the American Civil War (he was a minority Republican President in his first term and was assassinated in his second) as nothing less than kingly, at first sight a paradox in a non-monarchical country like the USA.

The Path of the King offers a tapestry of historical episodes, from the Vikings through centuries of Norman and French, Flemish, English, Scottish and American social, economic and political life. Famous events such as the massacre of St Bartholomew's Eve, the adventures of Daniel Boone and much else provide the backcloth for the men and women who successively have, however diluted, the blood of kingliness in them (we might now say they had the right genes). The subtly-linked individual stories are used to suggest that kingliness may be dormant or fitful over several generations, but will finally reappear in someone, like Lincoln.

All the leading characters are presented as descended from a young Viking prince whose death among the Franks as a defeated Northman is implied in the first episode. That princeling's golden torque is the symbol of his royal status, but we find it remodelled as a ring, ultimately resurfacing in America only to be lost by young Abe Lincoln when he uses it to catch a fish in a 'crick' (creek or stream). But its loss is of no account, for when kingliness in fact reappears in Lincoln the man there is no need for it.

The fascination of this unusual book grows on the reader gradually. Little clues should be looked for constantly, in order to grasp the consistency of the tale. And the choice of Lincoln, very much the offspring of ordinary folks, proclaims for those with eyes to see that kingliness is not dependent on outward trappings but on inward riches. 'Though nature is wasteful of material things, there is no waste of spirit, as the Prologue suggests.

J C G Greig
The Moon Endureth: a contemporary review

The Moon Endureth (Blackwood) is a collection of tales and fancies, in prose and verse, which Mr John Buchan has contributed to Blackwood's Magazine. It reminds me of an old, well-thumbed saffron book, called, I think, Tales from Blackwood, which was one of the soberer delights of my schoolboy days a many moons ago. It isn't only that in several of the stories Mr Buchan makes me feel the thrill and ecstacy that comes of the cool, clean breath of mountain and moor and loch, and the boundless space of sunlit skies and the sound of running waters. That he can always do when he sets his mind to it. But he has somehow caught the indefinable spirit of the old 'Maga' magic which makes a typical Blackwood story as different from ordinary magazine fiction as the spacious repose of Tudor houses from the irritating pretence of modern jerry-built villas. His title, which is not very happily chosen, refers really not to the promise of the Psalmist, but to the belief of St Francis that the moon stands for the dominion of all strange things in water or air. In that region of mystery and horror Mr Buchan is always at home. But I like, too, his other fancies, more particularly those of the Americans who came to Europe to invite Prince Charlie to be their king, and found him drunk, and of the Lemnian who fought side by side with the Lacedaemonians at Thermopylae. They might both so easily have been true.

Punch, March 15th, 1912
Peter Thackeray of found this review from an unknown newspaper tucked away inside a first edition of this novel.

August 4th 1922

Huntingtower, by John Buchan.
(Hodder and Stoughton. 7s. 6d. net).
This story shows us Mr Buchan engaged in turning over and recombining into fresh groupings a heap of more or less familiar romantic 'properties'. His setting is the Scottish seacoast, and an untenanted mansion, in charge of a crew of surly, furtive lodgekeepers, who have something to hide, and betray the fact; and of a rough inn-keeper, who is desperately anxious to dissuade travellers from staying at his house.

They work under the direction of one Loudon, a factor, and a bluff, hearty, weather-tanned fellow, who makes the pleasantest impression of a wholesome open-air sportsman, till at length, we are allowed to detect in him just a fugitive gleam of something faintly suspicious. Loudon is good, in the traditional manner. There is a Danish brig, and a landing by a boat's crew of villains by night, and in stormy weather. There is, inevitably, a beautiful foreign girl, suitably provided with unscrupulous enemies, and with an unwelcome lover, 'beautiful as a devil,' who will stick at nothing. For the necessary contrast of the prosaic with the picturesque there is a middle-aged and wealthy Glasgow grocer, timid and respectable by habit, though a stout-hearted fellow at bottom, who has sold his business and blunders into this whirl of picturesque violence at the bidding of a life-long passion for romance, which his retirement has set him free at last to indulge.

Dickson McCunn has many engaging qualities besides his simplicity and kindliness. He has a harmless vanity which makes him thrill with pride when he over hears praises of 'D. McCunn, the great provision merchant', a praiseworthy habit of carrying Izaak Walton in his pocket when he goes on pilgrimage, and an invincible belief that what is needed to defeat the lovely foreigner's enemies is the 'sound business head' which has brought him his prosperity and modest fame.

As a piquant novelty Mr. Buchan has hit upon the device of introducing a band of ragged Glasgow lads, formed into an unofficial body of boy scouts. In the exuberance of their youth, they march to such songs as 'Class-conscious are we, and class-conscious wull be, Till our fit's on the neck of the Boorjoyzee', learned by one of their members at a Socialist Sunday school. But these are battle hymns, sung for the sake of their rhythm, without regard to their meaning, and the boys are unreservedly, not to say violently, on the side of law and order. They are amusing; but we wish Mr. Buchan could have made his villains anything but Bolshevists. The Bolshevist crops up in every shocker nowadays; but for romantic value he is, say, to the old-fashioned pirate, as a penny is to a pound. His associations are not picturesque at all, but merely ugly, and as a figure of romance he stands far below even the nihilist of a generation ago, who figured bravely enough in many of the older stories.
With The Thirty-Nine Steps (1915) and Greenmantle (1916) this novel makes the third of a trilogy on aspects of the First World War. Buchan's History of the War afforded him inside knowledge that fed his novels with realism even to which he added the spice of imagination. (In 1917 he was Director of the Department of Information, in 1918 Director of Intelligence in the Ministry of Information.)

His tale moves swiftly. The scene changes purposefully through London, a fictional Home Counties location, Glasgow, the Highlands and Islands, and Switzerland prepare the way for a climax in the great German offensive of March 1918, Ludendorff's last, almost successful gambler's throw.

Buchan's description of the accompanying artillery barrage is ominously and compellingly realistic: you hear the low thunder of the encroaching guns. And the allied trenches provide a dramatic setting for the death of the spy hunted by Richard Hannay and his little team of counterspies.

The threat from pacifism which was as genuine feature of the war years gives the spy his cover; there is a space for Red Clydeside; the submarine menace is used in an unexpected way; some Highland local colour is apt for the period but also for the people described; and generally the characters present a wide spectrum of wartime life.

Hannay has something of the now conventional amateur who beats the professionals at their own game. The spy's identity may well be based on someone involved in a scandal that affected the Kaiser's entourage. There is a sympathetic portrait of a conscientious objector. An American already in Greenmantle is perhaps the author's way of saying 'Come over and help us' - which had to wait for the sinking of the Lusitania and the Zimmermann telegram for its realisation. The young, clever and effective woman agent makes up for the (sometimes needlessly lamented) virtual womanlessness of The Thirty-Nine Steps. Not least we have the war in the air: a newcomer, Archie Roylance, will reappear in Buchan's later novels. South Africa, recalling Buchan's spell there at the beginning of the century, is represented by Peter Pienaar, who already figured in Greenmantle and much more briefly in The Thirty-Nine Steps.

Two idealistic themes inform the story: Peter Pienaar's call for fortitude, and The Pilgim's Progress. The allied triumph through faith and persistence, against heavy odds, is also the recipe for the individual's triumph against despair.

J C G Greig
This novel is the one most influenced by John Buchan's study of Greek tragedy. It is a haunting, heartbreaking novel of romance and duty, where the social expectations of the main characters shape the paths they tread. Thwarted happiness is painful to read at any time, but when it is described under the masterful hand of a clear-sighted writer, the reader's protesting heart is wrung again and again by the picture of what might have been. There is ultimate satisfaction in the conclusion of this novel, but it is the consummation of a tragedy played out in the cool, abstract air of Olympus, not the snug, personal triumph of the individual over the pea under the mattress. The principles of faithfulness to duty, and submerging oneself under the sea of the greater good are made tangible and accessible to the most unwilling reader. The higher calling of an exile's death seems to unite the key figure with all his countrymen in their many ill-matched contests over time. This painful revelation drives home the half-hearted nature in most of humanity, which prefers homely comforts to self-sacrificing effort. The conclusion of this work illumines a path of understanding that can reconcile the reader to put perspective on small disappointments and missed satisfactions in fiction and real life. The telescoping of the immensity of a single gifted man's death into a purposeful cog in the turning of the wheel of eternity is a foreign, yet broadening philosophy, which shakes the reader's complacency, willing or not. This book is a difficult one to enjoy, but a compelling one to contemplate.

Christine Drews
February 2001
Rebecca Main - Weaving Stories that Transport Readers to Other Worlds
FEATURED AUTHOR - Do you believe in magic? Rebecca Main does. Her magic wand is a well-worn pen that’s been known to weave stories that transport readers to other worlds. Other enchanting pastimes of Rebecca include traveling and showering her two cats, Dorcas and Pudge, with love. As our Author of the Day, she tells us all about her book, Covet The Night.