Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Saturday, September 24, 2011

John Buchan- Two Stories from a Great Scottish Author and a Governor General of Canada

"The Rime of True Thomas"  (1922, 8 pages)
"The Riding of Ninemileburn"  (1925, 7 pages)

One of the very best things about being a book blogger is discovering great new to us writers from the comments of our readers.   I owe my discovery of John Buchan to Geranium Cat.   Her blog is very interesting and focuses on Y.A. and children's literature from before 1950 as well as Canadian literature.   We came in contact with each other through our mutual participation in Carl V's R I P reading event (Sept 1 to Oct 31-the easy rules are on his blog) devoted to paranormal literature.   

John Buchan (1875 to 1940-Perth Scotland) was a very successful person in all respects.   He began a career in the British diplomatic service after graduating from Oxford and ended up in 1935 as Governor General of Canada.   He did all he could to promote a sense of cultural pride in Canadians.   He published over 100 books (his only still famous one, I think, is 39 Steps, you might have seen the Alfred Hitchcock movie based on it).   In  addition to serious historical works he wrote 30 novels and had seven collections of short stories.  

Buchan was deeply influenced by his Scottish background.   Both of the stories by him I read make use of Scottish dialect for the speech of the characters.   One of the stories has elements of Scottish paranormal folklore and the other is very moving story reflecting the extreme poverty of the country Scots in the 1920s.  (There will be a link where you can read these stories at the end of this post.)

"The Riding of Ninemileburn" opens on a tragic no doubt all too common scene at the time.   A woman has recently given birth to a much wanted son but she has no milk to give him because there is little but gruel for her to eat and the family cow has been given to their hard as nails cousin as security for a loan.  The country people of the area are under an almost feudal like obligation to support the laird of the area.  The woman's husband sets off to see his cousin in the hope of some help.   Along the way he is ordered to join in a bounty hunt for a group of cattle thieves who have raided the holdings of the laird.   I saw the violent undertones of the culture of the man when I saw how much he was drawn into this and his savage delight in killing one of the  thieves.   His cousin is along on the hunt also.  The cow that was put up as collateral for his loan has been killed in the fighting.    The cousin forgives the debt but the man still has no cow.   He is so excited over the fight he cannot wait to get home to tell his wife about what happened.   Only when he gets home and sees her and the baby starving to death does he understand what his fight has cost him.   This story gave me a vivid look at the life of the very poor in Scotland.   

"The Rime of True Thomas"  is a really interesting story letting us see some of the Scottish paranormal folk traditions and their place in rural culture.  I think this story is also about how the poverty of the Scottish Highlands produced a culturally destructive outflow of population to America and elsewhere that the Scots tried to understand through their folklore.   This is a very good story.  It required I put aside my perhaps normal narrow minded dislike of "country" dialect in literature and am very glad I did.  Just slow down your reading speed a bit and the dialect is easy to follow and it was really quite a lot of fun.  I admit I loved it when a group of birds were referred to as a "feathered clan".   The story is basically structured as a conversation between a rural man, Tom, and a bird. As he begins to converse with the bird (there is even a conversation about whether animals have souls) he learns of "The Rime".  It is a vision or a way of seeing under the veil of surface appearances.   It allows Thomas to see into the deep past of Scotland through accessing his cultural memories.   Here is a sample of the wonderful prose style of Buchan:

Then the melody changed to a fiercer and sadder note. He saw his forefathers, gaunt men and terrible, run stark among woody hills. He heard the talk of the bronze-clad invader, and the jar and clangour as stone met steel. Then rose the last coronach of his own people, hiding in wild glens, starving in corries, or going hopelessly to the death. He heard the cry of the Border foray, the shouts of the famished Scots as they harried Cumberland, and he himself rode in the midst of them. 

The bird tells Thomas that many a man (men are most influenced by the rime) are driven to leave Scotland by the terrible reevaluations the rime can produce in those sensitive to its power.

There is a lot more in this story but I will leave it untold for the new reader to have the same pleasure in discovery that I did.

You can read both of these stories (along with a lot more of Buchan's work) here

Once again, my thanks to Geranium Cat for her great suggestion.   

I recommend these stories to anyone, as long as you can have the patience to read the dialect (and a lot of people love dialect stories).

The next classical paranormal writer I will read is Oliver Onions, suggested by Fred of Fred's Place.  

I will also soon, I hope, post on another classic Irish paranormal writer.

Mel u


Jodie Robson said...

I'm absolutely delighted to have introduced a fellow blogger to Buchan's short stories. His novels are great fun, too - mostly very much the "ripping yarn" type, although not always. And Witchwood is both a fascinating historical novel in a Scottish setting, and a very spooky tale.

I'm especially glad that you read The Rime of True Thomas, with its garrulous whaup - I live on the English side of the Scottish border, and through our spring and summer evenings these birds (lapwings, plovers or peewits in most of England) yowl and whoop and perform dramatic aerial feats.

Mel u said...

Geranium Cat-I loved your description of the birds-it sounds like such a lovely place-I will revisit Buchan again I am sure and thanks once more

Kailana said...

An author I really must read one of these days...