Sunday, October 24, 2010

John Buchan Week: Envoi

This concludes John Buchan Week. Thanks for dropping by—if I have convinced you to try this underrated writer, do let me know what you think!

I have reviewed five, and alluded to many more Buchan books during the course of the week. Here's a quick guide to keep you straight:

Richard Hannay novels: The Thirty-Nine Steps, Greenmantle, Mr Standfast, The Three Hostages, The Island of Sheep.

Dickson McCunn novels: Huntingtower, Castle Gay, The House of the Four Winds.

Sir Edward Leithen novels: The Power-House, The Dancing Floor, John Macnab, The Gap in the Curtain, Sick Heart River.

Historical romances: Witch Wood, Salute to Adventurers, The Blanket of the Dark, Midwinter, Prester John, The Free Fishers, John Burnet of Barns, A Lost Lady of Old Years, Sir Quixote of the Moors.

Miscellaneous: The Courts of the Morning (supporting characters Sandy Arbuthnot and the Roylances), A Prince of the Captivity (the War and aftermath from a different point of view), The Half-Hearted, The Long Traverse.

I have bolded my personal favourites, though I enjoyed all of them. Buchan also wrote sundry other works of fiction, short fiction, historical biography, Nelson's 24-volume History of the War, and The Taxation of Foreign Income, which not even I can get excited about.

One more thing remains to be said. In my review of The Thirty-Nine Steps I tried to explain why I so deeply love Buchan's casual references to his characters' Christianity. The reason why I love it so is that it seems the dead opposite of the internal pietism that plagues Christian literature today. I did not have space to fully develop it then, so by your leave I'll try it again here.

Buchan, like most devout Christian writers until this century, refused to turn his novels into tracts: instead of preaching to his audience, he draws them into a Lewisian Enjoyment of Christendom. It is much more powerful to mention that your brave, honourable, plucky, and humble hero is an elder of the Guthrie Memorial Kirk than to have him stop mid-story and deliver a short sermon on Psalm 15. And never does Buchan list or preach the attributes of a godly man. He simply depicts them ceaselessly: courage, valour, strength, perseverance, fortitude, chastity, humility, loyalty, honesty. He depicts these virtues as admirable things, embodied by capable men, and then by casual references peppered throughout his works lets the reader know that the homeland of these good qualities is Christendom. It is Christian perseverance that gives Buchan's heroes the ability to stand fast and quit themselves like men, whether charging into wartime Germany or street brawls.

The result is that the reader is drawn into the experience and enjoyment of faith, rather than exhorted to study it; and both the Christian and the secular readers are presented with a persuasive argument of the delightfulness of Christian virtue.

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