Thursday, August 26, 2010

John Buchan, 1st Baron Tweedsmuir

Imagine, the Lord Chamberlain drops you note.

"His Majesty has commanded me to invite you to a formal party
at which he intends waving a scimitar across your brow
after which you will become forever, and evermore
known as Baronet

Would Friday next, say 1PM, be convenient?"

Written in pencil on the obverse is the following note:
Seems we are light on Barons in the Kingdom, and the King wants you to become one.
Ring up the College of Arms, see what they can do for a name and coat of arms.

Let me know.

If the recipient of said note had been a clothes guy, he couldn't have picked a better title.

Ist Baron Tweedsmuir.

John Buchan, today's birthday boy, was honored by his King for long and valued service to the Crown and Kingdom, as soldier, barrister, Minister of Parliament and Diplomat. He was about to appointed Governor General of Canada, and Betty's father had no intention of being represented by a commoner. Australia maybe, but not in Canada for god's sake.

That's why he had his people get in touch.

Were that all he was, he would have been forgotten years ago. John was also a very good mystery writer. It's how he earned his living.

His best known work, The Thirty Nine Steps, was broadcast on Masterpiece, this year.

Written in 1915, posed as a look behind the causes of the First World War, it's the story of a plot to have Russia declare war on Germany. The plot hinges on a cabal to assassinate the Greek Prime Minister, and a German secret society set up to overthrow the British government. Depending upon which printing you select it may or may not have had antisemitic undertones. Subsequent print editions and all movie versions have omitted that part.

Alfred Hitchcock filmed a version in 1935. Two remakes have been released as well.

My favorite Buchan series is John Macnab.

"Three high-flying men who suffer from boredom concoct a plan to cure it. They inform 3 Scottish estates that they will poach from each two stags and a salmon. They sign collectively as 'John McNab' and await the responses."

Thirty Nine Steps will be easy to find. Other Buchan stories are often located in collections of short stories. Give them a try.



Laguna Beach Prep said...

Huuuuge fan of Buchan here. Glad to see this post. Have you read the Leithen stories? Sick Heart River? Classics.

Shelley said...

Yep, Bill is a Buchan fan so I've had access to his books and really enjoyed them. It's very much stepping back in time, which I alwasy love.

Blue said...

I have seen both the Masterpiece Theatre version and the Hitchcock and enjoyed both. I find myself resistant, and I realize this is prejudice, to the patriotically inflected literature of Buchan's time though I will look for the book you recommend. I read some of this type of adventure novel as a child and one memory, from which book I've no idea, is of a villain whose outward signs of depravity were a lower-middle-class accent and prickly heat.

James said...

Thank you for the tip. I had not heard of the good Baron.I got a good chuckle out of "Betty's father".

Suburban Princess said...

I went to John Buchan Jr High....and yes, we had to read The 39 Steps. I dont remember much of it tho...I might have to pick it up again.

Anonymous said...

He went to my school, of course, we weren't peers!

Anonymous said...

Suburban princess- wow he had another school named after him? The cad!

M.Lane said...

Another great tip and I can't wait to track down these stories.


Anonymous said...

Glad to hear that one is not alone in liking his now slightly dated stories which I have re-read most years since my prep school days; we are of an age I suspect.
McNab stands alone in my view; however, of the Hannay stories, I like Greenmantle best. Should be mandatory reading for anyone contemplating military adventures in any of the "-stans"

Toad said...

My fall reading list is filling fast

house things said...

Excellent. I usually like the books you suggest. Lately, I've been reading lots of dog-related books. When I tire of dog novels, I'll look into Buchan.