Uncomfortable success

"Walk while you have the light..." John 12.35


It would be fair to say that John Buchan is best remembered as a pioneer of the early 20th century thriller. But if that was as far as the accolade went, he would be fossilised in that era. What is intriguing about John Buchan is the enduring success of these "shockers" which, though products of their time, enjoy an enduring appeal. Why?


As well as the quality of the writing, there is Buchan's ability to create a mood, his underlying preoccupation with important themes - such as integrity, duty, good and evil - and, perhaps, above all his skill in creating credible and memorable characters. whether a one-off like shifty Dominick Medina in 'The Three Hostages' or recurring heroes such as Richard Hannay. Whomever he is writing about, Buchan's "piece de resistance" is his ear for local dialect which illuminates the dialogue between characters.


While some work better than others, all of Buchan's "shockers" have their appeal and occasionally they reach elegiac heights, most notably in the case of 'Witchwood' and 'Sick Heart River'. The former reveals his profound commitment to the Scottish church which underpinned his life; the latter is his valedictory statement, written in anticipation of his own demise which happened as he was writing the novel.


This whole aspect of John Buchan's remarkable career could be regarded as his tribute to the "Book of Books" itself. All the qualities described above reflect aspects of the Bible's enduring power and appeal. Was John Buchan divinely inspired like the writers of scripture? It sounds almost heretical to suggest. Nevertheless, he was a man of faith, who wrote out of the passion and integrity of his heart. Surely we can find legitimate inspiration in that, as we seek to make the most of our own lives, gifts and opportunities?

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