Bill Kerwin's Reviews > Supernatural Buchan - Stories of Ancient Spirits Uncanny Places and Strange Creatures

Supernatural Buchan - Stories of Ancient Spirits Uncanny Plac... by John Buchan
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Jan 04, 13

bookshelves: weird-fiction, ghost-stories, short-stories
Read from September 23 to October 07, 2012


John Buchan, author of "The Thirty Nine Steps," was not only a writer: he was also a war correspondent, an intelligence officer, a candidate for parliament, secretary to the governor of South Africa, and governor-general of Canada. Clearly he was a man of action, and his writings appeal to readers who like their fiction filled with incident and adventure. He was also a man who loved to take long solitary walks, and, trekking across veldt, brae and moor, he learned how the power of a particular place can darken a traveller's mood and understood how a lone manor or an isolated villa may crystallize such a mood into menace or terror.

In Buchan's spy novels, the man of action and the devotee of landscape work together very effectively, but such is not always the case in his supernatural fiction. At his worst ("No Man's Land," "Basilissa") he uses his descriptive powers to create a sinister mood and then spoils it all by having his young hero grab a pistol, and resolve the tale by rescuing a woman in distress. At his most typical ("The Wind in the Portico," "The Watcher at the Threshold,") he relies on a mood based on architecture and landscape to suggest the supernatural without explicitly evoking it. In his most successful pieces "Full Circle," "The Gove of Ashtaroth" and "Tendebaunt Manus"), however, he consciously uses the tension between action and imagination to show us a world where action, however salutary in the expulsion of evil, still leaves us with the sense that the purged world may be more impoverished and less nuanced than before.

(Caution: if you have no tolerance for the knee-jerk "blood racism" often seen in those who carried "the white man's burden" in the British Empire before World War II, avoid "The Green Wildebeest" and approach "The Grove of Ashtaroth" with caution. Jews and Kaffirs are destined by blood to be superstitious little beggars, don't ya know?)
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