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Witch Wood

3.90  ·  Rating details ·  319 ratings  ·  50 reviews
Set against the religious struggles and civil wars of seventeenth century Scotland, John Buchan's Witch Wood is a gripping atmospheric tale in the spirit of Stevenson and Neil Munro.

As a moderate presbyterian minister, young David Sempill disputes with the extremists of his faith, as all around, the defeated remnants of Montrose's men are being harried and slaughtered.

Hardcover, 380 pages
Published February 1st 2003 by Replica Books (first published January 1st 1927)
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Average rating 3.90  · 
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Apr 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing
It occurs to me, having read this last year and recommended it to another couple of people only this week, that I never got around to telling you why I loved Witch Wood quite so much. Which is to say, to the extent that if I were John Buchan, I'd be kind of annoyed at only being remembered for The Thirty-Nine Steps. Let it be known that I adore The Thirty-Nine Steps. It's just that I think Witch Wood is better, cleverer, and way more important. Apparently it was Buchan's favourite of his own ...more
Apr 02, 2015 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: BBC Radio Listeners

Description: Set against the religious struggles and civil wars of seventeenth century Scotland, John Buchan's Witch Wood is a gripping atmospheric tale in the spirit of Stevenson and Neil Munro.

As a moderate presbyterian minister, young David Sempill disputes with the extremists of his faith, as all around, the defeated remnants of Montrose's men are being harried and slaughtered.

There are still older conflicts to be faced however, symbolised by the
Witch Wood was reputedly John Buchan‘s own favourite of his many novels and is dedicated to his brother, Walter Buchan. Shortly before writing the novel, Buchan had been carrying out research for his biography of Montrose, who does make a brief appearance in Witch Wood. The backdrop to the events in the book is the religious and civil strife in Scotland between 1644 and 1646 when Scottish Royalists under Montrose fought the Covenanters who were allied with the English Parliament.

The central
Stephen Hayes
Sep 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
I read it 60 years ago. I had been forced to drop the study of history at school, so was almost entirely ignorant of the historical and political background. What impressed me most about it was Calvinist theology of predestination (probably not a good source for learning such things) and it left we with a fascination with the four pastoral festivals - Candlemass, Beltane (St Philip & St James AA &
MM), Lammas (St Peter's Chains) and Hallowmass (All Saints). I was then at the height of my
Ancestral Gael
Oct 28, 2009 rated it really liked it
Synopsis: Witch Wood is a story of seventeenth-century witchcraft in the Wood of Caledon in the Scottish Borders. The parish minister tries in vain to prevent devil worship and protect his protestant congregation. Meanwhile, civil unrest of the Scottish Wars of the Covenant divides the minister's loyalties. Buchan also weaves in a romantic love story.

Review: I bought this book from Treadwells Esoteric Bookstore and was immediately captured by its writing style. It is set in Scotland and, for
Nov 20, 2017 rated it did not like it
Gave up after 30% - so much time spent trying to understand the Scots spoken that I was beginning to hate the book.
May 07, 2017 rated it it was ok
1.5 Urgh made it to the end but seriously could not understand anyone speaking in Scottish.
The witches didn't actually feature much at all and it was more of an actual devil worship big coven #falseadvertising
Dan Clore
Sep 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: weird, horror, reviewed
The plot may be slow-moving, and the Scots dialect is pretty thick, but this is a powerfully atmospheric novel set in 17th-century Scotland with the horrors not only of a witch-cult (drawing on Margaret Murray) but of hypocritical witch-prickers.

The novel is realistic rather than supernatural, the fantasy being in the beliefs of the characters. But it is effective enough in the mood created by (e.g.) the descriptions of landscape and weather that it seems quite believable that a woman who
Jan Szczerbiuk
This was a Goodreads recommendations based on having read Old Mortality, and while they cover the same historical period, there is a vast gulf in quality. While the latter is an excellent novel, Witch Wood is a bit "simple" without actually becoming the children's story that its title might suggest. The two major flaws were that all of the characters were one-dimensional, being representatives of an interest or viewpoint rather than being of any interest themselves, and that the dialogue was ...more
william ellison
May 09, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Pagan rights

Buchan has taken the hint of a childhood tale and turned it into a gripping adventure story, the like of which he does so well. But this is largely an adventure of the spirit as a 17th century Presbyterian minister wrestles with pagan stirrings in his own session: the disapproval of the Kirk authorities: the rights and wrongs of warring factions and not least his own conscience. He finds and then loses resolution in human romantic love before taking up his true calling. The action is
Oct 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
John Buchan has written a masterpiece of fiction dealing with human fear and superstition and the strangeness of courage. The story is of a small village in Scotland during the rule of the "Kirk". Complete with witch hunts, both faithful and farcical, Pharisees and prophets, soldiers and cowards, the story follows a young minister trying to lead his little flock out of many kinds of idolatry and into the light. Buchan's character development is perceptive and careful, which always makes a story ...more
Matthew Miller
Dec 29, 2009 rated it really liked it
When I started reading this book, I wasn't so sure. There was a lot of dry dialogue and a bit of a language barrier.

As I continued it got better and better until I was reading quite a bit every day. It's both encouraging and thought provoking. It is also theologically sound. The main character is likable (A pastor that isn't a wuss? How cool is that?) and not too perfect, leaving room for moral dilemmas.

Definitely read it.

Jan 01, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A solid, captivating book. Never has a book with so little supernatural activity been able to stun me so much.
Dec 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm a young minister in a Reformed Church. This book is terrifying. It's real. I think I should change my name to David Sempill. Don't read it. It's too good.
Nov 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I've read "The Thirty-Nine Steps" and "Island of Sheep" and they were fine, good thrillers. John Buchan himself rated Witch Wood his finest book. I haven't read much else of his, but this is wonderful. His evocation of the lowland countryside, his desciption of the different ministers, the honest men of mercy and the hypocritical pharisees, is masterly. His description of the growing love of David Semple for his friend brings a tear to the eye. The use of lallans scots for much of the ...more
Anne Gibney
Feb 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Covenanters, witches covens, woodland orgies , battles and plague ( with a wee romance thrown in). It’s all happening in the tiny borders village of Woodilee in the mid 17th century. David Semple is the naive young minister with a sneaking sympathy for the royalist Montrose, and a fancy for the local posh bird. John Buchan manages to turn all of this into an entertaining but poignant tale of the conflicts and miseries heaped on the ordinary people of this time.
Nov 02, 2019 rated it it was ok
This book wasn't for me I gave up almost 20% in as I was finding it drawn out and we hadn't got to the witchcraft bit yet. I don't like leaving a book but I got the feeling the style was going to continue with too much detail and called it a day.
Nov 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Best book I've read in a long time.
May 06, 2019 rated it it was ok
I enjoyed this about as much you might expect to enjoy a book written in a language you don’t understand
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Becky Norman
Oct 25, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had read this novel many, many years ago and the pervasive atmosphere of the setting has stuck with me through hundreds of other books I've read since then. Set in Scotland, but steeped in the similar traditions and brooding landscape of Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Witch Wood tells the story of a young minister, David Sempill, who witnesses diabolical goings-on in the the woods near his new parish. Members of his congregation are caught up in sinister "extra-curricular ...more
Mar 19, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
John Buchan is one of my favorite authors because he knows how to tell a good story. This one draws on his fascination with Scottish history, especially that related to the religious wars of the 17th century. The protagonist is a young Presbyterian minister, called to his first church in a village that seems to be harboring a witches's coven. David tries to fight the witchcraft, the narrowmindedness of his parishioners, and live a godly life, even if it means helping those in need who are ...more
Robert Hepple
Oct 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
First published in 1927, Witch Wood is a mid-17th century tale about a newly ordained minister taking up his duties in the Scottish Borders parish of Woodilee where he discovers evidence of witchcraft, whilst the unrest that accompanies and follows warfare adds further local complications. Let's be clear, this is witchcraft in 17th century terms, it is not a fantasy novel and you won't find extras from LOTR dashing around the place. Much of the speech is expressed in an attempt at Scottish ...more
John Pendergraft
Jan 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A powerful story (a favorite of CS Lewis) about a young and idealistic minister, David Sempill, set in 17th century Scotland with the Monmouth rebellion as the backdrop. As David grows into ministering to his congregation he finds a coven of witches and warlocks being led by the most powerful and influential of his flock. As David sets out to spiritual battle he finds an unlikely ally in a young noblewoman, Katrina Yester, who is both a source of goodness and a symbol of grace over against a ...more
Dillwynia Peter
Jun 12, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book, but I have been lucky and have read Sir Walter Scott's early novels on Scotland. Buchan takes no prisoners & thus has minimal explanation on language used and the historical period. Wikipedia became my friend when I decided to study up on the religious wars of England & Scotland. Such a nasty & intolerant period.

The story is based on fact - from a pamphlet found by Buchan - but he changed the hero significantly & added local colour. If you are a fan of late
Rog Harrison
Jun 11, 2014 rated it liked it
This was apparently first published in 1927. The story is set in the Scottish Borders during the civil war and the main character is the new young minister in a small village. The minister wrestles with his own christian faith as opposed to the severe presbyterianism of the Kirk and also has to deal with a pagan coven, a wounded soldier from Montrose's defeated army as well as falling in love. It's a good read though a lot of the dialogue features many Scots words which even having lived in ...more
David Miller
Apr 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This book is fabulous, really great reading. It's about 17th century Scotland: very careful, beautiful, and haunting descriptions of place, thick renditions of the Scottish accent. The place and relative merits of men, the church, and the state; the conflation of the state and religion; the difficulty of distinguishing between truth and appearance; true love; characters vibrantly real with not a hint of caricature or chiaroscuro; all these and more find their place effortlessly and artfully. It ...more
Mark Wilson
Jan 17, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, history
Although I took a little while to get into this book, I was truly gripped by the time I'd got to the second half. I was particularly pleased to find the central character of the book to be of such an orthodox christian belief, and this was a particularly interesting tale of the struggle of a minister seeking to be true to the Word, albeit imperfectly, against a church more interested in the look of being true to the Word. Very worthwhile reading.
Aug 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A goodreads friend made me notice that I'd rated but not reviewed this book, my favorite of all Buchan's. Somewhere I read it was his, too. If you like Ivanhoe, Kidnapped and Lorna Doone, you will thoroughly enjoy this historical romance. The setting is Scotland in the late 1640s. It introduced me, by his cameo appearance, to one of my personal heroes, James Graham, the Marquis of Montrose (1612-1650). Buchan also wrote a biography of Montrose, as did C.V. Wedgewood.
May 17, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is truly awesome. True, there are passages that took some interpreting (the broad Scots dialogue for example) znd the book leaves you angry at the injustice that is ultimately done.
At the start, you do assume that things will work out alright, but the bleakness of the ending shocked even me. I loved the fact that it was not predictable, and adored many of the characters, and admired the ending.
I will certainly be reading more Buchan.
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John Buchan (1st Baron Tweedsmuir) was a Scottish novelist and public servant who combined a successful career as an author of thrillers, historical novels, histories and biographies with a parallel career in public life. At the time of his death he was Governor-General of Canada.

Buchan was educated at Glasgow and Oxford Universities. After a brief career in law he went to South Africa in 1902