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Witch Wood

3.9  ·  Rating details ·  260 Ratings  ·  41 Reviews
In 1644 Reverend David Sempill begins his ministry at a small Scottish town, but soon comes in conflict with the extremists of his faith.
Published July 1st 1989 by Carroll & Graf Publishers (first published January 1st 1927)
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Apr 02, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 prese
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 nov ...more
Ancestral Gael
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 th
May 07, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
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 freque
Jan Szczerbiuk
Jun 15, 2015 rated it it was ok
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 pri ...more
Max Nemtsov
Jan 18, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ru-versions
Традиционный, неторопливый роман о том, что любая организованная религия — зло. Микроистория, да, а потому завораживает и служит недурной маргиналией к Барочному циклу Стивенсона — действие там происходит чуть-чуть не там же и несколько раньше, но все равно сообщает картинке пространство и дополнительный объем. Кроме того, здесь почти все изъясняются на неких диалектах шотландского, поэтому, видимо, читать лучше в оригинале, но уж как вышло. А читай я его в детстве, ему б вообще цены не было.
Oct 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
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.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Becky Norman
Oct 25, 2014 rated it really liked it
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 ac ...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 enemie ...more
John Pendergraft
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 chu ...more
Robert Hepple
Oct 15, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 Borde ...more
Dillwynia Peter
Jun 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
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 19t
David Miller
Apr 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Rog Harrison
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 Scot ...more
Aug 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jul 06, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned
Loved it! Once I got past the Scottish speech patterns, I could just get involved in the story and deep issues; love, church over King, application of the Word in life, Reformed theology gone very wrong. I love most of Buchan's books and this one is different than the others. It is not just an adventure. I actually had to look up words! (in a dictionary). That is a good thing. Not for the faint of heart, but I would recommend this one.
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.
Bridget Carroll
Jan 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is about the struggles of a Presbyterian minister in eighteenth century Scotland. I found the style and subject matter absolutely fascinating, but there is a quite a bit of dialogue written in Scots' dialect, so parts of it were very slow to read. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction and/or Scotland. Buchan's writing reminded me a little bit of a more intense and less fanciful George MacDonald.
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.
Aug 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the first john buchan i have read and thoroughly enjoyed despite the fact i needed to constantly refer to the scots glossary at the rear and a separate scots dictionary to understand much of the dialogue. I am scottish myself by the way! Very intriguing, containing, as most classics do, much more than the rendering of the cover note implies.
Kim McKay
Oct 30, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Terribly sad, captivatingly eerie, and darkly suspenseful. Three things I hate in a book! But we read Witchwood just after one of our church elders was kicked out of the church, another quit, and a third was arrested. It was a strangely healing tale in those circumstances. John Buchan's father was a minister: I wonder what experiences prompted this book. Godspeed, David Sempill!
Jan 07, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: just-for-fun
Every time I read anything by Buchan I feel like I missed more than I caught. I found this book very humbling and disturbing. It made me wonder, how God sees the church's mishandling of justice. I found that very unsettling.

I found the characters very inspiring. Oh for the days when the battles went on face to face.
Dec 07, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Written in Scottish dialect (the Canongate edition has a glossary), with lots of insight into folklore and the religious tensions of the 1600s. I didn't entirely get the black witchcraft storyline but it's meant to be an historical adventure, after all. The last third of the book and Buchan's unusual take on the witch-hunt was the highlight for me.
Ian Carmichael
Apr 08, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Splendid fiction woven around the religious controversies of the Scottish Covenanters time - and this is integral to the story - not a mere backdrop.
(So some readers tire of the content, having no sympathy for the tenor of the events.)
Sep 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a book! The pastor is one of my favorite protagonists that I've read recently. Loved watching his development. The Scottish dialect was tough to tune in to at first, but reading aloud (albeit under my breath on trains and buses) helped.

I want to read more of this author!
Aug 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I think this book could have been vastly improved by a greater role being played by Daft Gibbie, the village idiot. He was my favourite character by far but we only caught glimpses of him after an introduction that seemed to promise much more.
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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 wh
More about John Buchan...