Friday, September 17, 2010

Who Wrote the "The Thirty-Nine Steps?"

Yes, you're right! It was John Buchan. And although I'm more interested in his writing than his life, his life reflects the talented man who wrote the books. I'll give you some information about him, so you'll see what I mean. I think a few facts will show you that he was an extraordinary man who lived an extraordinary life--a Renaissance man, who used his many talents to good purpose.
1) John Buchan lived from 1875-1940. Son of a Calvinist presbyterian minister in eastern Scotland.
2) Classicist at Oxford.
3) Read for the bar, but never practiced as a barrister.
4) Government administrator in South Africa after the Boer War.
5) Editor of "The Spectator."
6) War correspondent for "The Times."
7) Member of Parliament for the Scottish Universities.
8) A Director of Reuters.
9)A director of Thomas Nelson Publishing House
10) His Majesty's High Commissioner General Assembly of the     Church of Scotland twice.
11) Wrote over 100 books

Only 40 of Buchan's books are fiction, the most famous of which is "The Thirty-Nine Steps." It was his 17th published work. It was very successful, and he became a best-selling writer of thrillers and adventures for another 20 years, publishing 29 novels in all, as well as nine collections of essays and short stories, and nine biographies. He also wrote historical novels, historical studies, and a textbook for accountants, "The Law according to the Taxation of Foreign Income." Are you impressed yet?
"The Thirty-Nine Steps" was followed by other novels with the hero Richard Hannay: "Greenmantle," "Mr. Standfast," "The Three Hostages, and " The Island of Sheep." Penguin Books has published "The Complete Richard Hannay," which has all of these novels in one book. Buchan wrote to his friend, Thomas Arthur Nelson, saying that he wanted to dedicate "The Thirty-Nine Steps" to him:

"My Dear Tommy, You and I have long cherished an affection for that elementary type of tale which Americans call the 'dime novel" and which we know as the 'shocker'--the romance where the incidents defy the probabilities, and march just inside the borders of the possible. During an illness last winter I exhausted my store of those aids to cheerfulness, and was driven to write one for myself. This little volume is the result, and I should like to put your name on it in memory of our long friendship, in the days when the wildest fictions are so much less improbable than the facts. JB"
The novels are absolutely riveting. I read them after watching "The Thirty-Nine Steps" on PBS. In my opinion, it was a wonderful version, and I got the Penguin book to see if the adventures continued in such fantastic form. And they do! Many people reviewing the movie on Amazon's site didn't like the PBS version, but maybe they hadn't read all the novels, and didn't realize the PBS version has elements from all of the Richard Hannay novels. But if you've read the novels, you might be confused by how early the female interest is brought in and some other things that were switched around or changed. Unlike many people, I didn't like the Alfred Hitchock version of "The Thirty-Nine Steps"...titled "The 39 Steps" where two actors go from one frenetic scene to another. Perhaps I'm too nervy myself!
Leaving the movie versions, I'll say that from the time I began reading the first novel, I was hooked! I couldn't put the book down, and ended up reading all 5 of them, one after another. And you can ask anyone who knows me...I don't read novels! But I will say, you must be ready for more difficult reading because of the time period in which it was written, and some unfamiliar words, Scottish in origin, but filled with mysterious connotation.
John Buchan married into the minor aristocracy, had 4 children, and was made a Baron on receiving the appointment of Governor-General of Canada in 1935. He died in 1940 as Lord Tweedsmuir, who had been very popular while serving Canada, and will always and most especially be remembered for "The Thirty-Nine Steps." I hope you'll take time to look at not only Buchan's novels, but all of his works. I think you'll be pleasantly engrossed for a long time.
Thankfully, it's Friday! I hope all of you have a great weekend.

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