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236 THE GENIE AND HIS PEN: THE FICTION OF JOHN BUCHAN By J. Randolph Cox (St. Olaf College) High adventure! A phrase to make the heart pound and the pulse quicken. It is difficult to define and divide it into categories because "adventure" itself has such varied meanings. As a genre of literature it includes many others, from the historical novel to the contemporary thriller. Like the thriller it depends on coincidence and fast action for much of its effect. V/ith the historical novel it makes use of colorful characters and events. The dividing line between adventure and high adventure is thin and perhaps not worth defining. High adventure would seem to have more elements of the unusual and fantastic which lift it into another realm. One writer, in defining the thriller, may also have defined high adventure. He called it "the romance where the incidents defy the probabilities and march just inside the borders of the possible." Perhaps his should be iaken for the voice of authority since he wrote a considerable number of these stories himself. He was John Buchan, statesman, famed as the author of THE 39 STEPS. Buchan was born in 1875, the son of a Scottish minister. He grew up in the Border country of Scotland and in the city of Glasgow. In his autobiographical PILGRIM'S WAY, he tells of the influence of these childhood surroundings upon his writing. The Bible and PILGRIM'S PROGRESS combined with a knowledge of Scottish history and folklore to provide the elements of his later style and content. His career as a writer really began at Glasgow University where several essays and short stories appeared in the pages of the GLASGOW UNIVERSITY MAGAZINE. A number were also accepted by other periodicals such as BLACKWOOD'S and MACMILLAN1S, thus opening the way to a larger wor'd beyond Scotland. As an undergraduate at Oxford he published his fi&st novel, a short historical romance called SIR QUIXOic OF THE MOORS. Along with his studies he found time to work as a reader for John Lane the publisher,, ! t was Buchan who read Arnold Bennett's; first novel, A MAN FROM THE NORTH, in manuscript and recommended its publication. Buchan's Oxford years also saw the publication of his first serious attempt at a Stevensonian historical romance, JOHN BURNET OF BARNS, as well as several other works of minor importance. From Oxford he went to London to read for the Bar and was appointed to the staff of Lord Milner, British High Commissioner in South Africa, as one of his private secretaries. His experiences and interest in the country were to provide him with material for several stories and books, including his first best seller PRÉSTER JOHN. Upon his return to England in 1903, Buchan resumed writing and joined the publisher Thomas Nelson as a partner. His marriage to Susan Grosvenor followed in 1907. In 1910 he published PRÉSTER JOHN with its elements of Rider Haggard added to his own talent for making the landscape vivid enough to be a character itself. Buchan continued to draw on his experience and observations throughout his later novels. During an illness in the first. World War he wrote of Richard Hannay's adventures amid scenes familiar to himself. Though he was kept busy with his public roles as Member of Parliament, High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, and publisher, he never let up on his writing. Only the last years in Canada when he was Governor- 237 General allowed him too little time for his daily stint at the writing desk. As the country squire of Elsfield he produced a large portion of his works by concentrated effort on weekends. As Lord Tweedsmuir his time was so taken up with the duties of his office that he wrote few of the books for which his name was most widely known, He did finish the biography of Augustus and round out the shelf of scholarly work of which he was most proud. At his death in 1S40 he left behind the manuscript, for his autobiography «nd one final novel in the cycle that had begun so many years...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 236-240
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived
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