Buchan of the Month/Book Review: The Watcher by the Threshold by John Buchan


Buchan of the Month

The Watcher by the ThresholdAbout the Book

The Watcher by the Threshold is a collection of five stories from John Buchan, author of ‘The Thirty-Nine Steps’. The pagan themes and classic adventures are set in the Scottish countryside.

Format: Paperback (224 pp.)    Publisher: Aegypan
Published: 1st December 2006 [1900]        Genre: Short Stories, Ghost Stories

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Find The Watcher by the Threshold on Goodreads

My Review

The Watcher by the Threshold is the seventh book in my Buchan of the Month reading project.  You can find out more about the project plus my reading list for 2018 here.  You can also read a spoiler-free introduction to the book here.  My copy of The Watcher by the Threshold is part of a hardback compendium entitled Four Tales, published by Blackwood in 1944 (first edition February 1936) which also contains The Thirty-Nine Steps, The Power-House and The Moon Endureth (another short story collection).

The collection is made up of five stories, all set in the Scottish Highlands and with an element of the supernatural.

In ‘No Man’s Land’, superstition turns to reality in a frightening encounter with a legacy of the past.
In ‘The Far Islands’, a small boy, the last in a family that goes back generations, is transfixed by visions of an island beyond the horizon always just out of reach.  Only in the final pages of the story does he attain his dream, but at what costs?
In ‘The Watcher of the Threshold’, a man’s friend becomes convinced that a devilish presence is constantly at his side, plunging him into melancholy and driving him to ultimately desperate acts.
In ‘The Outgoing of the Tide’, a battle between good and evil, love and hate, is played out at a place and on a night of the year when evil forces abound.
Finally, in Fountainblue’, a return to the place of his boyhood brings about a moral and emotional crisis as a man realises that success in the modern world is not enough for true fulfilment.

In the stories that make up The Watcher by the Threshold, Buchan explores many of the themes that he would revisit in later books: self-sacrifice, the virtues of the outdoor life and physical activity and, most notably, the thin line between civilisation and chaos.  For example, in an oft-quoted line from ‘Fountainblue’, the narrator Maitland remarks, ‘There is a very narrow line between the warm room and the savage out-of-doors’, describing the division as ‘a line, a thread, a sheet of glass’.

The stories in The Watcher by the Threshold have an eerie feel reminiscent of the ghost stories of M. R. James but played out in the wilds of Scotland where the physical perils of bog and mountainside await alongside more metaphysical dangers.   The Watcher by the Threshold is one of my 20 Books of Summer and my book for July’s theme of the BookBum Club on Goodreads – That Is So Last Year.

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In three words: Eerie, unsettling, supernatural

Try something similar…Collected Ghost Stories by M. R. James

John BuchanAbout the Author

John Buchan (1875 – 1940) was an author, poet, lawyer, publisher, journalist, war correspondent, Member of Parliament, University Chancellor, keen angler and family man.  He was ennobled and, as Lord Tweedsmuir, became Governor-General of Canada.  In this role, he signed Canada’s entry into the Second World War.   Nowadays he is probably best known – maybe only known – as the author of The Thirty-Nine Steps.  However, in his lifetime he published over 100 books: fiction, poetry, short stories, biographies, memoirs and history.

You can find out more about John Buchan, his life and literary output by visiting The John Buchan Society website.


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