Buchan of the Month/Book Review: The Runagates Club by John Buchan

buchan of the month 2019 poster

20190708_133755About the Book

These twelve stories are told by the old soldiers of the Runagates Club as they reminisce.

Richard Hannay, hero of The Thirty-Nine Steps, reappears recounting a trek into the bush in ‘The Green Wildebeest’. In ‘Dr Lartius’, John Palliser-Yeates describes an ingenious Secret Service operation during the First World War and a German code is finally broken in ‘The Loathly Opposite’.

My Review

The Runagates Club is the seventh book in my John Buchan reading project, Buchan of the Month 2019. You can find out more about the project and my reading list for 2019 here and read my (spoiler-free) introduction to The Runagates Club here.  It’s also an excuse to show off my two copies of the book: a Hodder & Stoughton edition from July 1929 and an undated Nelson edition (pictured above).

The Runagates Club, a collection of stories told around the dining table by members of the fictional private club of the title, was the last short story collection to be published in John Buchan’s lifetime. The stories can be roughly divided into groups:

  • Those with a supernatural theme: ‘The Green Wildebeeste’, ‘Skule Skerry’, ‘Fullcircle’ or ‘The Wind in the Portico’ (the latter reminiscent of one of the ghost stories of M.R. James)
  • Stories of ‘sheer romance’ (‘strangeness flowering from the commonplace’ as Buchan defines it), involving adventure in unexpected places, chance meetings, disguises and cases of mistaken identity: ‘The Frying Pan and the Fire’, ‘Divus Johnston’ and ‘Sing A Song of Sixpence’ (the latter set in London and featuring Sir Edward Leithen in scenes reminiscent of Buchan’s novel The Power-House)
  • Tales exploring moral or psychological themes that will be familiar to readers of Buchan, such as courage, fortitude, duty or finding one’s cause or ‘creed’: ‘Ship to Tarshish’ and ‘Tendebant Manus’
  • Buchan also has a bit of fun at the expense of the press in ‘The Last Crusade’ in which a small article in a provincial newspaper takes on a life of its own. It has to be said though the story is spoilt somewhat by the presence of what would be regarded today as unsavoury conspiracy theories and tropes
  • Finally, my two favourite (and I think the two best) stories in the collection – ‘Dr. Lartius’ and ‘ The Loathly Opposite’  – which reflect Buchan’s role in propaganda and intelligence during the First World War, as recounted in Ursula Buchan’s recent biography of her grandfather, Beyond the Thirty-Nine Steps: A Life of John Buchan.

All the stories in The Runagates Club are told in Buchan’s customary flowing, seemingly effortless and concise prose with a real sense of place evident in many of them. ‘Skule Skerry’ and ‘Fullcircle’ are good examples. The only jarring note is some distasteful racial stereotyping and use of terms that will be unacceptable to modern readers in a couple of the stories, for example ‘The Green Wildebeeste’.

Next month’s Buchan of the Month is The Courts of the Morning.

Find The Runagates Club on Goodreads

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.

buchan of the month 2019