My Buchan of the Month for May is The Last Secrets. Subtitled ‘The Final Mysteries of Exploration’, it was published in the UK by Thomas Nelson & Sons in September 1923 and in the US by Houghton Mifflin in 1924.
As mentioned last month, Buchan initially joined the publishers Thomas Nelson as chief literary adviser on the invitation of old Oxford friend, Tommy Nelson, and was subsequently appointed a director when it became a limited company in 1915. Until 1929 when he resigned from the board on the grounds of ill health, he also wrote or contributed to thirteen books for Nelson. These included several books aimed at young boys and usually published for the Christmas market. The Last Secrets is one of two collections of stories he wrote for Nelson. (The other is A Book of Escapes and Hurried Journeys which was last month’s Buchan of the Month.)
In The Last Secrets, John Buchan describes some of the main achievements in exploration of the first two decades of the 20th century as well as those goals still remaining at the time, such as the ascent of Mount Everest.
As his first biographer, Janet Adam Smith, notes one of Buchan’s “cherished pipe-dreams” was an expedition to Everest. Cecil Rawling, a friend of Buchan’s brother, Willie, (who died in 1912) had been planning an expedition to Everest and Buchan eagerly joined in with preparations. The outbreak of the First World War and Rawling’s own death in 1917 put an end to the plans, as did Buchan’s poor health once the war ended. The Last Secrets is dedicated to Cecil Rawling.
Janet Adam Smith reports Buchan retained a lifelong fascination with Everest, providing help to a reconnaissance expedition in 1921. He also kept in touch with a number of Himalayan travellers. In 1933, she reports Buchan was asked to assist with a project to fly over Everest and that, probably in the same year, he responded to a request from English director, Anthony Asquith, for a film scenario by sketching out a thriller whose climax was a flight over the mountain!
Look out for my review of The Last Secrets later this month.
Janet Adam Smith, John Buchan: A Biography (OUP, 1985 )
Kenneth Hillier and Michael Ross, The First Editions of John Buchan: A Collector’s Illustrated Biography (Avonworld, 2008)