About the Book
A young boy, Bill, buys a walking stick from a roadside peddler. He discovers that it’s a magic stick that will take the owner to anywhere he wishes. Adventures ensue…
My Buchan of the Month for September was The Magic Walking Stick, one of the few books John Buchan wrote for children. It was published in the UK by Hodder & Stoughton on 24th October 1932. You can read my earlier blog post introducing the book here.
The central idea of a magic walking stick which can transport its possessor anywhere they wish is a charming one. However, Buchan rather complicates matters by introducing the concept that there are actually two magic walking sticks – one called Beauty and the other Bands – and Bill doesn’t know which one he possesses. Beauty is “for gallivanting about the earth for your amusement” and Bands for things like “battles and rescues and escapes” and if either is used for the wrong purpose serious consequences will follow.
Having acquired the walking stick from a peddler, young Bill sets off on a series of adventures. The best of these include arranging a surprise Christmas feast for a group of villagers and the rescue from the desert of Bill’s adventurous uncle. Some of the episodes I thought were a rather strange choice of subject matter for children, such as Bill’s visit to a gruesome elephants’ graveyard. Bill’s obvious enjoyment of hunting and shooting seemed a little out of place too as did his choice of a rifle as a suitable present for a boy of a similar age to himself. The boy in question is Prince Anatole, heir to the throne of Gracia, whose accession is threatened by a group of republicans. Bill’s attempts to rescue Anatole and deal with his enemies take up most of the latter part of the book.
Buchan has a rather ambitious notion of a child’s vocabulary. Phrases such as ‘an aureole of virtue’ or ‘a vivacious colloquy’ perplexed even me and I reckon I’m well above the target age group for the book. I think the book would be more successful if he had used simpler language and confined Bill’s adventures to innocent mischief rather than political intrigue.
October’s Buchan of the Month is The Free Fishers.
About 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 one hundred 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.