Buchan of the Month: Introducing… The Long Traverse by John Buchan #ReadJB2020

Buchan of the Month Banner 2020.jpg

My final Buchan of the Month for 2020 is The Long Traverse. It was published posthumously on 12th August 1941 in the US by The Riverside Press and on 10th November 1941 in the UK by Hodder & Stoughton with an epilogue written by Buchan’s wife, Susan. Both the US edition and the Canadian edition (published in September 1941 by The Musson Book Company) carried the alternative title Lake of Gold.

20201202_142426-1My own copy (pictured right) is a first edition although without dust jacket sadly. However on the plus side, it contains illustrations by John Morton-Sale, whose work appeared in books by J. M. Barrie, Beverley Nicholls and others.

John Buchan started work on The Long Traverse in 1938, at which time he was Governor General of Canada. (He had been appointed to that post in 1935 and at the same time given a peerage, becoming Lord Tweedsmuir.) Janet Adam Smith, Buchan’s first biographer, quotes from a letter to his sister Anna (the novelist O. Douglas), in which he reports, “I am trying to write a Canadian Puck of Pook’s Hill. You see Canadian history is obligatory for the schools, but the books are perfectly deadly, and there is really nothing to engage the imagination of a child, and yet there are few more romantic stories in the world”.

On 5th February 1940, Buchan reported to Anna, “I have finished my novel [Sick Heart River] and my autobiography [Memory Hold-The-Door], and am almost at the end of my children’s book about Canada. This will leave me with a clear field for farewells this summer.” Sadly he never got time to finish The Long Traverse or make those farewells to a country he’d grown to love, as he died suddenly on 11th February.

In The Long Traverse, the role of Puck in Rudyard Kipling’s original is taken by an Indian (or, as we would say today, a member of the First People) through whose magic Donald, a young Canadian boy, is given visions of various visitors to Canada’s shores over the centuries: “the Norsemen, the voyageurs, the Highland explorers, the fur-traders and the Eskimos”.

Unfortunately, the book was not a commercial success. It had sold only 15,000 of the 25,000 print run by the following spring, at which point its price was reduced. However, as Andrew Lownie reports, in 1964 part of it was adapted and set to music as an ‘orchestral-choral fantasia’.

Look out for my review of The Long Traverse later this month.

Janet Adam Smith, John Buchan: A Biography (OUP, 1985 [1965])
Kenneth Hillier and Michael Ross, The First Editions of John Buchan: A Collector’s Illustrated Biography (Avonworld, 2008)
Andrew Lownie, John Buchan: The Presbyterian Cavalier (Constable, 1995)