Buchan of the Month: Introducing… The King’s Grace by John Buchan #ReadJB2020 #nonficnov

20201108_125639-1This month’s Buchan of the Month is The King’s Grace. It seems appropriate to be reading one of John Buchan’s works of nonfiction to coincide with Nonfiction November but also because we have recently marked the 100th anniversary of the interment of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey, a ceremony attended by King George V.

The King’s Grace was published in the UK by Hodder & Stoughton on 4th April 1935 and in the US by Houghton Mifflin (with the title The People’s King) on 1st May 1935. It was published in Canada by The Musson Book Company, bound up from sheets imported from England. A signed limited edition of 500 copies was also produced.

The King’s Grace was commissioned by Hodder & Stoughton to celebrate the 25th anniversary of King George V’s accession to the throne. Buchan’s first biographer, Janet Adam Smith, is anxious to point out the book is not a piece of “royal tushery” but a history of the events of the reign. She also quotes John Attenborough of Hodder & Stoughton, who worked with Buchan on the book, and recalls “He wrote the book at great speed, and we made great demands upon him as an author, for different versions of it were produced at different times, including special editions for school authorities, who wanted to give it away to their pupils as a memento of the anniversary.”

20201108_125702-1My own copy (complete with bookplate) is one of those school editions, in this case published by University of London Press. The frontispiece states “In accordance with the wishes of Mr. John Buchan, this School Edition of The King’s Grace has been specially prepared and edited by Dr. F. H. Spencer”. (Although he was still Mr. John Buchan at the time of publication of the book he would shortly become Baron Tweedsmuir of Elsfield, in preparation for taking up the post of Governor-General of Canada.)

Look out for my review of The King’s Grace later this month.

Sources:

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)

#BookReview The Free Fishers by John Buchan #ReadJB2020

The Free FishersAbout the Book

When Anthony Lammas, minister of the Kirk and Professor of Logic at St Andrews University, leaves his home town for London on business, he little imagines that within two days he will be deeply entangled in a web of mystery and intrigue.

But he’s no ordinary professor. His boyhood allegiance to a brotherhood of deep-sea fishermen is to involve him and handsome ex-pupil, Lord Belses, with a beautiful but dangerous woman. Set in the bleak Yorkshire hamlet of Hungrygrain during the Napoleonic Wars, this is a stirring tale of treason and romance.

Format: Hardcover (320 pages)              Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Publication date: January 1936 [1934] Genre: Historical Fiction

Find The Free Fishers on Goodreads


My Review

My Buchan of the Month for October is The Free Fishers which was published in the UK by Hodder & Stoughton on 24th October 1932. You can read my earlier blog post introducing the book here.

The Free Fishers of the title is a secret brotherhood of the sea-folk of Fife akin to a masonic order, of which the book’s hero, Anthony Lammas, is an honorary member. As he explains, its full name was the Free Fishers of Forth ‘but its name was not often spoken. To be a member was to have behind one, so long as one obeyed its rules, a posse of stalwart allies’. Like the secret groups in other Buchan novels, The Free Fishers have means of covert and rapid communication.

The plot of The Free Fishers follows a familiar Buchan theme, that of the ordinary man taken out of his normal sphere and catapulted into a world of adventure.  Nanty (as he is known to his friends) finds himself pitted against a villain described as ‘the most dangerous man now alive on earth’ whose evil intention is eventually revealed as murder and the ruining of the reputation of an innocent lady.

As Nanty notes, “In two days he had stepped out of order and routine into a world of preposterous chances. He had been hunted by those who sought to do him a mischief; he was endeavoring to wrest a malign secret from a moorland fortress; he was trying to save a friend from death; and now in the dark of the moon he was tramping the high hills with an unknown lady.

Along with some companions he encounters along the way, Nanty sets out to try to foil the dastardly plot involving breakneck journeys by His Majesty’s Mail and by carriage across England. These are thrillingly described and really conjure up the experience – and perils – of travel by highspeed coach in the Regency period.

The villain himself is more spoken about than seen until he and Nanty finally confront each other during the book’s dramatic climax.  Anthony Lammas, the man of letters proves himself a man of deeds as well and gets a glimpse of the romance his life has so far missed.

As those familiar with Buchan’s writing might expect, there are some great descriptions of landscape.

The rooks were wheeling over the plough-lands and snipe were calling in every meadow. The hawthorn bushes were a young green, every hedge-root had its celandines and primaries, and there were thickets of sloe, white as if with linen laid out to bleach.” (Fife, Scotland).

The reedy watercourses were ablaze with marsh marigolds, the wayside banks were white with marguerites, the fat pastures between the dykes were gay with daisies and butterflies… At the turn of the road the sails of a huge old windmill were slowly turning, and he heard the chack-chack of the pump.” (Norfolk Fens)

I can’t say if Ursula Buchan’s likening of The Free Fishers to ‘a Georgette Heyer novel, but written by a man’ is a fair one as I have never read a book by Georgette Heyer.  However, I can completely agree with her description of The Free Fishers as ‘a rollicking, exuberant story’ that I really enjoyed.

Next month’s Buchan of the Month is his portrait of Britain during the reign of King George V, The King’s Grace, published to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the King’s accession to the throne.

In three words: Fast-paced, dramatic, adventure

Try something similar: Huntingtower by John Buchan

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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 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.

Buchan of the Month 2020