Friday, August 25, 2006

Happy birthday, John Buchan

Baron Tweedsmuir, better known as Scottish thriller writer extraordinaire John Buchan, was born on August 26, 1875. He died in 1940 as Governor-General of Canada.

Buchan worked for British intelligence during WWI; served as a member of Parliament; and wrote historical fiction, criticism, poetry, history, and biography. But it is probably for his novel
The Thirty-Nine Steps (1915), in which mining engineer Richard Hannay becomes embroiled in espionage, that he is best known because of the Alfred Hitchcock film of 1935 starring Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll (don't we all remember the chill we felt when Mr. Bad Guy holds up his hand, and we see along with Hannay that he is missing part of a finger).

The Thirty-Nine Steps was filmed two additional times, in 1959 starring Kenneth More, and in 1978 with Robert Powell, Karen Dotrice, and David Warner in one of his delicious villainous turns. Powell went on to star in a short-lived Thames television series "Hannay" (1988-89), but the scripts were not based on the other Hannay stories such as
Greenmantle (1916), Mr. Standfast (1919), and The Three Hostages (1924). It was rumored that after Hitchcock directed Family Plot that he was considering filming Greenmantle, which I regard as an attempt to return to his roots, but he died before these plans could come to fruition.

Buchan dubbed his thrillers "shockers," which he called
"the romance where the incidents defy the probabilities, and march just inside the borders of the possible." He also wrote several novels with lawyer Edward Leithen, such as The Power-House (1913), The Dancing Floor (1926), and Sick Heart River (1941). For more information on Buchan, read Buchan's memoir, Memory Hold-the-Door; John Buchan: The Presbyterian Cavalier by Andrew Lownie; or visit the John Buchan Society Web site, which also has a complete bibliography of his work.

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