Huntingtower

For fifty-five years, Dickson McCunn has lived an uneventful and respectable life as a Glasgow storekeeper. Outwardly, at least. But in his imagination, he is “an incurable romantic”—a lover of adventure—and the books he reads give him the material for his daydreams.

When an early retirement and comfortable means leave him with time on his hands, he decides to do something different, and gleefully embarks on a walking holiday in the countryside.

It is then that he discovers that living in a real adventure is very different from living in an imaginary one, and not nearly so enjoyable. But real adventures also bring responsibilities that cannot be ignored, unless you are willing to be—in McCunn’s words—a coward and a cad.

I’m not one for scary stories, so I was glad that Huntingtower had enough excitement to keep me turning pages eagerly, but not so much that I became jittery. It’s delightful to re-read old favourites; it’s delightful in a different way to read something totally new and to stay up late so that you can see the princess safely rescued before you go to sleep.

I enjoyed seeing how McCunn matured in Huntingtower—how he saw his daydreams collapse in the face of reality, how he saw, in his response to that collapse, who he really was, and how he ended his adventure a better man than he began it. And I love this insight (“romance” here being used in the older, literary sense): “Perhaps all romance in its hour of happening was rough and ugly like this, and only shone rosy in the retrospect.”

I’ve blogged about this before, I know, but it’s worth repeating—as a reminder to myself, if to no one else. We envy storybook heroes and heroines (and real-life ones too), don’t we? Our lives seem boring, or they seem painful, but they don’t seem glamourous, beautiful, or noble. They don’t feel like adventure stories or romances (most of the time, anyway!). They just feel hard. But if we’re where God has put us, doing what He’s given us to do, then we are in an adventure story, and it will shine rosy in retrospect, however dull or however heart-breaking it feels now.

Because living something is always different from reading about it. We might enjoy reading about Elizabeth Bennet’s disastrous home life. It wasn’t fun for her. We might get carried away with the drama of Frodo and his ring. The experience nearly killed Frodo. But the happy endings came in time, as they will come for every Christian, so let’s be patient through the rough and ugly happenings. As Lewis says in The Great Divorce, “Heaven, once attained, will work backwards”. It’s only with the backward look that we’ll be able to see our life for what it truly was.

There were only two things I disliked about Huntingtower. One was the generous amount of Scottish dialect throughout the story. It’s not that I dislike the Scottish; it’s just that it interrupts my smooth flow of reading with unfamiliar language like this: “The lassie wasn’t muckle the easier for getting’ rid o’ them.” Personally, I’m quite content simply to know that a set of characters are Scottish. I don’t need to hear that they are—not for more than the occasional word anyway. But that’s just me!

The second was the liberal scattering of profanity throughout the story. I don’t mind occasional strong language, but I can’t condone mindless profanity.

On the whole, however, Huntingtower was a fun introduction to John Buchan (thanks, Suzannah!), and perhaps it’s an acquaintance I shall pursue further…..

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4 thoughts on “Huntingtower

  1. I had read John Buchan before (The 39 Steps), but your blog encouraged me to read yet another one of his books. Since I had Huntingtower on my Kindle and just hadn’t read it yet, I decided to try it. It was definitely interesting, but I agree that the Scottish dialect was often difficult to interpret. Sometimes I had to read a sentence 4-5 times before giving up and simply guessing at what it meant from the context. I didn’t notice a lot of profanity, but I confess that there are no doubt many words I just don’t realize are profane since I’m not exposed to it, especially if there are words in some regions that are profane but aren’t in others… Now I’m on to “The House of Seven Gables.” Ever read it?

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Candi! I’m glad you found it interesting, and yes–we are in sympathy about the Scottish dialect! 🙂 By profanity, I didn’t mean swear words, but repeated uses of “Lord” for no good reason. No, I’ve never read The House of Seven Gables–the only Hawthorne I’ve ever read is The Scarlet Letter. I’m not sure Hawthorne is cheerful enough for my taste 🙂 But I’d be interested to know what you think after reading Seven Gables. I’m currently reading Our Mutual Friend by Dickens and having a fine time–I may post about it after I’ve finished!

      • Oh, I see about the profanity. In that case, I’m sorry that I wasn’t as sensitive to it as I should be. Unfortunately, the Lord’s name is used in vain so often that I get used to it… but it shouldn’t be so. About The House of Seven Gables, umm…. I seldom quit on books, because I like to give them a fair chance. However, I ended up quitting on this one after pages and pages of description about Hepzibah and then Phoebe and then the artist and the cousin and the brother and the rooster and the hen and the garden and so on! I tried to stick with it, thinking that the plot would capture my interest in time. But after skipping over paragraph after paragraph of description, I finally decided that I’d given it a fair enough chance and wanted to read something else. I hate doing that, but why torture myself? So, guess I wouldn’t recommend it, though it must have it’s merits since it’s a classic… I love Dickens! My all-time favorite English author.

      • Aaww, I’m sorry Seven Gables was a disappointment, but I think you were quite right to stop after giving it a fair chance! Like you, I don’t enjoy quitting on books (for the silly reason that if I don’t finish them, I can’t put them on my list of books I’ve read that year–and it’s worse if I’ve invested quite a bit of time in them already), but I will do it when I feel it’s just not worth it to carry on. I hope you have something more enjoyable to read now–maybe some Dickens? 😉 While he’s not my all-time favourite author, but I do enjoy him a lot, and Our Mutual Friend is probably going to be one of my favourites of his.

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