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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