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Buchan, John.

West Kingston (R.I.), Donand M. Grant, c 1984. 206pp, cloth, $22.95, ISBN 0-937986-68-2. Distributed by The House of Science Fiction, 101 Fourth Ave., Ottawa, Ont.,KlS 2Ll.

Reviewed by Chris Kempling

Volume 13 Number 2
1985 March

Apart from being a very well liked Governor-General of Canada for five years, John Buchan was a prolific novelist and short-story writer. Although he is best remembered for his novels, Thirty-Nine Steps and Green Mantle, Buchan produced a great deal of fantasy. The Far Islands is a collection of six of his best phantasmagorical pieces, all of them accompanied by superb pen and ink illustrations by Larry Dickison.

For those unfamiliar with Buchan's life and works, a well written introduction by editor John Bell has been included. He also provides introductory notes to each of the stories, giving information such as publication history and the folkloric background of the story. The notes are fairly brief but useful to both reader and researcher.

This volume will probably find its greatest use in college or university libraries. There certainly is much fantasy consumed by the reading public these days, but to the generation reared on fiction like The Exorcist (Har-Row, 1971) and The Amityville Horror (Bantam, 1978), Buchan's tales are pretty tame.

One cannot deny that Buchan exhibits a skilful use of imagery and portrays rather well the psychological horrors felt by his characters who come into contact with the supernatural. Yet, like warm English ale, his style of writing is an acquired taste. One must wade through his penchant for using Scottish vernacular (without a glossary) and his fondness for narrators who are proper English gentlemen (Eton and Oxford, if you please).

The most enjoyable piece in the anthology is "No Man's Land," which is based on the premise that small bands of Stone Age Picts still inhabit the wilds of the Scottish highlands, terrorizing lonely sheep herders and absconding with unattended lassies.

"The Outgoing of the Tide," a tale of the conflict between primordial evil and struggling virtue, would be of interest to students of Scots dialects. Passages like ". . .the house was as bright as a new 'preen, the yaird better delved than the manse garden: and there was routh of fowls and doos about the small steading, forbye a wheen sheep and milk-kye in the fields," make reading it a wearisome chore, though, for the average reader.

If your library already has some of Buchan's fantasy tales anthologized elsewhere, then this volume won't really be necessary. For those who enjoy tales whose characters are tested to their physical and psychological limits, however, The Far Islands presents several good samples.

Chris Kempling, Quesnel, B.C.
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