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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » The Watcher by the Threshold and Other Tales » User review

Ash-Tree Press has published a more comprehensive edition

  • Dec 2, 2010
Rating:
+3
Although John Buchan (1875-1940) is best known for his spy novel, "The Thirty-Nine Steps," he was also esteemed for his short stories, many of them with supernatural themes. However, casual fans of such literature will find none of the usual ghosts, goblins, and bloodsuckers in his tales. Kenneth Hillier, Honorary Secretary of The John Buchan Society writes: "[Buchan's] stories were set in and around the places he knew and loved, most famously the Scotland of his childhood, and from his earliest days he showed a fascination with the supernatural, most particularly the idea of 'temenos,' or sacred places; although these places could be sacred to malign forces as easily as they could to more pleasant ones."

If I had to choose another author that reminded me of Buchan, it would be H. Rider Haggard, rather than any of the more well-known writers of supernatural fiction.

This particular collection of five stories was originally published in 1902, and was written while the author matriculated at Oxford University.

"The Watcher at the Threshold"--A brooding, atmospheric tale of demonic possession. The laird of a desolate moor in Perthshire seems to be in thrall to a shadow that clings to his left side. He has come to believe that his manor was built on ground that was sacred to the area's prehistoric tribes.

"No-Man's-Land"--This is the longest (20,000 words) of Buchan's short stories. A Stone-age tribe survives in the Scottish moorland, occasionally kidnapping crofters' wives and daughters, who are never again seen in the outer world. They also capture a professor of Northern Antiquities, who is taken to a cave sacred to their Neolithic god (the 'temenos' of this story).

"The Far Islands"--A young boy grows up on the coast of Scotland, dreaming (or hallucinating) of a mystical island just beyond the Western horizon that can be reached only in death.

"The Outgoing of the Tide"--An historical tale of witchcraft and the Evil One. Two young lovers pledge to meet on Beltane Eve on the haunted Sker sands, when the tide is at its lowest ebb.

"Fountainblue"--This is a psychological rather than a supernatural tale. It is the portrait of a strong, self-made man who learns that "the sad elemental world of wood and mountain was far more truly his own than...cosy and elegant civilization."

Ash-Tree Press has published a far more comprehensive collection of John Buchan's supernatural fiction under the same title, "The Watcher by the Threshold" (2005). It contains a detailed introduction by Kenneth Hillier, a glossary of Scottish dialect, and 28 of this author's supernatural tales. I would recommend it over this edition.

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About the reviewer
Elaine Lovitt ()
Ranked #171
I'm a retired geek whose goal is to move to Discworld and apprentice myself to Granny Weatherwax. I have degrees in Astronomy and Computer Science, but was seduced by the Dark Side a few years before … more
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From "The Watcher by the Threshold":

I have told this story to many audiences with diverse results, and once again I take my reputation in my hands and brave the perils. To the common circle of my friends it was a romance for a winter's fire, and I, the most prosaic of men, was credited with a fancy. . . . One man only heard me with true appreciation; but he was a wandering spirit with an ear open to marvels, and I hesitate to advance his security. He received it simply, saying that God was great, and I cannot improve upon his comment.

Thus begins Buchan's unnerving tale of terror at the edge of the Scottish highlands. Buchan -- a man more remembered for mysteries and war stories -- was a real hand with horror, and this 1902 compilation displays his facility nicely. Also included in this volume are "No-Man's-Land," "The Far Islands," "The Outgoing of the Tide," and "Fountainblue."

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Details

ISBN-10: 1598180177
ISBN-13: 978-1598180176
Author: John Buchan
Publisher: Aegypan

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