Sunday, November 25, 2012

Dickson McCunn is a hobbit

"We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures.
Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things!"

Bilbo Baggins, The Hobbit, Chapter 1

Huntingtower is the first of three novels about the adventures of Dickson McCunn, my favorite among John Buchan protagonists. Suzannah, at In Which I Read Vintage Novels, has just re-read it and once more enjoyed it. She had an insight about what makes Dickson McCunn such an attractive character which, once mentioned, seemed to me absolutely right.

Huntingtower is about Dickson McCunn, retired Glasgow grocer, businessman, and romantic. On holiday in Carrick, he stumbles across something he has only ever dreamed about: Romance, in the sense of adventure. Together with a not-quite-as-disillusioned-as-he-appears realist poet, a gang of hardened Glasgow street boys, a lame laird and his battered henchmen, and (not to be forgotten) the capable and pious old lady Mrs Morran, Dickson McCunn faces the challenge of a lifetime: rescue an honest-to-goodness princess from a dark tower and Russia from the Bolsheviks. ....

These characters are drawn lovingly and vividly, from the battered and desperate Gorbals Die-Hards who have never known love or comfort to the respectable and stolid Mr McCunn and Mrs Morran who handle everything as it comes to them with unfailing pluck. It would be cozy to read about Mr McCunn selling hams and writing dutiful letters to his wife at the Neuk Hydropathic. But reading about him outwitting Bolshevik spies and occasionally injuring respectable lawyers is something on the heady side of delightful. ....


In the meantime I realised what this book reminds me of. Mr McCunn, a law-abiding homebody with a poetic streak, is pulled (protesting at every step) into the wildest kind of adventure, which interferes with his quiet enjoyment of comforts such as pipes and second breakfasts. Indeed: Dickson McCunn is a Hobbit, and probably a Baggins. Like Bilbo, he becomes the head of operations and opines that the really necessary thing in a wild adventure like his is good solid business sense. ....
Romance is not novelty and liberation. Romance is duty and convention, faith and perseverance. This is Buchan’s eternal theme: the man faithful in little who is faithful in much. It’s Dickson’s sense of duty and responsibility that goads him back into the fight. Princesses, jewels, and spies are all very well, but in Huntingtower the true romance is located right where it always has been: in the common things, the little things, the everyday things.

As a coda, I also want to note that that Buchan also locates romance within Christendom and the Church. As usual in a Buchan novel, the adventurous life is only lived within the context of faith. Providence and the Kirk are everywhere. .... [more]
Huntingtower can be read online at Gutenberg and can also be downloaded there, free, in the Kindle format or as an EPUB.