Friday, August 17, 2012

Prester John

Prester John,Believe it or not, my favorite John Buchan protagonist isn't Richard Hannay.

Forgive me.

I have not had the pleasure of Edward Liethen's acquaintance, and Dickson McCunn is a dear old fellow. But my favorite Buchan hero is Davie Crawford, and my favorite Buchan book is Prester John.

Now if you've never read Buchan's fantastic novels, then I would suggest that you start with The 39 Steps, and the rest of the Hannay series. You won't want to miss it, and my thoughts about this book should give you an idea of other things to watch out for in that book as well. If you would like more information regarding The 39 Steps, I would be happy to give you a review by email.
But for the rest of you, who have inhaled Buchan's works without restraint, it is my deepest pleasure and honor to introduce you to Prester John.

It's a book meant to be read in the heat of summer, and August is the perfect time for that. :) (Er, Americans, that is.)

The Story
Davie Crawford and his schoolboy friends skipped kirk on Sabbath day to play on the Kirkcaple shore in Scotland. But instead of finding a deserted beach, they see the curling smoke of a bonfire. On the shore is an African man, who is known in the town as a minister--and whatever he's doing looks more like native idol worship then their respectable kirk-going kind of Christianity. When he catches sight of them, and races after them to kill them, they know that something's going on out of the common run.
Years pass and Davie forgets about the incident. He's fond of Rugby, and not a very bookish student, but when his high school years come to a conclusion, he determines to go into the ministry as his father did before him. Then his father dies, leaving Davie's mother in reduced circumstances. Davie's uncle finds a prospect for him in Africa, as an assistant store-keeper in Blaauwildebeestefontein (you herewith win Lady B's highest respect if you can pronounce that without the use of online assistance.) As such he would receive 300 pounds a year, and have the prospect of keeping his own store someday--possibly even finding gold and diamonds.

So he goes to Africa. But strange events from his past begin to pull together. A little Scottish detective tells him that the area he's going to is full of IDB (illicit diamond broking) swindling. The native minister, Laputa, he had seen on the shore so many years ago is travelling on the same boat. And when he arrives, he suspects the storekeeper Jap of dirty dealings with the native Africans. Legends send Davie exploring to the Rooirand, a range of mountains, where he finds the source of a mighty river disappearing into the ground. Unfortunately, he neglects to explore it further.

Days go by, and the drums begin to beat, sending messages of war. Davie finds that Jap is involved in IDB swindling, and makes him resign his position at the store in Umvelos. Then a Captain Arcoll arrives at Umvelos with a strange story of years past--and the news that the minister Laputa is at the head of a native uprising that will sweep over the whole of Africa, murdering the Dutch and English settled there--all in the name of a twisted, heathenism that Laputa calls Christianity.

With a bit of Providence, Davie manages to spy on on of Laputa's conversations in a neighboring town, and receives enough information to get to the heart of the native uprising. He has no time to spare, and sets out to join in the initiation night at the Rooirand, the place he had explored only weeks before. And he knows that once there, he will have to endure captivity until he can escape, for there is no way he can hide from detection. Hidden in a group of Kaffir natives, he listens, mesmerized, to a plan of savage cruelty that will shake England's stronghold in Africa. When his turn comes to swear allegiance to Laputa, his detection sets in train a three day adventure of cruel captivity. He has to escape to get the news of what he has seen to Arcoll. But Laputa isn't about to let him go.

PRESTER JOHN. The Story of a Great Adventure.Due to some of the scenes in this book, you will want to be cautious in getting an edition with illustrations to it. Some of them can be inappropriate when picturing the native ceremonies--i.e. a lack of decent clothing. Howard Pitz did a great job, and there was nothing objectionable from him as far as I know of. So I think you would be safe with him, but be cautious; otherwise, I recommend one without illustrations.

The Curse of Ham
A comment from one of Davie's friends in the first chapter deserves clarification. He says that the African minister shouldn't be preaching because "Africans are under the curse of Ham". While this statement is made by an immature scamp, it expresses a source of error that many fall under regarding racism. The fact is, Africans, Europeans, Asians, etc. are all one race--the human race. The evolutionary idea that there are different races, some more evolved than others, is cruel and unbiblical. Secondly, Africans are not under the curse of Ham--because there is no curse of Ham. For more information about these issues, which I do not have space to address in this post, please click here.

My Thoughts
An excellent adventure story in Buchan's terse and classic style. A map is very helpful, and you will want to edit out language here and there. I find it interesting that this book has hardly any female presence in it, and that fact actually doesn't detract from the story. David's adventures are absolutely spine-tingling. They get me every time. It's the kind of book that I finish and then turn back to chapter one to start all over again.
The story of the native rising illustrates quite clearly how great atrocities can be committed in the name of cultish Christianity. But I think that Buchan's book clearly illustrates what the good Christianity is, and what is the twisted cult. While some might say that Buchan is a little too heavily pro-British, I think Prester John illustrates the difference between a culture that has Christ and a culture that does not. Buchan's book is not racist to include the depravity and darkness of the native Africans in that place and at that time. It's a legitimate part of history, and illustrates the need they had for Jesus Christ--not the twisted heathendom they practiced in his name, but real, biblical Christianity.

Plus, it's just a great adventure story. Which is what I read it for. :)

Take a little break in August to read Prester John. Thoroughly British, and absolutely fantastic.

Lady Bibliophile


  1. Dear Lady B,
    Sounds like an interesting book! When can I read it?
    Love, Sister
    P.S. Regarding you last post, will you be dealing with the issue of white magic and black magic?

    1. Dear Sister,
      I think we're about to the point where we would enjoy this all together. ;)
      Hmm, white magic and black magic? Very good suggestion. You'll have to wait and find out. :)

      Love and cuddles,

  2. Ha! My sister is listening to the audiobook of this right now, and can't stop telling me how thrilling it is! I've still only read it once, years ago. But of course, nobody did thrilling adventure like John Buchan.

    I liked "Prester John" but found it a bit grotesque in its depiction of the native rites.

    The character who claims that Africans are under "the curse of Ham" is, of course, like many Buchan characters, simply voicing a common opinion that Buchan himself did not hold.

    Hope you'll review some more Buchan books eventually ;)

    1. Oooh, which person read the audiobook? I agree, Prester John is absolutely thrilling. I didn't find it too gruesome, personally, but I can understand you finding it that way.

      It didn't seem to me that Buchan was racist, and I was glad to see that you agreed with that. Unfortunately Prester John might tromp on some over-sensitive toes, but I thought he did a really good job.

      I hope to review more Buchan in future, too. ;)

    2. She listened to the Librivox recording, and didn't mention it being irritating ;)


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