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Witch Wood (1927)

by John Buchan

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269598,702 (3.92)23
Buchan's favourite of all his novels, Witch Wood deals with the hypocrisy that can lie beneath god-fearing respectability.The book is set in the terrifying times of the first half of the seventeenth century when the Church of Scotland unleashed a wave of cruelty and intolerance. Minister Sempill witnesses devil worship in the 'Witch Wood' and is persecuted. It comes with an introduction by Allan Massie.… (more)
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Showing 5 of 5
As Allan Massie notes in his introduction to this edition, John Buchan considered "Witch Wood" his best novel. Its challenge to the modern reader is the close entwining of politics with religious belief and practice in the mid-seventeenth century Scotland; by incorporating a lot of dialect into the dialogue, Buchan does not make it any easier. However, I am pleased I persevered, although the ending is a bit odd, perhaps more in keeping with one of Buchan's "shocker" adventure novels.

The setting is a rural parish, but with the military activity of the Marquess of Montrose taking place largely off stage. A few years before the start of the novel, there had been widespread outrage in Scotland when in 1638 Charles I had attempted to introduce a Prayer Book into Scotland's Established Church. This had resulted in the signing of the National Covenant; the abolition of a Church structure based on bishops (introduced a generation earlier by James VI & I) and reinstatement of Presbyterian form of Church government; and the wars which resulted in Covenanter control of Scotland.

Set within a landscape, changing seasons and weather which are vividly described, the story follows the ministry of the-newly arrived parish minister, which goes from bad to worse despite the good intentions of the minister. Themes include : predestination; a theology dominated by the crueller parts of Scripture; a body of clergy intent on consolidating their recently-acquired power; the belief in witchcraft; the survival of pagan practices; and the limited understanding of the causes and treatments of disease. A century earlier James Hogg had covered the problem of a belief in guaranteed salvation in his novel "Confessions of a Justified Sinner". It's possible that a source for the trial of the young minister was "The Kilmun Heresy" of 1896 - the trial of the Revd Alexander Robinson by the Presbytery of Dunoon for promulgating views opposed to and subversive of the teaching of the Confession of Faith - so perhaps we have in "Witch Wood" Buchan's comment on Church Courts. Buchan would be surprised that the religious fundamentalism he describes remains widespread in the twenty-first century, when limited education and community isolation are no longer a plausible explanation. ( )
  Roarer | Jun 9, 2023 |
Wasn't for me.

I've read a few John Buchan books and enjoyed them. This one, however, I really struggled to get into and had to give up... so I confess my rating is based on a book only half read. The Scots dialect in the book is very strong and frequently used, so if you are a stranger to it you may struggle like me! There are references to the back of the book so that you can look up expressions you're not familiar with, but the frequency of needing to look them up, I found detracted from the story itself. I'm sure somebody else would enjoy this... but it definitely wasn't for me! ( )
  ArdizzoneFan | Nov 19, 2020 |
A young minister in a rural Scottish community finds that many leaders of the village are involved in a witchcult; with the aid of a group of local eccentrics, he breaks up the witches' meeting. So fr, all is good, but then his beloved wife (who had inspired him to challenge the witches) dies, his oddball friends fail to support him, and the hypocritical witches retain their power. Very depressing ending. I must admit i think Buchan had a valid point that the lovable eccentrics that often form bands of heroes in adventure fiction are unlikely to prove reliable in real life, but overall, i did not enjoy this book. I may say the witches do not seem to ave genuine occult powers, so this is not fantasy. ( )
  antiquary | Sep 22, 2016 |
Synopsis: Witch Wood is a story of seventeenth-century witchcraft in the Wood of Caledon in the Scottish Borders. The parish minister tries in vain to prevent devil worship and protect his protestant congregation. Meanwhile, civil unrest of the Scottish Wars of the Covenant divides the minister's loyalties. Buchan also weaves in a romantic love story.

Review: I bought this book from Treadwells Esoteric Bookstore and was immediately captured by its writing style. It is set in Scotland and, for the most part, deals with a young minister's trials in dealing with the local witches in his village.

The "wars" referred to in the synopsis are those that divided the church and, eventually, led to the almost complete eradication of superstitions and pagan practices that continued under the more lax provisions of the Catholic (papist) and other churches.

Aside from all this, the story is engaging and Mr Buchan has a very distinctive and somewhat old-fashioned writing style. The reader will notice that all the characters speak with a heavy Scots accent - a dictionary of slang may come in handy.

I loved it as a work of fiction and will be keeping my copy to read on dark, windy and wintry nights (oooh, spooky). ( )
2 vote Sile | May 4, 2007 |
Witch Wood is a story of seventeenth-century witchcraft in the Wood of Caledon in the Scottish Borders. The parish minister tries in vain to prevent devil worship and protect his protestant congregation. Meanwhile, civil unrest of the Scottish Wars of the Covenant divides the minister's loyalties. Buchan also weaves in a romantic love story.

John Buchan, Baron Tweedsmuir, was a Scottish diplomat, barrister, journalist, historian, poet and novelist. He wrote adventure novels, short-story collections and biographies. His passion for the Scottish countryside is reflected in much of his writing. Buchan's adventure stories are high in romance and are peopled by a large cast of characters. Richard Hannay, Dickson McCunn and Sir Edward Leithen are three that reappear several times. Alfred Hitchcock adapted his most famous book The Thirty-Nine Steps for the cinema.
1 vote | antimuzak | Jun 4, 2006 |
Showing 5 of 5
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
John Buchanprimary authorall editionscalculated
Massie, AlanIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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TO WALTER BUCHAN
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Time, my grandfather used to say, stood still in that glen of his. But the truth of the saying did not survive his death, and the first daisies had scarcely withered on his grave before a new world was knocking at the gate.
Quotations
The Kirk has made the yett of grace ower wide for sinful men, and all ither yetts ower narrow. It has banned innocence and so made a calling of hypocrisy, for human nature is human nature, and if you tell a man that honest pleasure is a sin in God's sight he finds a way to get the pleasure, and yet keep the name for godliness.
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Buchan's favourite of all his novels, Witch Wood deals with the hypocrisy that can lie beneath god-fearing respectability.The book is set in the terrifying times of the first half of the seventeenth century when the Church of Scotland unleashed a wave of cruelty and intolerance. Minister Sempill witnesses devil worship in the 'Witch Wood' and is persecuted. It comes with an introduction by Allan Massie.

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