John Buchan, the remarkable novelist, historian and politician, considered Witch Wood his very best novel. And even for one like myself who loves his other work (Buchan wrote some 30 novels and much more than that of history, travel, politics and economics), I'm inclined to accept his conclusion. It is a superb read.
And certainly Witch Wood is decidedly different than so much of Buchan's work. Oh, the novel’s backdrop is in Scotland; that's on par with most of his novels. But Witch Wood takes the reader back to the 17th Century, a time when the country was in the midst of religious conflicts -- conflicts which went beyond theology to severe clashes of arms. But the intense action described in Witch Wood does not merely involve the Covenanter/Cavalier struggle; it also involves in the turmoils of church politics, morality, the sociology of guilt and fair, an innocent but yet passionate romance, and a young man’s deep sense of duty to God. Without an emphasis on particular doctrines, it is a book profoundly rich in Christian virtues and in the overriding teachings of divine grace, courage, forgiveness and personal responsibility.
The novel was definitely a hit with the Notting Hill Napoleons who undertook to discuss it at our last gathering. Many of them found its similarity to Sir Walter Scott attractive with the setting, the careful detail to history, the complex relationships, and even the occasional difficulty with dialect. Most of all, we agreed that, like Scott has on so many occasions, Buchan had provided us with a rich reading experience, one that brought inspiration and instruction along with the entertainment. And, of course, the discussion of such books always makes for a wonderful evening.
So, I think I'm on fair ground to say that the endorsement of John Buchan's Witch Wood comes from the entire Notting Hill Napoleon Literary Society. And that alone, with the stark differences of opinion we've had over books in the last couple of years, should make for a ringing recommendation! Enjoy.