Saturday, January 7, 2012

Greeenmantle (Kara Gubek)

     Kara Gubek was the point of interest.  It stood on a rib of land between two peaks, which from the contour lines rose very steep.   So long as it was held it was clear that no invader could move down the Euphrates glen.  Stumm had appended a note to the peaks“not fortified”; and about two miles to the north-east there was a red cross and the name “Prjevalsky.”  I assumed that to be the farthest point yet reached by the right wing of the Russian attack.

     Then I turned to the paper from which Stumm had copied the jottings on to his map.  It was typewritten, and consisted of notes on different points.  One was headed “Kara Gubek” and read: “No time to fortify adjacent peaks.  Difficult for enemy to get batteries there, but not impossible. This is the real point of danger, for if Prjevalsky wins the peaks Kara Gubek and Tafta must fall, and enemy will be on the left rear of Deve Boyun main position.”


     I was soldier enough to see the tremendous importance of this note.  On Kara Gubek depended the defence of Erzerum, and it was a broken reed if one knew where the weakness lay.  Yet, searching the map again, I could not believe that any mortal commander would see any chance in the adjacent peaks, even if he thought them unfortified.  That was information confined to the Turkish and German staffs.


I haven't read Greenmantle in a long time, but I remember first turning its pages under Los Cabos, Baja Sur, sun with hawks wheeling overhead and whales breaking the Sea of Cortez surface and spouting very close offshore.

The paragraphs quoted above are atmospheric, but don’t convey the breadth, sweep, and moral depth and focus of John Buchan's trans-Caucasian World War I espionage-adventure novel.

I'm not the world's biggest Steven Spielberg fan, but I can't understand why he hasn't yet attacked Greenmantle.  It is tailor-made for him. I think he could make a commanding and moving success of it and The Three Hostages also (since sequel-itis seems to be a disease with no known cure).  He could transfer Mr Standfast to the care of Peter Jackson.


 John Buchan (1875-1940)


  1. Curtis,

    Odd how the lineages work: John Buchan (along with T.E. Lawrence) was the great hero and role model of the "Angleton generation" of Company spooks. Dan Ellsberg (one of that crew) told me they all studied the books and tried to emulate the men who had writ them.

    Interesting that Buchan's son James kept that great Scots line of authorship (if not of spycraft) alive by writing the best book ever done on money, Frozen Desire.

  2. Lineages are indeed funny. Some lead (crookedly) from William the Conqueror to Prince Charles and others to the Buchans. I'm in the middle of Frozen Desire and it really is terrific. I've just returned from driving Jane to a robotics competition in Norristown, PA and on the way home listened to some very crude, propagandistic anti-capitalist screed on MSNBC (on satellite radio) that bothered me a lot because it was so poorly done and showed such contempt for its audience, regarding them merely as buttons to be pushed. Then there's James Buchan. John Buchan, his grandfather, also possessed the major brain, and although his fiction isn't faultless (whose is, I guess?), its high points are pretty lofty. I think his final novel, Sick Heart River, is his best. He writes so well about nature, i.e. trees, plants, climate, weather. I remember our visit to the Scottish Highlands and I really did feel that I'd been there before through his books. His illustrations through his characters' behavior of the vicissitudes of professional life are also acute. His other polymath accomplishments never fail to impress, stir and make me feel like a time-waster. I remember reading a story about how Henry Green's mother sent Buchan (with whom she had some personal connection) a sample of Henry's youthful writing. Apparently, Green thought (and described) Buchan's note as a put-down. Eventually, I read it and it was nothing of the sort. In fact, it was a thoughtful, encouraging response from an established writer to a younger one, containing some pretty sharp comments. I wonder about lineage a lot because I feel I really have none, in terms of pre-existing, relevant bloodlines. I'm hoping Jane feels differently as she grows up. And that she continues to like me -- those robots are SCARY. Curtis