The Thirty-Nine Steps - John Buchan

Discussion in 'General Books' started by LyannaWolfBlood, May 31, 2012.

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How do you rate The Thirty-Nine Steps?

  1. ★★★★★

    2 vote(s)
    50.0%
  2. ★★★★

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    0.0%
  3. ★★★

    2 vote(s)
    50.0%
  4. ★★

    0 vote(s)
    0.0%
  5. 0 vote(s)
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  1. LyannaWolfBlood

    LyannaWolfBlood Ella Dictadora

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    It's time to discuss May's book, "The Thirty-Nine Steps". As always, you don't have to be a member of the Book Club to join the discussion. Everyone is welcome :).
     
  2. Druid of Lûhn

    Druid of Lûhn The Little Lamb.

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    That earned 5 stars from me!

    I loved the book; a classic british adventure story; with a strapping young man evading a secret plot that will destroy Europe and saving everybody single-handedly, all without any gadgets or army or anything.

    I love the way it's realistically explained; everything is plausible in its own right, though not all as a string of events. It's the kind of story I love (perfect britishness [for this Lyanna; you'll probably vote it down! heh {I have an Irish friend...}] through-and-through). It's like Rudyard Kipling and later though) Geoffrey Household.

    I just love the style and the way he uses his brains; it's not some modern young american who somehow has all this perfect training and can beat everybody. Here, he's been in South-Africa and uses his wits to get out of it. He knows what to do to get away, but feels that he must help unveil the plot. He puts his own life in danger to save the Motherland (and Europe), going to the heart of the enemy whilst they're still searching for him.

    And then there's the classic (that's been copied so many times since) scene where he discovers the baddies from their overly-strong britishness and he has to get the coppers to somehow find the right place, finding it in the nick of time.

    Just loved it!




    ***notice I never mention the hero's name because I managed to forget it***
     
  3. LyannaWolfBlood

    LyannaWolfBlood Ella Dictadora

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    So I finally got around to finishing this and yeah... I don't agree. Not for the reason you suggest; I quite like Agatha Christie's books when I feel like a relaxing read and they're as British as you get.

    It's the plausibility I don't buy - nothing of this is plausible. He finds explosive in his prison cell, for God's sake! Conveniently, an explosive he is familiar with and knows how to use. He finds numerous people who are willing to believe his story and help him, and not one person who tries to turn him into the police. I don't agree that the way he lives by his wits, as you claim, is plausible either. It's absolutely the same as some American spy drama where he "has perfect training and can beat everybody". Somehow Hannay has absolutely every skill he needs to navigate a country he is completely unfamiliar with. And the "acting as disguise" thing is ridiculous. I get that acting is a good part of a disguise, but there's no way that someone imitating a well-known man could just walk into a meeting with people who are familiar with him and no-one would notice it. Nor do I accept that that Hannay wouldn't recognise a man who threw him into a prison cell a couple of weeks ago.

    That's not to say that it doesn't have its positive points. It's not written to be plausible - the author references his love of pulp fiction in the foreward. It's meant to be an enjoyable romp and it is, but it's nothing special.
     
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  4. Druid of Lûhn

    Druid of Lûhn The Little Lamb.

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    He's lived in South Africa as a hunter. Many people of his type have done such a thing, so the reason why he's approached it because he has certain skills. He can survive in Scotland because of living in the Veld and people help him.

    There are some people that turn him in, and his story is not actually always believed straight away. He is a respectable man however, has proof and only goes to those who he knows will listen (I think he makes that clear).

    As to the explosives; they're in the safest room in the house, which is why he's put there, because it's the safest. They probably didn't expect him to know how to use them, but he did, because a little training would have brought him into contact with them. If I remember rightly he explains that they're quite common (in his old line of work at least).

    And the disguise: they chose a man that looks a lot like the person he's imitating and the point is that there's no reason why it should be somebody else.
    They don't expect anything and don't pay attention because they know him (explained in the book too) I have personally done this in a way; just looking like you're not what you're expected to be and acting confidently can really hide you).
    And I don't see why Hannay wouldn't remember the face of somebody that threw him into prison: it's rather a striking experience.

    And he can't beat everybody; he gets help form the classic English gentlemen of the time, but also gets caught and almost beaten. As I mentioned above, he was approached partly because of his skills. And the american ones where they can do everything is so much more overt the top than this.
    This happens in a time when many men had such good training and where technology wasn't always as reliable as now. There are many things he does there that are perfectly plausible.
     
    Last edited: Jun 6, 2012
  5. LyannaWolfBlood

    LyannaWolfBlood Ella Dictadora

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    Um...no. Just no. The guy who approaches him isn't anticipating the whole traipsing around Scotland bit, or that the kind of skills needed for the South African veldt would somehow work out to be exactly the ones required for political intrigue. He wasn't picked out because of that.

    His story isn't always believed straight away, but it is still believed by everybody. That's ridiculous.

    Maybe the prisoner should be put in the second-safest room in the house? You know, the one without explosives in it? Also, the fact that he happens to have a job that has given him the expertise to know how to use them... that doesn't stretch credibility for you?

    You don't think it's an incredibly unlikely coincidence that one of the conspirators happens to be a dead ringer for the Minister for the Navy? It's not like they searched among thousands of people to find a lookalike - that might just about be believable. One of the very few people involved in the plot looks exactly like a high-ranked government minister, to the extent that they are absolutely indistinguishable to people who know the minister. That's not remotely plausible. I do agree that confidence can be a convincing disguise in some instances - I don't have a problem with him passing himself off as a roadman to the inspector because it's made clear that the inspector has never met the guy he's inspecting. Confidence, however, cannot turn you into such a convincing imitation of someone else that a group of people who know the person you're imitating will all be fooled.

    Being almost beaten is a vital trope of any spy story; it doesn't make it more plausible.

    But, you know, if you don't believe me, why not listen to the author? From the foreward:
    I would question the "borders of the possible" bit, but even the author doesn't consider this a likely or plausible story.
     
    Last edited: Jun 7, 2012
  6. Druid of Lûhn

    Druid of Lûhn The Little Lamb.

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    Well I find it plausible if you accept his past, otherwise i is true that all of those together make it seem unlikely.

    But as disjointed events it has more of a reality around it than the american novels. Even as a whole it is written I believe to have the possibility of being taken as probable, because considering that he has such a background (not that uncommon then) and that he has that much luck (very possible, the men probably had forgotten that explosives were in that room, or didn't expect him to use them in the short amount of time he was there), then the actions he does could pass off as real.

    And what you said about it being lucky that the guy resembled the navy minister. Maybe the only reason why he's in the plot at all is because of that. The plan has clearly been carefully planned for a long time so therefore it is highly plausible that they would have found someone that looked enough alike that, with no expectance of him being somebody else, with a message having arrived that he was ill and with him trying to hide his face, then he could pass as someone, even if well-known.
    I can't remember where I read/saw this but with careful manipulation of the face muscles (takes a lot of practice) one can change their appearance drastically, so he could have also just kept on an expression that made him look enough like the ill minister, even if they looked at his face directly if only for a short while.
     
  7. LyannaWolfBlood

    LyannaWolfBlood Ella Dictadora

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    Druid, if you're using "these criminals are very highly skilled and organised, but may still have forgotten that there were explosives in the same room as they put the hero" as an excuse, you've lost.

    I'm not bothered going over each of those points any as I'd just be repeating myself. People (other than identical twins) are very, very rarely so alike that they're indistinguishable from each other. You may be able to change your appearance significantly by manipulating your facial muscles, but you can't turn into someone else.

    Also, you're still disagreeing with the author of the book by claiming that it is "probable" that such things could occur.
     
  8. Sparrow

    Sparrow Well-Known Member

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    I think you have to read The Thirty-Nine Steps the way you would a James Bond novel, or watch a spy-thriller movie... and not be too critical of the content. That said, I think certain literary devices should be used sparingly, such as characters disguising themselves, and chance meetings, and ridiculous coincidences... which Thirty-Nine Steps uses way too frequently in pushing the plot forward. Which is why I gave it three stars.

    I don't know if you guys have read anything by Michael Crichton?.. you surely have seen movies based on his books (Jurassic Park)... his work sticks pretty close to hard science fiction and is written closer to a movie script than well thought out literature. I think Thirty-Nine Steps sort of plays out like a movie script, or I suppose for the times in which it was written, a boy's adventure.

    I have to admit as I reread Thirty-Nine Steps, or 'skimmed' would be a better way to describe it, I found that my opinion of it has greatly diminished since the first reading. Some works like iRobot by Asimov, or Nineteen Eighty-Four by Orwell are even better with the second reading, or in my case listening to an audiobook version, other books have just lost their charm completely. I'll place Thirty-Nine Steps in the later category.
     
  9. LyannaWolfBlood

    LyannaWolfBlood Ella Dictadora

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    Oh, I know. That's why I called it an "enjoyable romp" in my first post. I probably wouldn't have put so much effort into debunking its plausibility if Druid hadn't been so eager to claim that it was anyway realistic.
     
  10. Druid of Lûhn

    Druid of Lûhn The Little Lamb.

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    I claimed that each part separately can be realistic but that on the whole it's not plausible.

    I also find it's pretty much the same for the James Bond books; each bit is realistic, but all put together it's pretty implausible.