Monday, August 15, 2011

Reader's Diary #748- John Buchan: Skule Skerry

Let me begin by saying how much I love the internet. If I had to choose between the internet and TV, it'd be the simplest decision of my life. I can get lost for hours exploring the farthest reaches of the internet (well, maybe not the farthest, there's some scary sh*t beyond the Kuiper Belt). In real life, it's hard to appreciate my lack of direction when I'm sitting in the middle of a buffalo farm and I'm due at a conference in downtown Calgary, but in cyberspace getting lost usually means entertainment and fascinating trivia. (Occasional revulsion, too, but that doesn't fit with my love letter narrative.)

This week's diversion, granted not the most circuitous route I've ever found myself traveling, began at Wanda's blog where she reviewed Roderick Benns's The Legend of Lake on the Mountain. This is the 2nd book in the Legends & Legacies series, which sees Canada's prime ministers in their youth and solving mysteries. The first, The Mystery of the Moonlight Murder, was about John Diefenbaker, while John A. MacDonald had his turn in this one. It started me thinking about which prime ministers I'd like to see highlighted in future editions. Who was that guy who held seances in order to consult with deceased relatives? Enter Google and diversion #1: MacKenzie King. Turns out he was even more interesting than I'd thought. Never married, some have suggested, based on his diary entries, that he was in love with the governor general, Lord Tweedsmuir. Diversion #2: Lord Tweedsmuir, or John Buchan as he was known in less pretentious circles. Originally from Scotland, Buchan was our 15th governor-general since confederation. He founded the Governor General's Literary Awards (or as we now know them, the GGs). He was also a writer. Diversion #3. Did Buchan write short stories? And if so, could I find one online? Yes and yes. Which brings me to this week's Short Story Monday review: John Buchan's "Skule Skerry."

First off, I love the title. Not being sure how to read it aloud is perfectly okay. Is that "skull" or "school"? Actually both work. Skule, in this case, is named after a viking named Earl Skuli, but that alone doesn't much help. However, in the context of the story, the image of a skull quite fits with the supernatural horror vibe Buchan was going for. Add to that, the word skerry or "scary," and the imagery is complete. But as the narrator is also a scientific minded fellow, and has to come to terms with his own superstitions while on the skerry (i.e., rocky island), a case could also be made that a pronunciation of school could also fit.

Between the Scottish and somewhat antiquated language, I thought it was going to be difficult to get into the story. A great thing about reading it online, however, was being able to quickly look up unfamiliar words. I was able to increase my word power with minimal distraction away from the story:
skerry: (as stated above) rocky island
brume: heavy mist or fog
zareba: a wall or fence that provides protection from the elements

There's another word that I can't share without giving away the ending, but it's not the definition that might cause the confusion, it's the spelling. If you've ever read Scottish dialogue written as it sounds, (such as Irving Welsh's Trainspotting) you'll quickly figure it out and for the sake of the story, this particular word is essential. Read it and you'll know what I'm talking about.

I quite enjoyed this tale. It was mildly scary and I enjoyed the setting immensely. Written by someone called the 1st Baron Tweedsmuir, it's not nearly as stuffy as you might think.

(Did you write a story for Short Story Monday? If so, please leave a link in the comments below.)


Chrisbookarama said...

I want to read this now just because someone named Baron Tweedsmuir wrote it. I'll have to remember this one for when I need a spooky story.

Julie @ Read Handed said...

I enjoyed how you broke down the title and I always love learning new words! This story sounds interesting. My story today is "Who Is It Can Tell Me Who I Am" by Gina Berriault. If you get a chance, you can check it out here.

Anonymous said...

I love how the internet can just take you on random round-about tours.

The story I read takes place in Nigeria.

Teddy Rose said...

It is amazing how one Google search leads to another and another. I would give up TV for the internet, no contest.

You have me curious, I will have to check out "Skule Skerry"

Here's my short for this week:

It was written by a fellow book blogger.

Stravaiger64 said...

Actually that "someone called the 1st Baron Tweedsmuir" is much better known as "John Buchan, the author of The Thirty-Nine Steps" ... ;-)