Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Scotland. Numerous rural locations in the lowlands of Scotland, including small towns, farms, country houses, and open fields, figure into this spy story. Through most of the novel, the inhabitants of these locations are shown going about their customary lives, ignorant of the secret assassination plot that drives the action. Thus, the characters complain about self-important railway employees, discuss price fluctuations in the cattle markets, and sleep off hangovers, in ironic contrast to protagonist Richard Hannay, who is trying to hide himself from foreign agents.

Hannay, a moderately wealthy South African, takes an undercover tour of this placid setting and comes to know Scotland as a place of great, though subtle, beauty. The rural people with whom he interacts are distrustful of strangers but generous to a fault, especially to those down on their luck. The positive representations of the Scottish people and of Scotland reflect John Buchan’s own Scottish upbringing.

More important from the point of view of the novel, the peaceful country and virtuous inhabitants are used to emphasize the familiar espionage contrast between hidden dangers and surface placidity. Like many other spy novels, this one uses setting as theme, and appearances are deceiving. In fact, the Scottish setting allows for a two-fold incorporation of this theme since both the assassins and Hannay go under cover. The assassins do so in order...

(The entire section is 572 words.)