Saturday, 13 October 2018

Catriona by Robert Louis Stevenson (1893)

Catriona continues the story of David Balfour who was introduced in Stevenson’s well-known book, Kidnapped. Kidnapped was published in 1886 but Stevenson’s ill health at the time prevented him from bringing the story to the conclusion he originally intended so he left the door open for a sequel. Catriona didn’t appear until 1893 and it is quite a different story compared with most of Stevenson’s other works, being more of an historical romance with a convoluted plot and strong female characters as opposed to high adventure and daring exploits.
Catriona starts just at the point where Stevenson left David Balfour at the end of Kidnapped - at the doors of the British Linen Company’s bank - only this time he was coming out instead of going in.

The Gist of the Story

The book is set in the mid 1750’s after the Battle of Culloden in which the Jacobites were defeated. In 1752, Colin Roy Campbell, a government official also known as The Red Fox, was shot and killed, and members of the Jacobite Stewart clan were blamed. David sets out to clear his old friend, Alan Breck Stewart and his relative James Stewart (James of the Glens) of what became known as the Appin murder.
David visits his cousin, Mr Balfour, who provides him with a letter of introduction to the Lord Advocate Prestongrange and David presents himself before him as a witness for the accused.
Prestongrange is in a difficult situation as the Campbell clan are determined that James Stewart should be hanged for the murder but he tells David that he will arrange for him to be a witness at the trial.
In the meantime, David meets Catriona Drummond, the beautiful young daughter of James More Drummond, a son of the notorious Rob Roy.
David is unimpressed with More and thinks he is an unworthy man to be the Catriona’s father. His dislike is warranted as More is working behind the scenes to get him out of the way until after the trial, which he does by getting his Highland followers to kidnap David and keep him on the Bass, an island off the east coast of Scotland.
More is a selfish, conniving man, but Catriona is devoted to him. Gradually, his treachery comes to light but not before David and Catriona are separated and she realises that her father has been a manipulator and helped to send an innocent man to the gallows.
I enjoyed the latter part of the book most of all as it describes David’s poor attempts at courting Catriona, their misunderstandings of one another, and Alan Breck’s advice to his friend on the subject.

Another aspect I enjoyed was the description of the Lowland Scots’ attitude to the ‘Heiland’ folk. My Grannie was a Lowlander and she had a typical reaction if someone did something stupid or very clumsy. She’d say, “Och, dae'n be sae Heilan’!” I only found out many years later that it was a put down of the Highlanders. I don’t know it’s like that now but the same attitude has come up in Josephine Tey’s books only she takes the side of the Highlanders and makes references to 'vile Glasgow speech.'.

Catriona contains many of the characters found in Kidnapped so it’s best to have read that book beforehand or else you’ll miss connections. Kidnapped also helps to introduce some of the Scot dialect - and be warned, it’s all through Catriona. 

Some highlights:

Upon our reaching the park I was launched on a bevy of eight or ten young gentlemen (some of them cockaded officers, the rest chiefly advocates) who crowded to attend upon these beauties; and though I was presented to all of them in very good words, it seemed I was by all immediately forgotten. Young folk in a company are like to savage animals: they fall upon or scorn a stranger without civility, or I may say, humanity; and I am sure, if I had been among baboons, they would have shown me quite as much of both...

From these I was recalled by one of the officers, Lieutenant Hector Duncansby, a gawky, leering Highland boy, asking if my name was not “Palfour.”
I told him it was, not very kindly, for his manner was scant civil.
“Ha, Palfour,” says he, and then, repeating it, “Palfour, Palfour!”
“I am afraid you do not like my name, sir,” says I, annoyed with myself to be annoyed with such a rustical fellow.
“No,” says he, “but I wass thinking.”
“I would not advise you to make a practice of that, sir,” says I. “I feel sure you would not find it to agree with you.”
“Tit you effer hear where Alan Grigor fand the tangs?” said he.
I asked him what he could possibly mean, and he answered, with a heckling laugh, that he thought I must have found the poker in the same place and swallowed it.
There could be no mistake about this, and my cheek burned.
“Before I went about to put affronts on gentlemen,” said I, “I think I would learn the English language first.”

A sample of the Scot's tongue:

“Mony’s the time I’ve thocht upon you and your freen, and blythe am I to see in your braws,” she cried. “Though I kent ye were come to your ain folk by the grand present that ye sent me and that I thank ye for with a’ my heart.”

This conversation between David and his gaoler while he was captive on The Bass is found in Chapters XIV and XV contains the largest section of Scottish dialect:

“Well, Andie, I see I’ll have to be speak out plain with you,” I replied. And told him so much as I thought needful of the facts.
He heard me out with some serious interest, and when I had done, seemed to consider a little with himself.
“Shaws,” said he at last, “I’ll deal with the naked hand. It’s a queer tale, and no very creditable, the way you tell it; and I’m far frae minting that is other than the way that ye believe it. As for yoursel’, ye seem to me rather a dacent-like young man. But me, that’s aulder and mair judeecious, see perhaps a wee bit further forrit in the job than what ye can dae. And here the maitter clear and plain to ye. There’ll be nae skaith to yoursel’ if I keep ye here; far free that, I think ye’ll be a hantle better by it. There’ll be nae skaith to the kintry — just ae mair Hielantman hangit — Gude kens, a guid riddance! On the ither hand, it would be considerable skaith to me if I would let you free. Sae, speakin’ as a guid Whig, an honest freen’ to you, and an anxious freen’ to my ainsel’, the plain fact is that I think ye’ll just have to bide here wi’ Andie an’ the solans.”
“Andie,” said I, laying my hand upon his knee, “this Hielantman’s innocent.”
“Ay, it’s a peety about that,” said he. “But ye see, in this warld, the way God made it, we cannae just get a’thing that we want.”

And Alan’s opinion of David’s attempts at wooing:

“I cannae make heed nor tail of it,” he would say, “but it sticks in my mind ye’ve made a gowk of yourself. There’s few people that has had more experience than Alan Breck: and I can never call to mind to have heard tell of a lassie like this one of yours. The way that you tell it, the thing’s fair impossible. Ye must have made a terrible hash of the business, David.
...It’s this way about a man and a woman, ye see, Davie: The weemenfolk have got no kind of reason to them. Either they like the man, and then a’ goes fine; or else they just detest him, and ye may spare your breath — ye can do naething. There’s just the two sets of them — them that would sell their coats for ye, and them that never look the road ye’re on. That’s a’ that there is to women; and you seem to be such a gomeril that ye cannae tell the tane frae the tither.”
“Well, and I’m afraid that’s true for me,” said I.
“And yet there’s naething easier!” cried Alan. “I could easy learn ye the science of the thing; but ye seem to me to be born blind, and there’s where the deefficulty comes in.”

Catriona is free for Kindle here.
The book was published under the title David Balfour in the USA.

Linking to Back to the Classics Challenge 2018: Classic with Single-Word Title

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Plans for Combining Ambleside Online Years 8 & 9 Over 18 Months

In a previous post I mentioned that we were planning to do a combination of Years 8 & 9 over 18 months.  This is the Year 7, 8, & 9 in Two Years plan at AO that I'm modifying - we started at Week 25. As we were finishing up Year 7 when I decided to do a Year 8 & 9 combo, it frees us up to add in other areas we want to cover. I haven't finalised everything yet, but here are some of the selections that we have already started or are planning to start at some stage, including some Australian substitutions.

Devotional Reading

* Continuing Tozer's book The Root of the Righteous

**  By Searching by Isobel Kuhn - as with Year 7, I'm including a missionary biography/autobiography  in devotional reading.

*** C.S. Lewis or another title in the AO Year 8 selections

I think I've mentioned before that we didn't finish Trial & Triumph in the early years of AO so we started Saints & Heroes in Year 8 to cover some of the lives we missed earlier on & it's been a better option for us, I think.


As per AO Year 8 with the exclusion of Plymouth Plantation.

I started using the TruthQuest History guides when I was putting together my own curriculum with my older children. Since we started AmblesideOnline about 8 years ago, I've used them not so much as a resource for finding books, but for their commentary on the times we're studying and the worldviews those time periods espoused. I'm using this one for Year 8 and generally have Moozle read the commentary sections. I've had to purchase my copies from the USA. If I'm only after one or two books I find has reasonable postage to Australia (or used to have when I last looked!) The downside to these books are that they are spiral bound & one of mine already had the cover coming apart when I received it new. 


* The Bight by Colin Thiele & Mike McKelvey (Australian)

**  *** Longitude by Dava Sobel - I read this aloud about 8 years ago but Moozle wouldn't remember it. AO schedules it in Year 9, which will work out to be Term 2 in the combined schedule I'm doing (i.e. Week 1 here)


We'll probably skip Westward Ho!

* Shakespeare's Richard III
** ? The Merchant of Venice


Grammar of Poetry is scheduled in Year 7 but I've ended up spreading it out so at the moment we've done 25 out of 30 lessons. It's interesting but gets quite technical in places and could do with some better examples in some of the exercises.


* ** *** We'll be doing the second year of Architectural Science using these resources

We're continuing with:

Apologia Botany - this is an alternative book AO recommends for Botany & I'm using it because we already had it.

Signs & Seasons by Jay Ryan - I bought this before it was on the AO booklist but it's a little difficult to use if you're in the Southern Hemisphere. Moozle reads sections that are applicable to us & sometimes parts that are not because it interests her. As for experiments/observations - we've had a couple of occasions to observe some interesting sights, the lunar eclipse the other month, Mars, blood-red moon, for example, rather than what the book recommends.
I'm reading The Planets by Dava Sobel, which is a literary approach to the solar system. I was considering using it with Moozle but my thinking so far is that it would be better for an older student.

* ** *** Nature Studies in Australia by William Gillies & Robert Hall - I've scheduled this in Year 8 before and it's very good. 39 chapters covering a wide range of subjects. Free online

The other week Moozle read Chapter IV - What We See at the Beach and made a Notebook entry:

We'll be following the science schedule here (the combined AO Years 8 & 9) with the exception of Adventures With Microscope & First Studies in Plant Life.

Free Reads

Blanket of the Dark by John Buchan (1931) - a story of intrigue against Henry VIII. An enjoyable free read that fits in the AO Year 8 timeframe. Free for Kindle here.

'(Henry's) face was vast and red as a new ham, a sheer mountain of a face, 
for it was as broad as it was long...'

Lady in Waiting by Rosemary Sutcliff (1956) is set in Elizabethan times and tells the story of Bess Throckmorton, Maid of Honour to Queen Elizabeth, who becomes secretly engaged and later married to Walter Ralegh (Raleigh). It's been a long time since I read this book and I just remember that it was quite a sad story. Moozle said it wasn't one of Sutcliff's better books (it probably didn't move quickly enough for her) but it was quite good.

The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson - a story of the Wars of the Roses. Free for Kindle here.
I've been reading Stevenson a bit lately & he is a great story teller. I'd recommend any of his books.


I tend to alternate Shakespeare & Plutarch term by term, as we don't always have time to do them both each week. These are the two I plan to do:

** Cicero
*** Demosthenes

Watercolor Workshop by Sasha Prood - Moozle's older sister bought her this and she's using it to develop her watercolour skills and techniques.


Continuing with Latin Alive! from Classical Academic Press & very happy with it.


Moozle finished the second year of French for Children (Primer B) but unfortunately, the next Primer in the series won't be ready until next year sometime. Classical Academic Press suggested French First Year or French Second Year by Eli Blume in the meantime but it's only available from the USA and when I enquired it was going to cost me $200 Australian for shipping alone!!!
I bought an older edition second-hand but when I received it there was no answer key & I haven't been able to source one, so it's not much good to us. So at present we're using 'Living French' by T.W. Knight (it's ok but Moozle isn't really inspired by it) until I decide what to do...

Moozle is reading all her 'school' books on her own. I'd previously read How to Read a Book by Adler aloud but she's getting more out of it reading it on her own.

I'm still reading James Herriot's All Creatures Great and Small to her - it's sort of our Natural History book but it's mostly just for fun.

I recently pulled these books I've had for many years off the shelf: Beautiful Girlhood originally by Mabel Hale but this edition has been revised by Karen Andreola. I'm using the Companion Guide, which I think is out of print, very loosely. Sometimes it has Scripture verses to study or ideas - again, I've got the book so I'm using it. I do this about once a week.

We're revisiting these folksongs I've used when the boys did Year 8 a number of years ago.

I'm sure I've forgotten a few things here but life in general has been very full. Lots of good things which I may get to post about later.
This verse from a hymn has been on my mind this past week:

For the love of God is broader
Than the measure of the mind;
And the heart of the Eternal
Is most wonderfully kind.

Monday, 10 September 2018

Christian Classics: By Searching by Isobel Kuhn (1901-1957)

“To every man there openeth
A way, and ways, and a way,
And the high soul climbs the high way,
And the low soul gropes the low,
And in between, on the misty flats,
To rest drift to and fro.
But to every man there openeth
A high way, and a low.
And every man decideth
The way his soul shall go.” 

John Oxenham

Isobel Kuhn and her husband, John spent twenty years working amongst the Lisu tribe, a minority people group, in South-West China. The Communist occupation of China forced them to leave China in 1950 and to enter Thailand to work with the Lisu people there.
Isobel wrote about her experiences with the Lisu people and the Communist take over in some of her other books: Ascent to the Tribes, Nests Above the Abyss, and In the Arena. By Searching is the story of her girlhood and the years before her marriage up until she sailed for China in 1928.

Isobel was brought up in an ‘earnest Presbyterian home,’ and had been carefully prepared by her parents to refute modernism before she was allowed to enter university. However, she had a crisis of faith after a highly regarded university professor told his students that the only reason they believed in God, Heaven and Hell, was because their parents brought them up that way.

‘Our twentieth century believed only when there was a test and a proof. We were scientific in our investigations; we did not swallow the superstitions of our ancestors just because 
they were handed to us.’

Although she understood the conflicting claims of modernity and fundamentalism, Isobel was unprepared to explain why she believed what she did. She came to the conclusion that she would accept no theories of life which she had not proved personally:

And, quite ignorant of where that attitude would lead me, I had unconsciously stepped off the High Way where man walks with his face lifted Godward and the pure, piney scents of the Heights call him upward, on to ‘the misty flats.’ The in-between level place of easy-going; nothing very good attempted, yet nothing bad either; where men walk in the mist telling each other that no one can see these things clearly. The misty flats where the in-between drift to and fro; life has no end but amusement and no purpose; where the herd drift with the strongest pull and there is no reason for opposing anything. Therefore they had a kind of peace and a mutual link which they call tolerance.

This is a great book for Christian young people as the author is honest and transparent about her life during her time on the ‘misty flats.'  By rejecting the foundation laid in her life as a child, she had no objective standard for truth and no basis for making the right choices. She describes her struggles with relationships, including a broken engagement with a young man who has no intention of remaining faithful once they were married. Her weaknesses, financial difficulties, and her search for a purpose to her life are winsomely described, as is her quest to find God by seeking Him with all her heart. Her abandonment of her childhood faith was especially painful for her father. To those parents who are going through this with their own child, Isobel's journey would be an encouragement that a parent's prayers are not only important, but effective.

One of the memorable incidents in the book occurred when the author was twenty years of age. She had just broken up with her fiancée, had trouble sleeping and her father was concerned for her. One night he knelt by her bed and prayed to God to help her but it just irritated her:

“Thanks, Dad,” I said wearily, “I know you mean well, but it doesn’t go beyond the ceiling, you know,” and I never forgot the groan with which he turned from my agnosticism and left the room.

One night, not long after this episode, she describes how ‘the Tempter came’ and convinced her that life had no purpose and she might as well slip out of it. She was on her way to the bathroom to ingest a poison when she heard her Dad moan in his sleep and she was startled into remembering how much he loved her and how devastated he’d be if she committed suicide:

In agony I turned and sat down on the edge of my bed and faced the darkest moment of my life. I didn’t want to live and I couldn’t die!

Interestingly, the professor who had ‘first pushed her off the High Way' had given his students an essay to study which included quotations of poetry from the classics. One of these was from Dante which was written in Latin. Isobel had studied Latin and translated it as ‘In His will is our peace.’

Now that sentence wrote itself across the dark of my bedroom. Dante believed in God. What if there were a God, after all? If so, I certainly had not been in His will. Maybe that was why I had no peace?

And so her search for God began.

I read this book as a fairly new Christian and I was very impressed with the author’s candid way of writing. Simply told but profound in many ways, it hasn’t lost its relevance in the sixty years since it was written. I’d recommend it for about age 14 years and up. I'm using it in Term 2 of Ambleside Online Year 8.
A true Christian classic.

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Initiating Interests: Architectural Science

Our aim in Education is to give a Full Life. - We begin to see what we want. Children make large demands upon us. We wish to place before the child open doors to many avenues of instruction and delight, in each one of which he should find quickening thoughts... 
We owe it to them to initiate an immense number of interests. 

School Education by Charlotte M. Mason; Pg 170

One of the many reasons I was attracted to Charlotte Mason's ideas on education was her emphasis on a wide and generous curriculum - setting children in a large room:

Thou hast set my feet in a large room; should be the glad cry of every intelligent soul. 

Often the temptation we have is to allow a narrow focus, to follow our child's desires or main interests. On the surface of it, it appears educational and wise. I mean, how satisfying is it to see them completely taken up with something? They don't even want to stop for lunch let alone other studies. Of course, this focus means excluding other things, and the room they are in shrinks.

In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and, therefore, how full is the life he has before him? I know you may bring a horse to the water, but you cannot make him drink. What I complain of is that we do not bring our horse to the water. 

Which brings me to...

Architectural Science

We added Architectural Science studies in Year 7 because Moozle expressed an interest in modern architecture. She wasn't interested in Ancient Greek or Roman architecture and would have been quite happy to jump in at the 20th Century. However, I wanted to 'bring my horse to water' and place her feet in a large room, not limited by her idea that older architecture would be boring. I also wanted to lay a foundation and build upon that, so we started with the books I posted here - if you scroll down to 'Fine Arts' in this post you will see what we've used.
As well as watching some of Kevin McCloud's Grand Design DVD's, which she loves, Moozle has done some hands on activities and keeps an Architecture notebook.

The other week my husband showed Moozle our original house plans. The couple we bought our house from built it themselves but obviously departed from some of the plans as they went. Over the past 10 years we’ve done some renovations which included knocking out a weight-bearing wall so there are even more changes that are not in the original plans. My husband went over the plans with Moozle and she worked out how many square metres our house is, what has changed from the original design and using a free app, ‘built’ an updated version of our house on the Ipad. The second photo below is the free app she used. She had a lot of fun doing this but the free app doesn’t let you save the plans ☹️ although you can pay for the upgrade that does.
This exercise was a good one for a girl who would much rather not do Maths!

The books we're using this year for Architectural Science were chosen after a visit to one of our favourite independent bookstores. I was interested to see what books Moozle would be drawn to and I thought she showed a wider interest than she had a year ago when we first started. These are the books we chose:

50 Architects You Should Know by Lowis, Thiel-Siling, & Kuhl

This book starts with the Renaissance and covers a selection of architects from then to recent times. It's concise, but covers a wide range of architects and buildings and is our basic spine for this year.

The series of books by James Gulliver Hancock, All the Building In... are beautifully done coloured sketches of buildings in different cities where the author has lived at different times. We bought the Sydney and Paris books to start with and plan to collect the others in the series which cover Melbourne, New York, and London.

All the Buildings in Paris by James Gulliver Hancock

A Concise History of Western Architecture by R. Furneaux Jordan is a comprehensive book we are using mostly for reference. The author starts with ancient Egypt and continues through to the 19th Century & Modern Times - great to see it includes the Sydney Opera House! Out of print; ISBN 0500 20087 4

The Ambleside Online years are full and generous so if you do add something, it is a good idea to substitute it for something else. We skipped a couple of the science books in Year 7 (Adventures With a Microscope & a large part of Signs & Seasons because we're in the Southern Hemisphere) in order to fit in the books we added. We'll be doing the same this year.

Life should be all living, and not merely a tedious passing of time; not all doing or all feeling or all thinking - the strain would be too great - but, all living; that is to say, we should be in touch wherever we go, whatever we hear, whatever we see, with some manner of vital interest.

All quotations are from School Education; Pg 170

Monday, 27 August 2018

AmblesideOnline Year 8, Term 1, Australian Geography: The Bight by Colin Thiele & Mike McKelvey

The Bight is one of seven titles in the Australian Conservation Series. Three other books in the series were also written by Colin Thiele: Coroong, Range Without Man, and The Little Desert.
It is is a unique book that was published in 1976, just after the new highway across the Nullarbor was completed, and it looks at a magnificent part of Australia, the Great Australian Bight, which straddles the coasts of South Australia and Western Australia.

Although there are only 56 pages in this book, including photographs, it manages to convey the history, the geography, and the wonder of this magnificent area.
Thiele points out that this part of Australia has a very striking history. From Pieter Nuyts’ voyage in the Gulde Zeepaert along the coastline in 1627, followed 160 years later by Vancouver, D’Entrecasteaux, and then Matthew Flinders who completed the map of the South Land in the 19th Century. It was Flinders who named a prominent cliff face Point Culver which was to be Edward John Eyre’s goal forty years later when he decided to force a passage to the Head of the Bight.

Of the sagas of the Bight Eyre’s dominates all the others. There is a poetic quality about its magnitude and starkness and seeming futility and grandeur. Though taken from real life there are elements in it that are larger than life - the unwavering hostility of the land, the vastness of distance, the enormity of the task, the obduracy of the human will. It is a story that deserved its happy ending.

About twenty to thirty kilometres north of the coast is the Nullarbor, which Thiele describes as ‘a level sea of limestone.’ The explorer Alfred Delisser dubbed it “Nullus-Arbor” on account if its treelessness - a Latin title and not an Aboriginal one as it is often believed to be. Some parts of the Nullarbor are riddled with vast hollow chambers and sinkholes that provide homes and a respite from the heat of summer for a variety of creatures such as cave owls, swallows and kestrels.

In the 1870’s and 1880’s, surveyors, telegraph linesmen and prospectors made their mark in the area, followed by men who built their sheep stations in places like Yalata and Koonalda. Now there are only a handful of sheep, solitude and distance.
The inland area of the Nullarbor was opened up by the Railway and then in the mid-1970’s the Eyre Highway was bituminised all the way from Western Australia to South Australia.
My parents made the trip from Whyalla in South Australia to Perth in Western Australia with five kids, my granny, and various household appliances crammed into a van in the early 1970’s when a good part of the road was still unsealed. I have memories of a very long, straight drive across the Nullarbor Plain, a vast blue sky and not much else. There was very little traffic and when we did see any other travellers it was very exciting and there was a great deal of tooting & waving. We’d stop for the night by the side of the road, light a fire and spend the night there. There were kangaroos and other animals that came out after dark to make night driving too hazardous.
We felt like pioneers.

The completion of the highway was hailed as the dawn of a new era. It was more than that. It was the end of something as deep and old as the roots of the nation; the end of challenge, demand, discomfort, and the stimulus of the unexpected. It was symbolic of conformity and uniformity...
With the old road there was still the possibility of the unexpected; of delay, breakdown, and improvisation; of ambush by bull dust; of plans frustrated and timetables destroyed...

There was opportunity for humility and succour and gratitude and imagination, of being forced to camp out under the stars, of having to make plans about food and fuel and water, of thinking ahead, developing self-reliance, appreciating distance, and doing all those things that are good fair the soul and character of man.

There is something very humbling about getting out of your puny vehicle, standing in the red dust, looking around at 360 degrees of low saltbush, seeing no other humans for a space of time and realizing your absolute smallness in the scheme of things. I've been thinking about this quite a lot lately as it's been a while since I've experienced this and I'm feeling a desire to do so again.

Yet there should also be cause for hope, not merely in the value of the highway for trade or travel or defence, but because, coming close to the cliffs of the Bight in isolated places, it gives scope for the human spirit. For who could stand on those ramparts and not be aware of what has gone before, of humanity's diminutiveness in the scheme of things. Who, in his mind’s eye, could not see again the 350-Year-old temerity of the Gulde Zeepaert, the meticulousness of Flinders, the incredible tenacity of Eyre...this is still the untamed country. Move the traveller a kilometre or two away from the highway, and the age-old verities of the region hold him fast.

This is a beautifully written Australian living book that I’m using in Term 1 of the Ambleside Online Year 8 curriculum in place of the Christopher Columbus selection. It also covers some Australian history of exploration and natural history as well as geography.
It's out of print but available for a reasonable price second-hand.

Friday, 24 August 2018

Back to the Classics: Sick Heart River by John Buchan (1941)

Sick Heart River was John Buchan’s last novel. He dictated the story to his long-serving secretary, Lilian Killick, who told his wife that the book was ‘odd,’ and ‘so unlike him, so introspective.’ It is a very philosophical book but it is also an adventure and a spiritual quest.
The main character is Sir Edward Leithen, a stoic bachelor, lawyer, and Member of Parliament, who appears in other Buchan books. He is a dying man, as was Buchan at the time this book was written. In fact, it was completed only days before he died.Buchan, who had been serving as Governor-General of Canada, and as such had journeyed all over Canada, embarked on a tour of the north in 1937.
From Edmonton he and his entourage took the train north for the journey by paddle steamer down the Athabasca River to Fort Chipewyan, where they passed into the Slave River. Then came the thousand-mile steamer journey to the Arctic Ocean, and thence to the Mackenzie Mountains and Aklavik; over the Great Bear Lake to Coronation Island where he met the assortment of people who would populate his last book.On his return journey by way of Alberta and British Columbia, he flew over the coastal range and saw the country that would be described so intimately in Sick Heart River. Due to his poor physical state, he didn’t experience an Arctic winter but borrowed from traveller accounts and conversations with his son who had spent time there.

The Story

Sir Edward Leithen is fifty-eight years of age and has been given only a year to live. He was to expect a progressive loss of strength until his heart failed. There was no hope. Faced with this prognosis, Leithen reflected on his life:

He had used most of the talents God had given him, but not all. He had never, except in the War, staked his body in the struggle, and yet that was the stake of most of humanity. Was it possible to meet that test of manhood with a failing body?

The test came when Mr. Blenkiron (an American character from Buchan’s Richard Hannay novels) approached him with a request to help find his niece’s husband, Francis Gaillard. Gaillard was a Frenchman originally from Quebec who had ‘snapped’ and disappeared into the north. A combination of detective, psychologist and sportsman was what was required and Blenkiron was convinced that Leithen was the man.

Leithen raised his sick eyes to the eager face before him, a face whose abounding vitality sharpened the sense of his own weakness.‘You’ve come a little late,’ he said slowly. ‘I’m going to tell you something...which nobody knows except myself and my doctor - and I want you to promise to keep it secret...I’m a dying man. I’ve only about a year to live.’

He was not certain what he expected, but he was certain it would be something which would wind up this business for good. He had longed to have one confidant, only one, and Blenkiron was safe enough. The sound of his voice speaking these grim words somehow chilled him, and he awaited dismally the conventional sympathy. After that Blenkiron would depart and he would see him no more. But Blenkiron did not behave conventionally. He flushed deeply and sprang to his feet, upsetting his chair.

“My God!” he cried. “If I ain’t the blightedest, God-darned blundering fool! I might have guessed by your looks you were a sick man, and now I’ve hurt you in the raw with my cursed egotistical worries. . . . I’m off, Sir Edward. Forget you ever saw me. God forgive me, for I won’t soon forgive myself.”

“Don’t go,” said Leithen. “Sit down and talk to me. You may be the very man I want.”

A theme running through the book is that of Leithen ‘making his soul.’ He accepts Blenkiron’s assignment determined to squeeze as much out of life as he could before he dies, makes his way to Canada and meets with Galliard’s wife, Felicity.

How valuable was that thing for which he was bartering all that remained to him of life? At first Blenkiron’s story had been no more than a peg on which to hang a private determination, an excuse, partly to himself and partly to the world, for a defiant finish to his career. The task fulfilled the conditions he wanted - activity for the mind and a final activity for the body. Francis Galliard was a disembodied ghost, a mere premise in an argument. But now - Felicity had taken shape as a human being. There was an extraordinary appeal in her mute gallantry, her silent, self-contained fortitude.

And so, Leithen’s spiritual quest to ‘make his soul’ begins with a trip to the north where he meets up with a ‘half-breed’ Cree tracker, Johnny Frizel and two Hare Indians. They discover that about ten days previously Galliard had joined up with Johnny’s brother, Lew, also an expert guide, and the two of them were heading north. Johnny suspected that Lew was as sick in heart as Galliard.

We have each of us to travel to his own Sick Heart River.

That turns out to be the case and now there were two men that needed to be found and healed.
The remainder of the story follows Leithen’s gradual convalescence and the turning point in his life where he chooses the path of duty and decides to stay in the North and help a tribe of Hare Indians who are on the verge of extinction. They had become unhinged by superstition and horror of the supernatural.

There was a plain task before him, to fight with Death...Here in the North life had always been on sufferance, it’s pale slender shoots fighting a hard battle against the Elder Ice. But it had maintained its brave defiance. And now one such pathetic slip was on the verge of distinction...
By God’s help that should not happen - the God who was the God of the living. 
Through strange circuits he had come to that simple forthright duty for which he had always longed. In that duty he must make his soul. 

Each sick-hearted man lost all care for himself in sympathy for others. When they forgot their own troubles, they found they had disappeared.

Well, that was a bit of a ramble. It’s difficult to summarize a story like this but it’s an excellent read. It’s quite different to most of Buchan’s other books and if you’re mostly interested in the Richard Hannay type of adventure, you may not enjoy this as much. My kids have read and re-read most of Buchan's books around the age of about thirteen or fourteen, but this one and Witch Wood are two that are best left for more mature readers, I think, but for different reasons.

Both books are available free for Kindle.

Linking up to 2018 Back to the Classics: Classic Travel or Journey Narrative 
 & Books You Loved


Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Reading, Writing, & Domesticity #4

Making Room for Contemplation

I’ve noticed more recently that I’ve become increasingly distracted and my attention span hasn’t been as good as it was. I put it down partly to getting a new iPhone (my old one didn't do much and was often unreliable). When you're using your phone for texting, emails, appointments, reminders, timers etc., it's too easy to be distracted and one thing leads to another if you're not careful.

We're also in the throes of bathroom renovations that have dragged on for over 7 weeks (update that to 9 weeks!) & that’s made life a little chaotic, too...burst waterpipes, cement dust, tradesmen not turning up when they said they would or arriving when you aren't expecting them, pluming supplier sending the wrong parts...blah, blah, blah. Besides that, my morning walks have come to a halt because of these renovations, which is a sure recipe for a scattered brain for me.

I haven't listened to any podcasts lately but then I came across this one on the Circe Institute website - an interview with author Alan Noble. I haven’t read the book they mention but the podcast discusses making room for contemplation in the context of living in a distracted world. It’s well worth listening to. I’ve been thinking about ways I can cultivate this space - technology can be a great tool and I know I won't be getting rid of my phone so I need to work around it. Distractions aren’t going to disappear even when our renovations are done - something else will jump in, I'm sure, but I'm considering how I can allow space for contemplation regardless.

My older girls read these books by Elizabeth George when they were in their teens. Moozle has read one and is most of the way through the second. She reads a chapter a few times a week as a sort of devotional, apart from her 'official' lessons, and has been enjoying them. The author covers relationships in general and content-wise, they are just right for girls aged about 12/13 years and up. The author also has a book for younger girls (ages 8 to 12 years). I've read a few of her books myself and thought they were very good.
Her husband, Jim George, has written a few books for boys on similar topics. I like the fact that they don't venture into the 'too much information' side of things and leave it up to the parents to decide when to introduce these topics.

The Green Years by A.J. Cronin - this is the second book I've read by this Scottish author and I do like his writing very much. The Keys of the Kingdom was the other book and while The Green Years was not quite as good, it was, nevertheless very enjoyable. The setting is Scotland, in the same area I came from, so that was a great attraction for me. Cronin often substitutes a fictional place name for the one he's writing about but I recognised some of the places from his evocative descriptions.

I've started to read the books above in preparation for a Women's Retreat in mid-September. I'm speaking on The Friendships of Women & I want to look at this from a couple of different angles.

Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer - a classic by the German theologian who was martyred by the Nazis. I read Eric Metaxas' biography of Bonhoeffer  two years ago so it will be good to hear from the man himself. It's only a short book (my copy is 96 pages) & was published in 1954. From what I've read so far, it's very good and fairly easy to read.

The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield. I first heard about this book via Brandy @ Afterthoughts and have since read a couple of articles about the author and was intrigued by the impact made upon her life when a couple drew her into their lives by an act of hospitality. I bought my copy at Koorong (an Aussie Christian bookshop). I usually buy new books via BookDepository but they only had the audio book in stock when I tried to order it. Koorong has a 20% off sale a few times a year so it's worth waiting for one if you want to get a few things.

The Gospel Comes With a House Key by Rosaria Butterfield - here the author looks at 'radical hospitality' using her own life as a backdrop and shows us how to enact this in our own homes.

The Barefoot Investor by Scott Page - financial planning, money management in general, investments...a hands-on approach that walks you through the process. Page is an Aussie author and some of what he covers would have to be adapted if you're not living in Australia, but it is a worthwhile book and would be helpful for anyone. My husband read it earlier this year as did our married son and it was passed on to another son who shares a house with three other young fellows and they're all reading it, and actually putting it into practice. There's some Aussie slang and corny humour in places, and of course, the situation here is different in regards to superannuation, loans, health funds etc, but his general financial strategies may be used anywhere.
This would be a great book for an older high school student or any young adult, or those struggling with debt to help them manage their finances and plan for the future.
The book below has been updated for the 2017-2018 financial year.