Welcome to the twelfth in our series Tales for Our Time, and, as I say in my introduction, this one's a corker.
As I've emphasized since we launched The Mark Steyn Club last year, our regular content - all my daily commentary, cultural and geopolitical essays, our weekend movie and music features, SteynPosts and On the Town and all the rest - will always be free to everyone around the planet. But we are letting Club members in on a few experimental features which, in the event they turn out sufficiently non-incompetent, we may eventually make more widely available. Tales for Our Time is one such experiment - a series of monthly audio adventures. So far we've presented radio serializations of classic fiction by Dickens, Kipling, Conrad, Gogol, H G Wells, Conan Doyle, Anthony Hope, Jack London, Scott Fitzgerald - plus a piece of non-classic fiction by yours truly. You can find them all here.
Our latest tale is The Thirty-Nine Steps, written by John Buchan and first published in Blackwood's Magazine in 1915. It is not just a good book, but an immensely influential one, on many writers of thrillers - or "shockers", as its author preferred to categorize his literary efforts. John Buchan wouldn't seem the most obvious candidate to write what is one of the very first man-on-the-run yarns: He was not a fellow who had to hightail it out of windows or railway carriages, but instead proceeded smoothly through life, from colonial service in South Africa to The Spectator to the role of valued confidant of the most powerful men in the Empire. He achieved his final eminence as Governor General of Canada, where he died in Montreal in 1940. I met his son some years ago, and I've always found Buchan an interesting figure, and for some reason this book, which I first read as a boy, started re-percolating in my mind after the complete pig's ear the Canadian state managed to make of last year's sesquicentennial.
So here we are in London in the spring of 1914, with an old Africa hand bored stiff by the glittering metropolis:
I had been three months in the Old Country, and was fed up with it. If anyone had told me a year ago that I would have been feeling like that I should have laughed at him; but there was the fact. The weather made me liverish, the talk of the ordinary Englishman made me sick. I couldn't get enough exercise, and the amusements of London seemed as flat as soda-water that has been standing in the sun. 'Richard Hannay,' I kept telling myself, 'you have got into the wrong ditch, my friend, and you had better climb out.'
It made me bite my lips to think of the plans I had been building up those last years in Bulawayo. I had got my pileānot one of the big ones, but good enough for me; and I had figured out all kinds of ways of enjoying myself. My father had brought me out from Scotland at the age of six, and I had never been home since; so England was a sort of Arabian Nights to me, and I counted on stopping there for the rest of my days.
But from the first I was disappointed with it. In about a week I was tired of seeing sights, and in less than a month I had had enough of restaurants and theatres and race-meetings... Here was I, thirty-seven years old, sound in wind and limb, with enough money to have a good time, yawning my head off all day. I had just about settled to clear out and get back to the veld, for I was the best bored man in the United Kingdom.
But things are about to get rather lively for Richard Hannay - as he becomes ensnared in the international intrigue leading up to the outbreak of the Great War. To hear Part One of The Thirty-Nine Steps, prefaced by my own introduction to the tale, please click here and log-in.
We launched The Mark Steyn Club last summer, and I'm very touched by all those SteynOnline supporters across the globe - from Fargo to Fiji, Vancouver to Vanuatu, Cook County to the Cook Islands - who've signed up to be a part of it. As I said at the time, membership isn't for everyone, but it is a way of ensuring that all our content remains available for everyone - and, in fact, we now provide more free content each week than ever before. None of it's going behind a paywall, because I want it out there in the world, being read and being heard and being viewed, and maybe changing an occasional mind somewhere along the way.
But we are offering our Club members a few extras, such as this series. I did do a little professional story-reading a zillion years ago, so, if these fancies tickle you, we may release them as audio books on CD or Audible a ways down the road. But for the moment it's an exclusive bonus for members. If you've enjoyed our monthly Steyn Club radio serials and you're looking for a present for a fellow fan of classic fiction, I hope you'll consider our limited-time-only Club Gift Membership, which includes your choice of a personally autographed book or CD set from yours truly. Aside from Tales for Our Time, The Mark Steyn Club does come with other benefits:
~Exclusive Steyn Store member pricing on over 40 books, mugs, T-shirts, and other products;
~The opportunity to engage in live Clubland Q&A sessions with yours truly (such as this coming Tuesday's);
~Transcript and audio versions of The Mark Steyn Show, SteynPosts, and our other video content (such as our Valentine's show);
~My new quarterly newsletter The Clubbable Steyn;
~Our video series of classic poetry;
~Advance booking for my live appearances around the world;
~Customized email alerts for new content in your areas of interest;
~and the chance to support our print, audio and video ventures as they wing their way around the planet.
To become a member of The Mark Steyn Club, please click here - and don't forget that new Gift Membership. As soon as you join, you'll get access not only to The Thirty-Nine Steps but to all our other audio adventures below.
One other benefit to membership is our Comment Club privileges. So, whether you like this twelfth Tale for Our Time, or you think it's out of step, then feel free to comment away below. And do join us tomorrow for Part Two of The Thirty-Nine Steps.
For previous Tales for Our Time, click below:
#1: The Tragedy of the Korosko
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
#2: The Time Machine
by H G Wells
#3: The Secret Agent
by Joseph Conrad
#4: The Prisoner of Zenda
by Anthony Hope
#5: The Cat That Walked By Himself
by Rudyard Kipling
#6: The Diamond as Big as the Ritz
by F Scott Fitzgerald
#7: The Rubber Check
by F Scott Fitzgerald
#8: A Christmas Carol
by Charles Dickens
#9: Plum Duff
by Mark Steyn
#10: To Build a Fire
by Jack London
#11: The Overcoat
by Nikolai Gogol