A Prince of the Captivity
This relatively late novel, published in 1933, is well worth reading, in spite of an uneven, episodic presentation and a slow mid-section. It contains several familiar Buchan elements: a motley cast of characters, Great War intrigue, the use of disguises and linguistic talents, the concept of gaining inner strength from a beloved spot in nature, man against the forces of nature in less benign settings, a race against time and evil, and sacrifice for a greater good. At times echoing one of Buchan’s earliest novels, The Half-Hearted (1900), A Prince of the Captivity also foreshadows his last and most spiritual novel, Sick Heart River (1941).
In the first episode we discover the reason why the protagonist, Adam Melfort, loses his place in society and the regiment. Next, a brilliant section, worthy of a novel of its own, decsribes his thrilling behind-the-lines war service. After the Armistice, Melfort goes off to Iceland to rescue an American millionaire. This episode is unrelated to anything that had occurred before: is Melfort a hero-for-hire?
But even this erratic momentum is lost in Book II when Buchan delves into postwar politics and Melfort’s efforts to help create ‘a land fit for heroes’ and a lasting peace. The plan is painstakingly established, and Buchan must have had some message for contemporary readers to have put such disproportionate time into these chapters. A learned friend tells me that this is his favourite part of the book, but readers looking for more typical Buchan fare will probably not concur.
The story follows Melfort as he tries to protect Chancellor Loeffler of Germany, who, as an opposing officer, had won his respect in a confrontation during the war. (I am told that Loeffler was most likely based on Heinrich Bruening, Chancellor of Germany from 1930 to 1932.) Melfort had tried to orchestrate post-war improvements at home, and he now tries to keep the forces of evil from destroying the one German who can, by saving his own country, save the world from another dreadful war.
Book IV, with plenty of excitement and the fascinating details of an Alpine adventure, is Buchan at his best, leaving the persevering reader with a meaningful and satisfying ending.
Sylvia Jones, 2003
Available to read at https://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks03/0301401h.html