The Dancing Floor

The first half of this novel is set mostly in England before the First World War and the second half on the imaginary Greek island of Plakos after the war. The main characters are the barrister Edward Leithen (who is one of Buchan’s favourite characters and who narrates the story), his younger friend Vernon Milburne and a young woman, Kore Arabin. Both Leithen and Milburne dislike the girl intensely at first. Leithen however soon becomes entranced and obsessed by her. Milburne begins to respect her and eventually he and she fall in love.
Kore has inherited Plakos from her father who had been hated by the local people. They have begun to blame all their ills on her, and are about to kill her as a witch by setting fire to her house. Milburne has arrived at the island on his yacht after a storm. He is persuaded by her servants to help her. Until he meets her in the house he does not know that he had already met her in England. In the meantime, Leithen has also arrived on the island, knowing that Kore is in danger and hoping to save her.
The final action takes place at the time of the Greek Easter when the people, seeking the death of Kore as part of an ancient pagan ritual, are tricked by Milburne and Kore into seeing them as part of the ritual. At the last moment the people come to their senses and return to their church on Easter Sunday.
Any brief summary of the story is likely to make it appear an uncommonly tall yarn. Buchan’s careful use of detail and the skill with which he keeps the reader turning the pages however give a strong sense of verisimilitude to an otherwise unconvincing narrative.
As is often the case with Buchan novels, the book can be read both as an adventure story and as an illustration of his thoughts on a theme. In this case the theme is the clash of paganism and Christianity, similarities between the two showing how the older religion has been transmuted into the newer. Buchan’s religious thinking is always worth searching out.
Ronald H Hargreaves, 2002

After visiting Thermopylae in 1910 Buchan and his friends cruised down the Euripus, the narrow channel between Euboea and the mainland, and landed on one of the Petali islands situated at its southern end where it opens out into the sea. An early result of this landing was the short story ‘Basilissa’ (1914) in which the hero, led by a recurrent dream, rescues the heroine from a ‘satyr-like’ Greek (Adam Smith, 1965, p.265). This was later expanded into The Dancing Floor (1926) in which the heroine is in danger from starving islanders, who turn to ancient pagan religion and plan to burn her as a human sacrifice. Professor Deegan has shown that in The Dancing Floor Buchan quotes from Themis (1912) in which Jane Harrison enunciated her idea that the ordinary Greek had no religious interest in the Olympian gods, who only retained their literary and artistic importance during the classical period, but was far more concerned with spring and fertility rites etc (Deegan, 1997). Buchan used her ideas in his book and must have read at least the relevant parts of Themis. The Dancing Floor was published in early 1926, just after Gilbert Murray’s book The Five Stages of Greek Religion (1925), an expanded version of his The Four Stages of Greek Religion (1912), both of which relied heavily on Jane Harrison’s ideas and acknowledge her scholarship. Buchan and Gilbert Murray lived in Oxford at that time and saw each other regularly. It is likely that Gilbert Murray talked to Buchan about his new book and about Jane Harrison’s ideas, and that Buchan then used them in his book.
Michael & Isobel Haslett, 2001

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