Castle Douglas in Crockett’s time

As we move towards the end of another year, we’re coming to the end of our Crockett monthly reading challenge. 

Crockett wrote many of his books set in Castle Douglas, though he fictionalised it as Cairn Edward and the first book I want to recommend for this month is based partly in Castle Douglas, although it starts in Edinburgh and travels across the border in parts.  It is also a book which was given a different title for the UK and US markets – reminding us that ‘branding’ was just as important a century ago as it is now.  In America the book is known by the title Fishers of Men whereas in UK it was titled Kid McGhie.  Make of that what you will.

While Fishers of Men may suggest an overly moralistic tome, the Atheneum Magazine warned contemporary readers that ‘the criminal element, in spite of the spark of humanity even in such as Mad Mag and the Knifer, will repel many readers.’

1-a-1-a-cally-edinburgh-slums[picture 1  –  Edinburgh slums at the time of Kid McGhie]

This is certainly a novel of choices – both within the text and in terms of reader interpretation.  For me it is a story of social class. The urchin Kid holds a romantic notion that he is the head of the ancient McGhie clan and this colours all the action in the ensuing story. His relatives in Castle Douglas are also fighting to claim their ‘title’ and as solid middle class aspirational folk are subject to a fair amount of irony or as we might term it ‘Scots humour.’

1-a-1-a-cally-balmaghie-villa[picture 2 – Balmaghie would be a house like this in ‘Cairn Edward’]

Crockett clearly juxtaposes rural middle class aspiration against urban poverty. In the process he offers three versions of religion (the Fishers of Men) in the form of ministers – leaving the reader to judge which has the best social conscience.  We see shades of Crockett himself in the city missionary Molesay, described as a man with ‘a soul much too large for his body, and methods of doing his work too original for the most tolerant denomination.’ This quote hopefully shows that there is much more depth to the novel than might first meet the eye.   I  can recommend Kid McGhie as an adventure romance novel which nevertheless offers a great deal of insight into many social issues that are still with us today.

1-a-1-a-cally-cameronian-xmass[picture 3 –A Cameronian Christmas]

And now, because Christmas seems to come earlier every year, I’m going to recommend A Cameronian Christmas as the perfect gift for the reader in your life (or yourself) who is looking for an ‘entry level’ Crockett.  It is a selection of short stories and excerpts from novels all of which show Christmas from an ‘alternative’ viewpoint.

There are four stories from the collection The Bloom o’ the Heather (1908) and two stories from Bog Myrtle and Peat (1895) as well as excerpts from The Raiders (1894) A Galloway Herd (1895) and Rose of the Wilderness (1909). My favourite story from the selection is ‘Packman’s Pool’ in The Bloom o’ the Heather . The following passage never fails to make me smile:

‘Away in the little cothouse Robin… drew in a creepie stool to his porridge and milk with another thankful heart.

‘So this is Christmas Day,’ he said, ‘and in England where they hae a’ the siller they want, folk get presents and grand gifts, and as muckle as ever they can eat?’

He took one spoonful and then, recollecting that he had forgotten to say grace, he reverently took off his bonnet and asked a blessing.

Then he took another spoonful.

‘But after a’,’ he added thankfully, ‘Christmas or no Christmas, porridge is hard to beat.’

1-a-1-a-cally-porridge[picture 4 – W. Hemsley ‘Porridge’]

This is a perfect example of Crockett’s use of ‘Scots humour’ and if you are the sort of person who hankers for Dickens’ Christmas stories at this time of year, you could do much worse that give Crockett’s Cameronian Christmas a try as a companion or alternative to the traditional fare of Tiny Tim.

If you want to find out more about Crockett and ‘Scots Humour’ why not join the Galloway Raiders. It’s free and offers a load of interesting information about Crockett’s life and works.  www.gallowayraiders.co.uk is the place to go.

You can get Kid McGhie and A Cameronian Christmas as ebooks or paperbacks from Amazon (but you will find them cheaper online at www.unco.scot in the S.R.Crockett collection. Order now for an alternative pre-Christmas delivery!

Written exclusively for DGWGO by Cally Philips