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The Thirty-Nine Steps

In his own words:

I have long cherished an affection for that elementary type of tale which Americans call the ‘dime novel’, and which we know as the ‘shocker’ — the romance where the incidents defy the probabilities, and march just inside the borders of the possible.

So wrote John Buchan, in the best-known of his “shockers”: The Thirty-Nine Steps. The first of his novels to feature Richard Hannay, mining engineer, soldier, adventurer and spy — a character inspired by the real-life military spy William IronsideThe Thirty-Nine Steps is a cracking yarn set against the backdrop of the looming First World War. With a plot full of such intrigue, it’s little wonder that Alfred Hitchcock brought it to the silver screen some twenty years later.

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John Buchan (1875 – 1940)

Photograph of John Buchan; source unknown.John Buchan was born in Perth, the son of a Minister of the Free Church of Scotland. His family moved to Fife within a year of his birth, and later to Glasgow, where he was educated at Hutchesons’ Grammar School and Glasgow University. From there, he went up to Brasenose College at Oxford where he gained a First. He married Susan Grosvenor in 1907, and they had one daughter and three sons. As an author he was best known for The Thirty-Nine Steps (1915) but wrote several other novels including Prester John (1910), Greenmantle (1916), and Huntingtower (1922). He also wrote a four-volume history of World War I (1921 – 1922), and biographies including Sir Walter Scott (1932) and Oliver Cromwell (1934). His varied career embraced being a barrister, writer, soldier and publisher, and in 1927 he became a Member of Parliament. He died while serving as Governor-General of Canada, a post he had held since 1935, the year in which he was made Baron Tweedsmuir of Elsfield.

A note about copyright

The copyright position of the majority of the works available as etexts from Project Gutenberg (PG) is in little doubt, since the authors are long dead. With the writings of John Buchan, it is potentially a little more complicated.

In the USA (where PG is based) copyright subsists for fifty years after the death of the author of a literary work. The same situation obtained in the UK under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, until the Duration of Copyright and Rights in Performances Regulations 1995 came into force on January 1, 1996. These regulations implement the main provisions of an EU Council Directive, No. 93/98/EEC, which harmonises the term of copyright protection throughout the countries of the European Economic Area (EEA). As a consequence, the term of copyright in the UK was raised to 70 years after the author’s death, subject to the savings and transitional provisions set out in Part III of the regulations.

Buchan having died in 1940, the UK copyright in The Thirty-Nine Steps (being the work of a national of an EEA state and first published in a Berne Convention country) expired at the end of 1990 under the 1998 Act. From my reading, the 1995 Regulations do not revive copyright in this work. Therefore to the best of my knowledge, understanding and belief, I am permitted to offer my marked-up copy of the text here. Project Gutenberg seems to be of similar belief, since it distributes copies of its etext not only from its US-located servers, but also from several mirror sites throughout the EEA.

If any of Buchan’s heirs, successors, publishers or representatives demonstrate to me that I am wrong, I will without hesitation remove the text from this site. However the same should apply to the aforementioned PG mirrors, which include two in the UK.

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