The same book trail that led me to John Galsworth’s Fraternity also led me to an out-of-print (and very hard to find) book by Compton Mackenzie, who is also the author of Monarch on the Glen. Since I’d seen the commercials for the BBC series by that name, I figured I’d give the book a try and then move on to the TV series.
As it turns out, the TV series has almost nothing to do with the book, which is a shame, because the book itself is a hoot – an outrageous farce involving Scottish nationalists, the 1930s equivalent of today’s crunchy-granola nut jobs, a dopey American heir and his scheming wife, and best of all, the monarch of the title, Donald MacDonald of Ben Nevis. MacDonaldson, also known in the book as Ben Nevis and as the Chieftain, is the 23rd in a line of Chieftains on this particular estate in the Scottish Highlands (near a set of mountains, one of which is known as Ben Nevis), and he has some decidedly old-world views that clash with the “liberated” views of a set of hikers who decide to ignore the “no camping” signs and lodge in thewoods on his estate. Ben Nevis decides to teach them a lesson, and they decide to teach him a lesson, and much hilarity ensues. On top of all of this, the Chieftain has an American couple staying with him, and he’s trying both to con them into buying his friend’s estate at an inflated price and to set up the heir’s sister with any one of his sons.
Mackenzie has a skill for creating comic situations – humor by setup, rather than by punchline or wisecrack. (Although there are a few of those as well, and it was interesting to know that the “Eureka”/”you-reek-a” pun is at least 65 years old.) Mackenzie’s depictions of the various interactions between MacDonald and his antagonists, including the strange alliance he’s forced to forge to protect his castle, and the hunt for the “muckle hart” stag both show off his skill for creating absurd situations and letting the characters resolve them by themselves, so to speak. It’s easy comedy to read, and I imagine it was easy to write once he’d concocted the scenarios and developed the characters. It doesn’t quite measure up to the gold standard of British comic literature, the wonderful P.G. Wodehouse, but it merits a spot on the same shelf.
One interesting side note: There’s a name mentioned a few times in the book (although the character never appears) that might sound familiar to Harry Potter fans – Bertie Bottley. Think J.K. Rowling might have read Monarch of the Glen?