Famous novel celebrates 100th birthday at National Library


ONE of the most popular thrillers ever written has celebrated it’s 100th birthday at the National Library of Scotland.

John Buchan’s ‘The Thirty-Nine Steps’ inspired a famous Hitchcock film and may have been the fictional “father” of James Bond.

The classic man-on-the-run adventure story has spawned many film and radio adaptations and countless imitators, and has never been out of print since 1915.

The front cover of the first edition of the book
The front cover of the first edition of the book


And now fans of the novel can learn of the history behind the tale at a free display.

They can see varied editions from the last 100 years, a typewritten script from the Hitchcock film and letters from Buchan to his publishers, among a range of supporting items.

The book, set in the days leading to the outbreak of the First World War, is about the chase to unmask German spies before they escape with Britain’s military secrets.

It was written as a distraction by Buchan as he was recovering from illness in 1914. “While pinned to my bed during the first months of war and compelled to keep my mind off too tragic realities, I gave myself to stories of adventure,” he wrote later.

John Buchan depicted on a cigarette card
John Buchan depicted on a cigarette card


Buchan was an established writer of both fiction and non-fiction before he turned his hand to the escapist adventure story. The Thirty-Nine Steps was published first as a serial in the summer of 1915 in Blackwood’s magazine under a pseudonym and in book form, under Buchan’s name, in October.

It proved to be an immediate success with 33,000 copies being sold in the first three months.

Andrew Martin, Curator for Literature and the Arts at the National Library, who has organised the display, said: “Buchan went on to write better novels, but the original tale of a man on the run from dark forces remains his most famous and has been hugely influential.”

“It is said to have inspired Ian Fleming – the creator of James Bond -as well as Graham Greene and John Le Carre. There have been three major films, countless radio and television productions and a comedy spoof based on the book has just finished its stage run on London’s West End.”

The Thirty-Nine Steps – one hundred years on runs from September 10- November 22 at the National Library of Scotland, George 1V Bridge, Edinburgh EH1 1EW. Entry is free.