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Neil Gunn: The Green Isle of the Great Deep

This is a strange book, moving firmly into the land of fantasy. It features Young Art and Old Hector, whom we have already seem in the book of the same name. Young Art, now nine and just a bit older than in the previous book, sets out on a walk with his friend Old Hector. They see some hazelnuts in a tree and Art bravely climbs the tree to get them. He is clearly in trouble but climbs higher, determined to get the best bunch which has (symbolically) thirteen nuts. In doing so, he falls but Hector safely catches him. Or does he?

They continue their walk but, though the landscape remains the Scottish Highlands, it is soon apparent that they are no longer in Scotland but in the Green Isle of the Great Deep or heaven. But it isn’t heaven but rather some sort of semi-police state limbo.

They are meant to stay in the inns but Art is frightened and they do not, surviving on the very un-Scottish fruit they find growing around (oranges, grapes). When they arrive at the Seat they befriend Robert and Mary but the officials try to drag them into the system. Most of the book is about how they, aided by Robert, Mary and other assorted Scots, try to maintain their freedom in the face of the outwardly benign but actually controlling and fairly cruel limbo police state. The hero is Art (symbolising, as Gunn clearly tells us, both the free artist and the rebel King Arthur). He continually evades the Hunt (the police) by outrunning them, outsmarting them and hiding from them and becomes the hero to many of the cowed populace.

But what, you are saying, about God? Well, God is a bit removed from it all. You can, however, ask to see him though this is not advertised and, indeed, actively discouraged but, of course, Hector does ask and, guess what?, God is on his side. The bad guys get the boot and Art and Hector go back home.

If you like life after death stories, this one is quite fun, even if fairly predictable in many places, but I think that still prefer Wyndham Lewis.

Publishing history

First published 1944 by Faber and Faber