THE SCOTTISH ISLANDS, by George Scott-Moncrieff (Botsford, 21s.).
LIS 1.before I sat down to write this review the B.B.C. announced ,
that a fleet of helicopters will probably be serving the Inner and Outer Hebrides regularly in a few years' time. And so may fall one of the last bastions of peace and solitude in our urbanised kingdom.
But, of course, neither you nor I nor Mr. Scott-Moncrieff can put a break on air travel, and obviously, to places like the less accessible islands of Scotland, the helicopter, which requires no runways, is the answer to communication with the mainland. And while it may bring trippers, it may also bring some blessings of a material nature-such as a swift ambulance service, at present a perilous undertaking in rough weather by ordinary plane-and some prosperity to the islanders who sadly need it.
Speaking as one who has never got nearer to the Hebrides than sitting on the silver sands of Moray and looking at the Cuillins across that unbelievably blue stretch of sea. I found The Scottish Islands a fascinating book.
Among the Hebrides there are Catholic islands and Protestant islands. Barra, for instance, is a stronghold of Catholicism and is also one of the few islands with an increasing population, "The island life," says the author, "has the vigour to maintain its essential qualities and its Gaelic tongue. In this, of course, Catholicism has been the great bulwark, with its uni versality, its roots in essentials and its ability to touch life at so many points. Many of the people in those other islands belong to the narrow schismatic churches for whom so much is sin, or savours of sin."
He goes on: "Their beliefs at their best are by no means despicable, but they are fatally vulnerable. They have no terms on which to meet modern values. Now, it does not mat ter how trashy most of those values
are, they are in the air; remote islands are no longer isolated from
them . . . The life of the Seceder which, when not made hitter by some canting preacher, could be admirable and quite secure in a little world sur rounded by stormy waters, now suffers from challenges to which he has no answer save to reject unin spected, or, if he is young and adventurous, to accept all too trustingly." As you see, this is much more than a travel book. It has a good deal of Catholic philosophy too.
Chapters are given to the Orkneys and the Shetland Islands but it's not difficult to see that Mr. Scott-Moncrieff's heart is on the West Coast.
This being a Batsford book, it is superbly illustrated.
A PAD IN THE STRAW by Christopher Woodforde. With a prefatory note by Lord David Cecil (Dent, 10s. 6d.).
IS is a book of stories told to
boys by the chaplain of New College, Oxford. Their heroes are mainly schoolboys, charmingly serious and uncomplicated; their villains generally take the shape of devils.
These are a lighthearted contradiction of the popular theory that Evil is a disembodied myth; they are very real. In "Sacrilege at St. George's," for instance, a respectable church-going spinster suddenly assumes beak and bristles and vanishes with a blast of hot air.
The author does not intend his demons to point a moral issue; they do not bear unrepentant sinners away. They are simply material facts, like tables. and chairs, to be accepted with perfect equanimity by the characters • The best stories-for some do not come off-have the compelling power of a dream. Whilst one is under their spell it seems to be quite in order that a child should turn into a stone statue and that a jar should inflict a severe bite upon its owner. It is, therefore, only on reflection that
one perceives the author's power of • fantasy, though as a distinguished antiquarian he may have borrowed some of his ideas from English folklore.
Further originality is achieved y the contrasting of old and new. in "The Doom Window at treckham" sundry devils from a medieval scene of the Last Judgment cheerfully derail a train and are even snapped l y an enthusiast's camera. There is a similar contrast between the sot ea what old-fashioned style of narration and the liveliness of the conversation,