Thursday, 17 November 2016

Skyfall - Home Alone or John Buchan?

The defence of Skyfall, James Bond's family home in the Scottish Highlands, against an assault by Raoul Silva and his small army in the 2012 film has been dismissed by critics as James-Bond-does-Home-Alone. I think the criticism is unfair. Not only is Home Alone a good film, but the critics are also ignoring a more fitting, literary parallel – one from the pages of John Buchan.

In a recent post, I explored the similarities between the novel of Moonraker and John Buchan's fourth Richard Hannay adventure, The Three Hostages. It seems that Skyfall also has some Buchan blood, in this case from his fifth Hannay novel, The Island of Sheep (1936).

The Island of Sheep, 2012 Polygon edition
When Valdemar Haraldsen's life is threatened by a gang of villains led by master-criminal d'Ingraville, who are pursuing by any means a claim on a 'great treasure' discovered by Haraldsen's late father, Haraldsen turns to Richard Hannay, Hannay's fellow adventurer Lord Clanroyden (formerly Sandy Arbuthnot) and an old friend of Hannay's, Mr Lombard, for help. All three had sworn an oath to Haraldsen's father to protect his son should ever the need arise.

At first, Haraldsen is persuaded to hole up at Laverlaw, Clanroyden's ancestral home in the Scottish Highlands. As Sandy explains, 'The fight must come, and I want to choose my own ground for it... Haraldsen will be safe at Laverlaw till we see how things move.' Unfortunately for Haraldsen, things move rather too quickly, as d'Ingraville and his men are drawn to the estate and make their presence felt.

Haraldsen must retreat further, this time to his own ancestral home on the Island of Sheep in the Norlands (probably the Faroe Islands). Echoing Clanroyden's views, he shares an old proverb with Hannay that 'strongest is every man in his own house.' Clanroyden agrees, and tells Hannay again that 'we must fight them, and choose our own ground for it, and since they are outside civilisation, we must be outside it too.'

James Bond has the same idea in Skyfall. Laying a trail for Silva to follow, Bond tells M that he's taking her 'back in time. Somewhere we'll have the advantage.' Arriving at the lodge, Bond tells the family gamekeeper, Kincade, that 'some men are coming to kill us. But we're going to kill them first.'

Once at the house, Hannay and the others start making preparations for its defence, rather as Bond, Kincade and M do at Skyfall. They shutter the windows and barricade the doors with furniture, and take positions at various parts of house armed with revolvers, rifles and double-barrelled shotguns.

And just as Skyfall has a secret passage – a priest-hole – that leads Kincade and M, and later Bond, away from the house and towards the chapel, Haraldsen's house boasts a little stone cell once occupied by an Irish hermit that takes people away from the house unnoticed via a set of steps to the entrance of a cave by the sea.

Haraldsen's house has no name – it is simply known as the House – but Buchan gives an interesting name to the island's principal hill: Snowfell. The name is obviously not so very different from Skyfall.

The similarity between the scenes at Skyfall in the film of the same name and the passages set on the Island of Sheep in John Buchan's novel may well be coincidence, but if the events of The Island of Sheep had been described in a Bond novel, then we would have no hesitation in claiming that the scenes in Skyfall were based on them. In any case, the similarity indicates that the Skyfall scenes have a literary antecedent. Just as the Bond novel Moonraker can trace its origins to the adventures of Richard Hannay, it seems that Skyfall has also inherited tropes or memes from Buchan's work.


  1. Here is a very interesting article! What you write is it moreover very often, thank you

  2. Great post.. I like James Bond film He is the father of all spies..


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