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on 30 October 2003
I first read this book some 6o years ago. It entranced me then and I re-read it several times. As in all his best books (The Dancing Floor; The Courts of the Morning; The Far Islands; possibly Greenmantle) in Prester John there is a captivating sense of ancient, hidden knowledge ... meretricious, of course, but seductive. There is also clean prose and the bite of a well written thriller. My reason for re-reading it was to see if nowadays its inherent racialist snobbery made it intolerable. Interestingly, it does not. It had no effect on me as a child and, if you feel your way back into the strangely innocent mind-set of the imperialist elite, it is something you may observe with curiosity ... and gain historical understanding. Naturally, the thrill of the story has faded a bit with longer experience and a more jaded palate - but it is still a darn good tale.
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on 8 December 2010
A great story. No point debating wheher it could all actually have happened; this is entertainment, just enjoy it!

It begins with a strange and dangerous incident during the narrator's boyhood in Scotland, involving a visiting African Christian minister who secretly combines his Christianity with more ancient beliefs.

The story swiftly moves on to South Africa, where the narrator goes to seek his fortune after the death of his father forces him to abandon previous plans to go to university and enter the ministry.

He soon finds that beneath the surface calm the natives are restless and something strange is going on, linked in some way to an inaccessible cave and the old legend of a Christian king somewhere in Africa called Prester John. Soon, the natives are revolting!

Quite a short book, so not too forbidding to pick up and begin reading.

Really, the book has two heroes, the black leader of the African revolt and the white man who seeks to forestall it, both of whom have remarkable qualities, regardless of which of them is ultimately right.

As other reviewers have already commented on them, it may become a little tedious to go on about the race and colonialism issues, but it is hard not to mention them in a modern review.

The author John Buchan assumes that black Africans' dreams of expelling the white man and restoring their past African kingdoms are in some ways a noble endeavour but ultimately, for the foreseeable future, Africans are better off under colonial rule as long as it introduces modern technology, education, law and Christianity. Frankly, given the unhappy history of quite a few African countries since independence, we should not assume that Buchan was completely wrong to believe that.

Strangely, the most 'racist' stereotyping in the book is perhaps of a Portuguese character. At one point the narrator says he is looking for a Portuguese man, "What does he look like?" "Shifty, furtive looking" "Oh, all Portuguese are like that!"

But in truth, my children, no previous generation and no other society has ever fully lived up to our 21st Century standards of political correctness. Unless you therefore intend to boycott the literature of all previous generations, which would be a narrow minded thing to do, you just have to accept that it will probably contain some attitudes different from ours.
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on 1 December 1999
A classic page-turner!! The story of the stereotypical colonialist 'plucky young lad' out to make his fortune in Africa. Unsurprisingly, he gets tangled up in the midst of an African tribal uprising. While perhaps propagandist at one time, somehow the stereotypical colonialism from the turn of the century doesn't really strike the reader. What does is the fast paced, 'Boy's Own' narrative of one person's heroic adventures. A great adventure story to take you away for an afternoon to a world that now seems far removed from this one. A time to remember adolescent dreams of glory in far-off lands.
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on 12 August 2008
Having read Buchan's '39 Steps' many years ago I thought it was time I re-acquainted myself with this master of the short thiller/adventure.

I wasn't disappointed ! A thoroughly enjoyable read, the somewhat anachronistic language highlights the changes in society's attitudes towards race since it was written but in no way detract from the book's charm.

Buchan's crisp and fast moving prose make this a real page turner !
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on 25 August 2016
I write here to warn you, not of the content of this wonderful adventure story which I have read and re-read in the 50-odd years since first I encountered it but rather to warn you away from this version. Prester John was written at a time when vocabulary was not constrained by political correctness and indeed, when words now found offensive were not then found to be so. On about the second page of the book, one of the main characters is vaguely introduced and being a black man, he is described by one of the small boys of the story using the "n" word. (I can't actually use the word here because Amazon have algorithms that will spot anything vaguely offensive).
In those days, when Buchan wrote this book, the "n" word was the vernacular in most of Britain used to describe black people and indeed my grandmother used the word without shame or without any particular undertow of racism simply to describe black people. When I say 'without any particular undertow of racism', I mean that the expression was no more derogatory than any other word used to describe certain foreigners. "Frogs" might be a good example: not very flattering but nevertheless not particularly racist either, just a word used to describe foreign people, all of whom, back then, were viewed with a certain amount of suspicion.
Of course, in recent years the "n" word has come, largely by its use in the southern states of America, to acquire a distinct and deliberately racist measure and should rightly be avoided. But are we now to have ALL of our classic literature edited so that it contains nothing that might be wildly construed as being offensive to somebody somewhere? Is The Merchant of Venice to be wholly rewritten because certain passages speak in a less than flattering manner of Jews? We could be left with no original text that hasn't been expunged of anything that in a panic the PC elite presume to be offensive to somebody somewhere. Civilisation will become like Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia where we are allowed to read only those words that the elite find to their liking.
I only had to read as far as the second page to discover that the "n" word had been replaced here by "nagger". What on earth was this supposed to achieve? Would any of my black friends be left wondering whether this black man in the story, a central and very noble character, was an African man given over to persistent criticism? No, they'd see through it and be all the more offended for having been patronised.
I can't bear to think that having been offended by this censorship I'd have to read through this wonderful story nervous in case I find other, even worse (in the sense of inept) cases of editing the language to suit some nebulous (almost certainly white) creature of instant offence on others behalf.
I'll be sending it back and ordering a version that hasn't had the red pen of moral stupidity through it.
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on 2 October 2015
Classic Buchan, this is a tale of high adventure set mostly in Africa, of an African uprising led by the charismatic Luputu, sometime Christian pastor, sometime pagan chieftain, with ambitions to recreate an African kingdom inspired by Prestor John.

Our hero, 19 year old Davie is a Scotsman who has come out to Africa to make his fortune. He little realises the extent of the adventure he's let himself in for, and is never the same again.

Fantastic read that will keep you gripped.
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on 22 August 2011
Read this as a boy and thoroughly enjoyed it. Forty years on enjoyed it again. Comes in the category of 'Ripping Yarns'. Written a century ago and politically incorrect today but who cares - a great story.
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on 4 May 2013
a ripping yarn told by that wonderful author from the 'High Noon' of empire John Buchan a powerful story set in South Africa in Victorian times Prester John is a great read with values and written in good english
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on 9 August 2014
A great read - much more unrefined though than Greenmantle - very rough around the edges. The Great War, which was still 4 years away when PJ was written, seemed, understandably, to smooth the edges off and the later works were definitely less controversial (by modern thinking) and more rounded, but with no less drama or tension. Still, this remains a great book by a great writer.
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on 21 November 2012
I enjoyed this book; it was undemanding reading during a very long journey. John Buchan's books are very much of their time and in this case the quality of the writing and the historical/geographical interest make up for the somewhat outrageous plot. The theme is the lost native empire of Africa and the attempt by the Rev John Laputa to revive it with himself as king. To the white settlers in South Africa this is seen as a Kaffir Rising. The book is massively racist but if you don't mind admitting that that's how things were in those days, it's an entertaining read.
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