The 39 Steps by John Buchan
In The 39 Steps, an engaging espionage thriller, a freelance spy is murdered in Richard Hannay’s London flat. Hannay grabs some cash and a disguise and goes on the run. Fearing for his life, Hannay’s goal is to stay one step ahead of both the police and the spies who will stop at nothing to find him.
What are the thirty-nine steps, and can Richard Hannay manage to stay one step ahead of his pursuers?
Published in 1915, The Thirty-Nine Steps is one of the most popular espionage thrillers ever written.
Reflect: Check out our conversation starters.
Weigh In: Share your thoughts!
Thank You for Supporting Our Labor of Love
At zero cost to you, Tea, Tonic & Toxin will earn an affiliate commission if you make a purchase using any of these affiliate links.
Transcript: The 39 Steps - An Espionage Thriller Set in Scotland!
Welcome to Tea Tonic, and Toxin, a book club and podcast for anyone who wants to explore the best mysteries and thrillers ever written. I’m your host Sarah Harrison.
Carolyn Daughters 0:35
And I’m your host Carolyn Daughters. Pour yourself a cup of tea, a gin and tonic,
Sarah Harrison 0:40
… but not a toxin …
Carolyn Daughters 0:43
and join us on a journey through 19th and 20th century mysteries and thrillers, every one of them a game changer.
Sarah Harrison 0:54
We are very excited about today’s episode. It’s the continuation of the 39 Steps part two. I missed up the script, but I’m still gonna keep going. Here’s The 39 Steps, part two. If you haven’t listened to part one, you can go back, but it’s not in order or anything, so we can just can start here if you want. Today we also have our super amazing second special guest of the year, Wendi Anderson.
Wendi Anderson 1:33
You don’t know my name do you?
Sarah Harrison 1:35
I knew the Wendi. I forgot the Anderson.
Carolyn Daughters 1:39
It’s all professional here.
Sarah Harrison 1:41
I’m really good at podcasting.
Carolyn Daughters 1:46
Our very special guest … let me go check who that is …
Sarah Harrison 1:49
Okay, before we dive a little deeper into what Sarah doesn’t know, we want to make sure to mention our fantastic sponsor today, Linden Botanicals. Colorado-based Lindon Botanicals sells the world’s healthiest herbal teas and extracts. Their team has traveled the globe to find the herbs that offer the best science-based support for stress relief, energy, memory, mood, kidney health, joint health, immune health, inflammation, and digestion. U.S. orders over $75 ship free. To learn more and get 15% off your first order, visit lindenbotanicals.com. Thank you, Linden Botanicals.
We also have a listener award. Today’s listener award goes to Dwayne Howe from Denver, Colorado. Dwayne is a recent listener, and he is actually reading the books, and then listening to the podcasts of the books that he has read. You, too, can do this and win a sticker. Dwayne is gonna get a sticker. And thank you for being amazing and for being a member of our book club. We appreciate you. We do.
Carolyn Daughters 3:08
These stickers are really pretty.
Sarah Harrison 3:11
They’re really cool. They’re the nice stickers that you put on your computer or your water bottle or other things that you reserve for sticking stickers on. Don’t give them to your kids. They just stick them on the floor, and you will regret it.
Carolyn Daughters 3:25
We have all the real-world advice here.
Sarah Harrison 3:28
But you can get one and stick it where you want to stick your stickers.
Carolyn Daughters 3:35
Sarah, how would they leave comments.
Sarah Harrison 3:39
Well, you can go to teatonicandtoxin.com. For any book, you can enter book-specific comments, or you could go on our social on Instagram or Facebook @teatonicandtoxin. Just make some comments, say some stuff.
Carolyn Daughters 3:57
If you even gave us, I don’t know, like a five-star review, we would probably send you a sticker. Am I right?
Sarah Harrison 4:04
Yes. We’re generous, loving people, and we will send you a sticker.
Carolyn Daughters 4:09
If we do say so ourselves.
Sarah Harrison 4:12
We’re kind, we’re warm-hearted, sticker-oriented people.
Carolyn Daughters 4:15
I want to tell you a little bit about The 39 Steps because some of you listeners may not have read it yet. Or you may have read it a long time ago or you may be in the middle of it, and you’re like I cannot miss this podcast, and we appreciate that. The 39 Steps is an adventure spy novel by John Buchan. The action packed story begins in May 1914. Richard Hannay is a Scotsman who lived in Rhodesia and has since moved to London. One day, he finds a man named Franklin Scudder at his door. Scudder is a freelance spy who has secret information about an assassination plot that could lead to a world war. Days later, Hannay finds Scudder murdered in his flat. Fearing for his life, Hannay goes on the run, hiding out in Scotland. His goal is to stay one step ahead of both the police and the spies who will stop at nothing to find him. After breaking the cryptic code, he learns that German spies called the Black Stone plan to steal British military intelligence. He confides in a political candidate, who then sent a letter to his godfather, Sir Walter Bullivant, the Secretary of the Foreign Office. Still on the run, Hannay ends up at a remote Scottish mansion owned by an old man, who turns out to be part of Black Stone. The old man locks Hannay in a storeroom, but he escapes by setting off a homemade bomb. From there, Hannay heads back to London and meets up with Sir Walter Bullivant. Hannay, Bullivant, and British officials discuss the sinister German plot and try to figure out where the Black Stone will leave England. Hannay recalls a cryptic note describing 39 steps. Hannay identifies the departure point in Kent, scopes out the area, and accuses three men of being Black Stone spies. Those men are arrested. Weeks later the UK goes goes to war, its secret naval defense plans intact. Today, we’re excited to talk about The 39 Steps, one of the most popular espionage thrillers ever written. Since it was published in 1915, it has inspired countless books, along with Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 film adaptation. It’s our third book selection of 2023. You can find all of our 2023 book selections on our website at teatonicandtoxin.com.
Sarah Harrison 4:28
Who’s messing it up now? Not merely Sarah. But I don’t want to talk about that. I want to talk about our awesome guest today, whose name I know definitely is Wendi Anderson. And I know how to spell it. It’s Wendi with an “i.” Wendi is a senior business analyst and an avid outdoor enthusiast. She loves mountain biking, hiking, and paddleboarding. In fact, one of her favorite activities is jogging up Green Mountain, elevation 6,800 feet — because she’s tough — which is just steps outside her home in lovely Golden, Colorado. When she’s not exploring the great outdoors, watching horror movies, or reading Stephen King novels, she’s hanging at home with her husband, two kids, and two dogs. Welcome, Wendi.
Wendi Anderson 7:47
Sarah Harrison 7:48
Wendi, as a senior business analyst, is it? Is the mystery element to a book like The 39 Steps attractive to your analyst mind, or is it totally unrelated?
Wendi Anderson 8:00
Actually, that’s a good question I hadn’t thought about before. But, yes, it is attractive.
Sarah Harrison 8:05
I would think so.
Wendi Anderson 8:06
Very much. I think that’s why I also like serial killer stories and horror. Because there’s just so much to think about and analyze.
Sarah Harrison 8:21
Do you ever like get there first, and you solve it before everyone?
Wendi Anderson 8:25
Sometimes, but not as much as I’d like.
Sarah Harrison 8:29
It’s so hard.
Carolyn Daughters 8:29
Do you mean in her job? Or do you mean when she’s reading Stephen King?
Sarah Harrison 8:36
I mean, reading. I assume in her job, she solves everything first.
Carolyn Daughters 8:40
And then she has to sit around impatiently waiting for everyone else to catch up.
Sarah Harrison 8:42
Like trying to explain it.
Wendi Anderson 8:45
It’s rough, waiting for people like I do.
Carolyn Daughters 8:52
So would it be more fun to you to read the books or watch the horror film and to figure it out before other people would figure it out — or before some of the characters? Or is it more fun to be shocked and to say at the end, Oh my gosh, I had no idea. Which is more fun.
Wendi Anderson 9:13
The intellectual part of me says you really should figure this out way before the end. But the other part of me loves the shock factor and not knowing what’s going to happen because, honestly, that’s what makes the movie or the novel fun is being in suspense the entire time.
Sarah Harrison 9:36
I love trying to figure it out. And then after a while I’ve guessed every person, so I’m definitely going to be right by the end.
Carolyn Daughters 9:36
Because by then you’ve named them all. That’s called hedging your bets.
Sarah Harrison 9:58
But then they designed them that way. It’s all fair.
Carolyn Daughters 10:04
We have a lot to talk about with The 39 Steps. We’ve done a podcast episode already. And we loved it so much. It’s only one hundred some odd pages. It’s a short, fast read. We have a lot of thoughts.
Sarah Harrison 10:21
I like the milk of human kindness. And that was a funny way to put it, especially since the humans feed him milk with whiskey, along with some kindness.
Carolyn Daughters 10:39
Richard Hannay, in The 39 Steps, time and time again runs into a variety of people who help him along his journey, whether it’s a milkman that he’s able to work a deal out so he can wear his uniform, or he knocks on somebody’s door and they let him into his house. Or, hey, let me do your job for you, I’m going to pose as a roadman or worker. Over and over again, he is super persuasive with everybody he meets. And they come on board. If he doesn’t share the truth with them, they don’t ask questions. If he does share the truth with them, they believe him. They give him room, board, Scottish whiskey, …
Sarah Harrison 11:23
Why wouldn’t you?
Carolyn Daughters 11:26
That’s a great question. Why wouldn’t you. Or flip it … why would you?
Sarah Harrison 11:33
In this case I thought was pretty irresponsible of Richard Hannay in The 39 Steps to endanger everyone who was super nice to him. But luckily, they suffered no ill consequences. We were talking a little bit about this before the show. It’s funny to predate smartphones, right? Like, I’m older than smartphones. I know this because I was always lost. I was always lost in every place I ever lived growing up from the time I could drive till I got my first smartphone when I was like, 35. Between all that time, I was lost. And I’m a little bit lost. I’m really lost. Very frequently throughout my life I’ve had to pull over the car, walk up to someone’s house, and be like, where am I? Can I please use your phone and call somebody.
Carolyn Daughters 12:36
You’ve done this?
Sarah Harrison 12:37
Multiple, multiple times around the country.
Carolyn Daughters 12:40
Sarah Harrison 12:41
What else am I gonna do? I don’t know where I am. I can’t figure it out. I’m hours out of the way.
Carolyn Daughters 12:48
There’s no gas station.
Sarah Harrison 12:50
I can’t understand what they’re saying. I don’t know. No. Like, Indiana roads. Have you guys been in the midwest? Have you driven there?
Carolyn Daughters 13:01
Wait, in Indiana you can’t understand why they’re saying?
Sarah Harrison 13:03
You can’t find anything. There’s nothing. There’s fields and people. It’s not like every road has a gas station anyway. If you go to a gas station, and you’re like, I’m from Brownsburg, and they’re like, well, I don’t know where that is. Because I’m two hours lost. So frequently what I’d have to do is have to do is just call somebody to come get me. I’m completely inept here, folks. I’ve had to stop multiple times and use people’s phones, go into their house, and ask them where I’m at, show me a map, get me on the road.
Carolyn Daughters 13:43
Give you a meal and some whiskey.
Sarah Harrison 13:45
No. Although I remember one time, I was especially young, I think it was under 20. I did end up having to call my mom, and I think I was two hours last. I had to wait a really long time in this like nice lady’s kitchen. And I think she did offer me some water or something like that.
Wendi Anderson 14:08
No milk with whiskey?
Sarah Harrison 14:09
No. But I do come up, right, and they give me this look at first like, why are you at my house? And I proceed to tell them my stupid story. And then you can see the realization that this girl is telling the truth and, yes, you can come in and use the phone, you dummy.
Carolyn Daughters 14:30
So what is that realization? How are they knowing you’re the real deal?
Sarah Harrison 14:35
I can see it in their eyes. I can see it shift from suspicion to a desire to be helpful to another lost human.
Carolyn Daughters 14:44
But they’re seeing something in your eyes where they’re saying, okay, this person at my door is telling me the truth.
Sarah Harrison 14:51
They can discern the truth. But at first they don’t know. And then I tell them, and they’re like Oh, I feel ya. That’s what happens in The 39 Steps over and over and over again. They’re always saying stuff like that. Like, “I can see you’re the right kind of fellow,” or “I could tell by his eyes and his fear that he was telling the truth.” There’s always some things that clue you in when someone’s telling the truth, and if you don’t get that sense, you don’t let them in. But if you’re telling the truth, or you do get that sense, then you let them come in and use your phone and use a map or something.
Carolyn Daughters 15:24
So, Wendi, have you ever done this? You just pull up to somebody’s house and knock on their door like Richard Hannay does in The 39 Steps. You knock, and you’re like, hey, I need some help?
Sarah Harrison 15:35
Do you guys remember those map atlases? I still have them.
Carolyn Daughters 15:41
When I was in DC, I had a DC one. And it was thick. I would be like, “Here’s my map, where am I?” Have you ever done this, Wendi?
Wendi Anderson 15:50
Sarah Harrison 15:52
Wendi Anderson 15:53
And while Sarah was talking, I made a note to myself to not travel with her. But yes, I’m very, very bad with directions and maps. And I, too, was absolutely thrilled at the invention of smartphone directions. Someone to just tell me where to go. I don’t know that I ever knocked on anyone’s door to ask for directions, but I was always one of those people who was never, ever too proud to ask a gas station attendant or anyone else I could find for directions. Because when you’re really bad at something, t’s not that hard to ask for help.
Sarah Harrison 16:39
I remember, too, the kinds of directions people would give. My dad is terrible at giving directions. He’s the absolute worst. I can’t even describe how bad he is like he. He couldn’t tell you the road. He couldn’t even tell you how long. He was like, “You go. Turn right.” And it was actually a left. Whereas my mom would like give you a visual video as you’re driving. And she’d write down every landmark that you’re getting to and the name of the road and what you’re going to think about as you get close to it. There’s this whole gamut of direction givers. I’m sure it’s me, but I terrible luck going to the gas station. And they’d explain like I knew where I was going. And obviously I didn’t know where I was going. Can you draw it? Because I couldn’t verbally assimilate what they were saying to what I was doing, and I needed them to draw it.
Wendi Anderson 17:40
My dad liked to give me north, south, east, west.
Carolyn Daughters 17:43
That’s the worst.
Wendi Anderson 17:44
And here in Colorado, it’s not so bad. You definitely have a point of reference. You know where west is. But back then when I was not yet in Colorado, I would ask him, is that left or right?
Sarah Harrison 17:59
That was a real blessing, when I got here to Colorado you could see the mountains. Like that’s west. But before that I never could get where I was going in a hated those stupid north, south, east, west directions.
Carolyn Daughters 18:15
I love that you were going to people’s front doors.
Sarah Harrison 18:18
Multiple people’s front doors. Because you don’t see a gas station a lot. If you’re off a highway. You’re just going for the rest of your life. You have to know where the gas station is to stop at the gas station.
Carolyn Daughters 18:36
Now, let’s say somebody comes to your door. And they’re lost because they have a weird flip phone from however many years ago or they left their phone or their phone died. Or who knows what. But they come to your door and they’re lost. And now they’ve knocked on your door. Sarah, what do you do?
Sarah Harrison 18:57
I was so pleased when this actually happened. I lived in Kentucky for a while. And I lived out in the country. I lived in this trailer out on a horse farm in Kentucky. I don’t even know how they got to where I was. Again, it’s a situation where you’re driving in the country, and you are just far from all things. I used to say “hi” to a baby donkey everywhere, there was like an abandoned house with vultures on it. It was out. And so one day this little car pulls up in my driveway in a rainstorm, and I’m in this trailer in the middle of nowhere, and all of these little Goth- looking kids come out and they knock on my door. And I open it like, “Hello, yes?” They look uncomfortable, but they’re lost, and their phone was dead. And could they please use my phone, and I was like, “oh yes, please, Sarahs as of the past, all of you come in and use my phone. I know exactly how you feel. Please come in. Stay warm. Would you like a glass of water?” It was the moment that I could finally help my past self in all of her misdirection.
Carolyn Daughters 20:15
You returned the kindnesses that had been shown to you.
Sarah Harrison 20:18
Carolyn Daughters 20:20
Well, I don’t think, of course. I think it’s great. But I don’t know. I don’t think done this to me on my front porch. Every once in a while I’ll be walking somewhere. And someone will ask for directions, and I always try to help them.
Sarah Harrison 20:37
Maybe it’s a matter of being in the country, too, because it is in the country when I have to stop at people’s doors, because there’s nowhere else. And I was living in the country when people had to stop at my door because you get lost in these weird places. That’s a lot of how Richard Hannay presents Scotland in The 39 Steps. He likes Scotland, where there’s no people. And it’s still like that. It’s incredible. You go there. And it’s never touristy. There’s never many people. Even in their tourist season, it’s fantastic. You go out to all these islands. There’s nobody. You’re by yourself.
Carolyn Daughters 21:17
Did you draw those little goth kids a map?
Sarah Harrison 21:20
I don’t remember. I think I just let them use the phone.
Carolyn Daughters 21:23
There are a couple of times when I’ve been traveling and I’m in some other city or country, and somebody asks to use my phone. And I can’t I’m trying to think now how I’ve responded because there’s this fear that this person is just going to take your phone and dash down the street.
Sarah Harrison 21:47
As a tourist, I’ve also been robbed in other countries. So you do have to be careful.
Carolyn Daughters 21:57
I have, too. So Wendi, when somebody comes to your door now for help, and would you be as excited as Sarah when these kids pile out of the car?
Wendi Anderson 22:14
Theoretically? I guess it totally depends on on the feeling I got after I opened the door. Or looking through the peephole as to whether I would trust them or not. Kids, much more likely, or a woman, much more likely to let them in. A strange man standing at the door alone … I don’t know.
Sarah Harrison 22:41
You’ve got to get the sense that they’re telling the truth. Just like people get the sense Richard Hannay is telling the truth in The 39 Steps. And you can get that. You can convey it, and you can understand it when people are trying to convey it. And if you don’t get it, you’re just being stupid to let them in.
Carolyn Daughters 22:56
Several years ago, I met some people downtown, and I was parked in a garage in Denver. I went back to my car, got in my car, door locked and all that. Mine was one of very few cars in this garage. And then I hear this noise that sounds like knocking. And I turn, startled. There’s a guy standing at my window, and he does a “roll your window down” motion. This is the moment where we either our good sense kicks in or we’re just so startled we roll down the window. So I unrolled it about a half an inch.
Sarah Harrison 23:42
Carolyn Daughters 23:42
And he asked, ” Can you roll your window down? I said, “No. What is it?” He’s like, “I really like your car.”
Wendi Anderson 23:52
Carolyn Daughters 23:53
I said, thank you. And he said no, it’s just a really cool car.
Sarah Harrison 23:59
Was it a cool car?
Carolyn Daughters 24:01
It was a Mini Cooper.
Sarah Harrison 24:02
Okay. Those are cool.
Carolyn Daughters 24:03
I mean, but it’s not a rare car. I don’t know that at night in a fairly empty garage a man should be knocking on a woman’s car window. I didn’t roll the window down any further. I just said “Thank you, appreciate it,” and rolled it up. And then I put it in reverse and just started moving. But I thought, when these things happen, we have just a moment, a very short period of time, where we make a great decision based on our judgment. I looked in that person’s eyes, I let them into my house. Or, I’m so startled and don’t want to seem rude and mean and I let them into my house and then regret it. And I kept thinking, Richard Hannay in The 39 Steps must have the kindest eyes on the planet.
Sarah Harrison 24:59
Well, your car guy started on the wrong foot. Roll your window down. No, roll it all the way down.
Carolyn Daughters 25:09
I thought, this doesn’t feel right. But I wasn’t looking in his eyes.
Sarah Harrison 25:15
Well, you didn’t get the feeling.
Carolyn Daughters 25:17
I had situational awareness, where I thought this is not right.
Sarah Harrison 25:23
That was funny too, because Richard actually did come upon some women, where their men went home. And they still let him in and gave him their ham and scones and whatnots and bowls of milk and helped him out. And he’s like, I don’t know what they thought. Because, of course, they didn’t ask him questions. He said about one of them, I think she thought I was a reformed burglar. But that is interesting. And I have a feeling some of it’s more like the culture of the time and how strangers or travelers or salespeople were treated.
Carolyn Daughters 26:02
Wendi and Sarah, do you feel like you can judge a person fairly accurately when they first approach you out of nowhere? It’s either at work in a business meeting, or it’s on the street while you’re traveling, and somebody’s looking for directions, or a friend of a friend. It could be a million scenarios, but you meet somebody and right off the bat you look in their eyes, and you say, Yep, I got it. Do you feel that?
Wendi Anderson 26:31
Not always. I’d like to think that I could feel it all the time, but I’ve been wrong in many instances. That’s why I second guess. I just don’t know. Sometimes, yes, but sometimes I’m wrong.
Sarah Harrison 26:53
I don’t think it’s an instant thing. And I don’t think it was with Richard Hannay in The 39 Steps either, because he talks to people, and he tells him the story. And they get a sense of, is this real, is this guy real, is this guy a danger? What’s going on here? I feel like you have to reach that point in a conversation where you’re not satisfied, and you need to keep moving. Or you are satisfied. This funny thing happened the other day. And I am a lot more cautious now with the kids being small, whereas I would engage with a stranger maybe myself for whatever because I think this is an interesting social experiment. When the kids are around, I’m much more like, who are you, and what are you doing? But I parked in the Santa Fe Arts District of Denver the other day. I was trying to go to a lighting store to see if they did like they didn’t have any lighting. But I got out. I had Patience with me. I’m trying to get her situated in the stroller. This woman comes out of a door and she’s like, “Oh, a baby! Is your baby allowed to have treats?” I was like, “Well, we don’t really do sugar. We do like fruit or whatever.” And she’s like, “Oh, I can give her some fruit. Come on in.” And I’m like, ooh, I just walked into that. And so I’m trying to get a sense of this lady. And I walk into her studio. And she’s speaking with an accent I can’t quite place. The studio has lots of windows.
Carolyn Daughters 28:37
I know who this is.
Sarah Harrison 28:40
Do you know her?
Carolyn Daughters 28:42
I’m trying to think of her name. She’s really nice and so friendly.
Sarah Harrison 28:46
This French Moroccan lady.
Carolyn Daughters 28:51
She Michael and me to dinner.
Sarah Harrison 28:54
You should go because she says she’s a fantastic cook.
Carolyn Daughters 28:58
She gave us a tour of her whole place. She lives behind it.
Wendi Anderson 29:02
So she lives behind the lighting store. And as you were strolling past her home, she invited you to the gallery.
Sarah Harrison 29:09
It was her gallery.
Wendi Anderson 29:10
Oh, okay, that makes me better.
Sarah Harrison 29:15
So she went in the back. And she made a fruit smoothie. And then I’m like, crap. So I taste the fruit smoothie first. And, I let Patience try it. She’s digging it. She loves it. So we slowly work our way I think into the situation of step by step trust. But when you start by wanting to give my kid food, I’m going to be cautious. More cautious than I would be for myself.
Carolyn Daughters 29:42
Super friendly woman. How interesting.
Sarah Harrison 29:49
And she started the Santa Fe Arts District, too. So if you’re listening, you probably know who we’re talking about.
Carolyn Daughters 29:55
She’s probably listening. I mean, why wouldn’t she?
Sarah Harrison 29:59
Obviously she’s listening. Thank you for the fruit smoothie. I appreciated it.
Carolyn Daughters 30:03
Michael and I very much enjoyed you and may come over some time for dinner. I don’t know.
Sarah Harrison 30:08
You should do it. Invite me. I’ll go. Yes, we’ll bring Patience. She’s a big fan of Patience.
Carolyn Daughters 30:13
Well, who isn’t a fan of Patience?
Sarah Harrison 30:15
I don’t know. This has been a major diversion from The 39 Steps.
Carolyn Daughters 30:28
It is. But it’s also related to the book, right? Because this guy Richard Hannay wins people over everywhere he goes. I was amazed by it, because that is not a skill set I possess.
Sarah Harrison 30:44
But have you tried? I think most people are decent people. And if they see you need help, and you’re telling the truth, most people will help you.
Carolyn Daughters 30:53
I agree with that. So I’ve been approached various times with the “Hey, I don’t have any money. My purse was stolen, my wallet was stolen, I need to catch the bus and do. And I have a lot of trouble with that.
Sarah Harrison 31:14
That’s usually not true.
Carolyn Daughters 31:19
It gets really tricky. Like Wendi, I would like to think that I can read people well, but I don’t always read people well. I sometimes read people very wrong. Or I think, this is the worst person eve, and they end up being an amazing person. Or the opposite, where I’m like, Oh, they’re really awesome. And three months into casually knowing them, I start seeing that they’re complete crazy town.
Sarah Harrison 31:51
I’m not sure I’ve ever thought someone’s the best person ever and then they’re the worst. I mean, I’ve definitely gotten scammed. Especially when I was younger. In Cleveland, people would go around and they even had newspaper articles, they’d show you to be like, this is about me. And I just had to develop a policy of “No, thank you. I’m not giving out money.” But that doesn’t mean you can’t help somebody. I remember there was this diminutive crackhead in Cleveland, who was known as such. I was waiting for my friend outside of his meeting one night, and she was coming up to my car. And I was super poor. I was crazy poor at the time, she was coming up to my car asking for money. And I was like, No, I’m sorry. No, thank you. I can’t give you any money. And she was also hallucinating. And then she pulls out of her pocket the most expensive brownie from the most expensive grocery store in Cleveland. And I, who was extremely hungry at the time, was very jealous. You have that brownie, and you’re asking me for money? It’s like the competition of poverty. But she wanted to go somewhere and I gave her a ride. She gave me like her caseworker’s phone number. It was a real surreal experience. But I just had to develop a non-monetary policy of helping.
Carolyn Daughters 33:39
It’s tough. Richard Hannay does this thing in The 39 Steps where he meets up with this innkeeper at one point, and he thinks to himself, oh, innkeepers would make these great storytellers. And the innkeeper says, no, not really. The innkeeper doesn’t get a whole lot of people knocking on his door, he doesn’t get a whole lot of people saying, hey, I need help. The innkeeper says maybe in the old days when you had pilgrims and ballad makers and highway men and mail coaches on the road, but not now. Nothing comes here but motorcars full of fat women who stopped for lunch, and a fisherman or two in the spring and the shooting tenants in August. I want to see life, to travel the world right things like Kipling and Conrad. And then Richard Hannay tells the innkeeper a story.
Sarah Harrison 34:34
But he told the innkeeper was a fake story. He only told Sir Harry the real story.
Carolyn Daughters 34:43
And then the innkeeper says by God, it’s all Rider Haggard, and Conan Doyle. To me, there’s this element of Scotland and 1915 and like the west has been won. There’s nowhere else to go go and explore. It makes me think of later in the 20th century the idea of the moon landing, that finally we found somewhere else to go and new lands to explore. But you feel like Scotland is this new land to explore. The innkeeper is saying, yeah, in books, sure. But I want to really like live the stories and books, I want the adventure that Richard Hannay is actually living out in this 1915 story. I think it’s really fun and interesting that The 39 Steps does that. It says, essentially, when you’re on the run, and you get on the train, and you go to Scotland, anything’s possible. You can get lost there, there are very few people there, you can hide out there. It just feels like this land of adventure. It feels almost like the American west 100 years earlier, to me.
Sarah Harrison 36:04
Well, it’s funny that the innkeeper is like, “nah, it’s all boring.” But I feel like that’s the fault of the innkeeper personally. I feel like if you can’t write a story about anything, then you lack imagination. He’s having all of these people come, and he’s just writing them all off as boring. Whereas nobody’s boring. Everyone has a really interesting story. You don’t have to be in an espionage thriller to have an interesting story. You can have that bus full of fat ladies stop for lunch? And that’s very interesting if you actually listen to them and what was going on. And in some way, it does remind me of Kipling, who wrote a lot of almost parochial stories. Either the animals were talking about boring stuff, or the people were just ordinary people doing stuff. Kipling made it interesting. So I thought, well, you’re young, you don’t know what you’re talking about, innkeeper. That was my take on the little innkeeper man.
Carolyn Daughters 37:14
And like Kipling and Conrad, the Heart of Darkness. H. Rider Haggard, who wrote stories, set in Africa, Conan Doyle, who has all of his mysteries, one of which, A Study in Scarlet, is partly set in Utah, of all places. They all have this sense of adventure, because the place the landscape, the story, seems different than the day to day for a lot of the readers. And I would argue that the author of The 39 Steps does that. He makes the story feel like it’s different and fresh and a big, new adventure. I think that’s a pretty good accomplishment for 1915 in Scotland. They’re not in the heart of Africa.
Sarah Harrison 38:07
Although Scotland, I think, is really considered the wilds over there. I was on a train once in Scotland, and I met some British or English tourists. It was my second time in Scotland, and it was their first time in Scotland. They were like, “We just never got here. It’s just so far.” I’m like, it isn’t so far. You can drive here. And it is not very populated. Still.
Carolyn Daughters 38:46
Why is that?
Sarah Harrison 38:47
I don’t know. It’s gorgeous. But outside of the large cities, you can just go forever. It’s not populated very heavily. It’s very mountainous. It’s very forested still. What are your thoughts, Wendi?
Wendi Anderson 39:07
That sounds like paradise. Yeah, I wasn’t sure what the innkeeper was waiting for, really. Well, obviously he scored with Richard Hannay in The 39 Steps because he gave him a super fun story, and the innkeeper got excited about it. But I agree with your assessment, Sarah. Come on. If you can’t find anything to write about, then maybe it’s not everyone else. Maybe it’s you.
Carolyn Daughters 39:44
He’s waiting for adventure to drop in his lap.
Wendi Anderson 39:47
Right, which he found with Richard Hannay. But you shouldn’t wait around for that.
Sarah Harrison 39:53
That was my take when I was in photojournalism school. I would always just find anybody, and I’d start to get into their story and I would want to photograph it. Oh, here’s another instance of where I just walked up to a house. I used to walk to school every day. And my favorite house, I would watch them like doing construction on it. They were restoring an old Victorian. And one day I decided to walk up to the house. I knock on the door, and I’m like, “Hey, I love your house. I’m a photojournalism student. Can I photograph it?” He said yes.
Wendi Anderson 40:34
Sarah Harrison 40:35
Not only that, but he had done TV shows like American Castles. He was a producer, and his wife turned out to be the mayor of the town. And he introduced me to like that another home restorer in the neighborhood who was the world’s five-time disc golf world champion and lived in a bus for the last 10 years until they bought a house in Kentucky. I feel like everyone I met was amazing if you just talk to them enough. I remember one time, I met this woman who had horses. And I thought, this is so cool. I want to know more about this woman and her horse farm and her life. And she’s the only person I ever met who said “no.” Why do you want to talk to me? I’m not interesting. I was like, but I think you’re very interesting. She was a hard no. Once you just start talking to them, everyone’s just so interesting. Carolyn, you’re a writer. What’s your take? How do you write? Do you need a big story?
Carolyn Daughters 41:54
No, I don’t wait for some story to fall into my lap or adventure to fall in my lap. If you’re looking to write a story, you have to put something where once there was nothing, and you don’t do that by sitting around hoping the right person knocks on your door. So I thought that was a little bit weird. But I felt that was maybe the author channeling these adventure stories he had read and loved and really doing a good job of creating this adventure story in modern-day Scotland. I appreciated what the innkeeper was saying on some level, because it felt very contemporary. Like, I’m running a B&B sort of thing, and the people who come by are maybe not the most fascinating people in the world. But by the same token, if you flipped that script, maybe they are. You just assumed that they weren’t because you took a visual scan of them. Now we’re back to this reading people on sight. This innkeeper looks at people and says, “Nope, nothing interesting there.” So maybe he’s not the best judge of character.
Sarah Harrison 43:09
He’s pretty young. And I have to say, I was bad at it when I was young. He says another funny thing in The 39 Steps. I wrote it down. He says “The only thing to distrust is the normal.” And I still don’t know how I feel about that sentence. Is that true? Is it not true?
Carolyn Daughters 43:28
So the crazier the story, the more believable it is.
Sarah Harrison 43:33
I don’t know.
Wendi Anderson 43:38
In some aspects, I think that maybe the reason that people trusted Richard Hannay was because they thought no one could have made up the story. So maybe there is some merit to that. Maybe if it’s a crazy enough story, it might just be true. So I think, to some extent that that could be true. The only thing to suspect is the normal. If someone tells you something that happens every day or something they think you want to hear … maybe?
Sarah Harrison 44:15
I definitely thought like, there’s certain instances where that’s definitely true. But I couldn’t ever land on like, is this like a truism? Is this a thing that’s pretty much true?
Carolyn Daughters 44:29
Anything the innkeeper said I didn’t take away it’s like, “let me write that down.” He did seem young and impressionable. So, Bullivant, right, is this political leader. Sarah, you also wrote about this. Listeners, we have a bunch of notes in front of us, and for the life of me I have no idea where where this is. But the political leader meets him. Richard Hannay totals this car.
Sarah Harrison 45:05
Oh, Sir Harry. And Hannay crashes his stolen car into the river.
Carolyn Daughters 45:17
Sir Harry, is this leftist political leader.
Sarah Harrison 45:24
Yeah, the politics at that moment in The 39 Steps are confusing to me. It was confusing.
Carolyn Daughters 45:28
And Sarah, your comment, I think had something to do with the fact that that the guy sees that he’s totaled the car, sees this guy, Richard Hannay, just like standing there, and basically recruits him to speak at a political rally.
Sarah Harrison 45:44
His political rally, where he’s about to give a speech.
Carolyn Daughters 45:47
Yeah. I think, Sarah, you called into question Sir Harry’s judgment in The 39 Steps.
Sarah Harrison 45:53
I was like, Is this a believable guy? I couldn’t quite land on an answer. Hannay crashes his stolen car in the river in front of Sir Harry. Sir Harry’s like, Oh, my goodness. But then he’s immediately like, Well, you’re the right sort of chap. Come inside, and I’ll give you a suit. We’ll have dinner afterward. But right now, he said had to go do his speech or his agent would comb his hair, or something like that? So he had to give the speech and he had lost his co-speaker. He asks Richard Hannay, ‘You don’t happen to be this kind of guy, are you?” Hannay says, oh, yeah, definitely I am. Do you want to give a speech? Yeah, I’m totally gonna give a speech.
Carolyn Daughters 46:51
He’s going to share the Australian point of view.
Sarah Harrison 46:53
He calls himself a colonial. And he’s going to speak to the Australians perspective. And that was interesting in and of itself. There’s the first part where Sir Harry’s so self-focused that he’s not keying in on the absurdity of what he’s asking this stranger to do. And then the second part is, he’s a horrible speech maker. Even though I have no understanding of the politics at the time, we’re expected to go along with Hannay’s evaluation that this was dribble. This was just a bunch of garbage that somebody has fed him. And he’s just up there spouting garbage that doesn’t make any sense. And he also can’t speak worth anything. But also, he’s this totally stand-up guy who’s there for you in a pension. This is the guy that had a decides to reveal the true story to. And Richard Hannay gets him to leverage his godfather, who has all of this political power and can actually make a difference? I wondered, is this believable at all? I don’t actually know. I feel like the current cultural vibe is probably too black or white. If you have dumb political feelings, then you’re a dumb person. Or if I agree with your politics, then you’re a smart person. And I think obviously, that’s a little too flat. But also, can you be completely inept at evaluating ideas and speaking ability but still be a trustworthy, stand-up guy who’s good to be in a pinch?
Carolyn Daughters 48:42
We discussed in our last podcast episode on The 39 Steps how Richard Hannay says, “I’m an ordinary sort of fellow, not braver than other people, but I hate to see a good man downed.” So he’s going to avenge Scudder or carry on Scudder’s task with the government. And I feel like Hannay identified somebody similar to himself in Sir Harry, a guy who was going to stand behind him and knew how to stand behind a cause. The cause might be good, bad, or other, but he was he was gonna do it. That’s how I took that.
Sarah Harrison 49:24
Sir Harry says a funny thing. During his terrible speech, he says, you could see the niceness of the chap shining out behind the muck with which he had been spoon fed. It was just an interesting character parse that I feel like might be lacking in a lot of current dialogue. Or maybe it’s just unrealistic, and that’s why it’s lacking. I don’t know.
Carolyn Daughters 49:53
Wendi, why do you think the author put along Hannay’s his journey so many people who were just willing to do whatever it took to help him?
Wendi Anderson 50:11
I think it was a theme of The 39 Steps. I mean, Richard Hannay had to be successful in the end, right? I mean, just to be very black and white. But as I sit here thinking more and more about his character, he did the same thing for Scudder in the very beginning. He left the guy alone in his place. He didn’t even know him. Think about how much he trusted this guy. So it was his nature, probably, to trust that everyone else would do the same for him. And I think it was just the theme of The 39 Steps. It was this honest guy telling us a truthful story. He’s super non-threatening to the women, who would let him in and feed him milk and whiskey. On that point, I wonder, was the whiskey to make sure he was subdued? That thought occurred to me. Is that is that a safety protocol right there.
Sarah Harrison 51:20
I thought it was a health whiskey. They kind of used it as a rejuvenation. You’re sick. I’d better give you some whiskey.
Wendi Anderson 51:27
Well, it could go either way. But that thought occurred to me. In any case, I think it was just a presumption of innocence like he had in the very beginning of The 39 Steps to help someone out. I don’t know how realistic but again, it was the book and it had to lend to his success in the end.
Carolyn Daughters 51:56
And maybe where he grew up in Rhodesia is sort of like Sarah’s experience with Kentucky. Where anytime you run across somebody, you ask, “Hey, how can I help you?”
Well, we have come to the end of another podcast episode on The 39 Steps … and we’re reading another book next month.
Sarah Harrison 52:30
I’m super excited. I’m excited about our next book, The Mysterious Affair at Styles. This is our first Agatha Christie. I think nobody’s not heard of Agatha Christie. So this story introduces amazing Belgian detective Hercule Poirrot. The story was supposedly the result of a bet about the possibility of writing a detective story in which the reader would not be able to spot the criminal. Can you spot the criminal? I’ll probably fail. You can buy a copy on Amazon., find a copy at your favorite local or online used bookstore, or read it for free, courtesy of Project Gutenberg. Check out our page on The Mysterious Affair at Styles at teatonicandtoxin.com. And share your thoughts on our website on our Facebook page or Instagram page @teatonicandtoxin. And you might get a sticker.
Carolyn Daughters 53:26
Wendi, thank you so much for joining us in discussing The .
Sarah Harrison 53:28
Wendi, you’ve been great.
Wendi Anderson 53:29
Thank you both so much. I was so excited , and I’m thrilled to have been part of it.
Carolyn Daughters 53:34
You’ll have to come back sometime.
Sarah Harrison 53:35
We love your horror.
Wendi Anderson 53:37
Be careful what you ask for.
Sarah Harrison 53:41
No, that’d be awesome. That’d be great.
Wendi Anderson 53:43
Well, thank you.
Sarah Harrison 53:44
Thank you and please, Wendi, stay mysterious.
February 11, 2024
Barbara Nickless is a Wall Street Journal and #1 Amazon Charts bestselling crime novelist who joined Sarah and Carolyn in their makeshift studio for a heartfelt discussion about her writing and research process, her travels, and her latest book, Play of Shadows. Amazing woman, amazing writer. You’ll love her.Listen →
January 29, 2024
Dashiell Hammett’s granddaughter Julie Rivett joins us on a second episode to discuss The Thin Man, Nick and Nora Charles, and all things Dashiell Hammett. Color us honored, which I envision as pleurigloss with a hint of alpha plaid. What a DELIGHTFUL conversation. Folks, you want to hear what Julie has to say. Trust me.Listen →
January 21, 2024
We could have interviewed Julie M. Rivett for days on end. She’s fascinating in her own right, and she shared AMAZING information about her grandfather, Dashiell Hammett. This one’s a must-listen, folks. Well, they’re all must-listens in our biased opinions, but this one belongs at the top of the must-listen list.Listen →