Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Three Hostages: a sinister scenario

I was very young when I first read John Buchan’s thriller The Three Hostages, an adventure story that features Richard Hannay and contains a fascinating mystery to be solved.

At the time, certain expressions that would now be considered ‘politically incorrect’ and offensive did not register, nor did I see anything particularly noteworthy in the horrific mental state of the hostages and the unpleasant, alien conditions in which they were forced to live. At the time, the clues to the hiding places of the hostages and the challenge of finding and freeing them were the most gripping aspects of the story. The details of life as lived by privileged, well-connected people were very interesting too. I found the book exciting and informative. I envied Richard Hannay: I wanted that sort of action and lifestyle for myself.

Now, after many years of investigating unseen influences, it is the references to magic, wizards and the stealing of souls, the discussions of psychology and the subconscious mind and the descriptions of hypnotism and mind control that are for me the most significant aspects of the book. As his friend and colleague Sandy Arbuthnot says to Richard Hannay:

“…the compulsion of spirit by spirit.  That, I have always believed, is to-day, and ever has been, the true magic.

There is a lot of general information in The Three Hostages about the sinister and unethical practices mentioned above, and about the attributes, abilities and personality of the kind of man who would make use of them.

Now, what holds my attention above everything else is the effect that these practices have when applied to the hostages, also the details of hostages’ lives while in captivity.  Much of this has relevance to the real world; some of it is also very familiar to me. The resemblances that I can see and the connections that I can make to my own life are very painful to dwell on.
The background to the sinister scenario
The villain of the story is Dominick Medina, a charming, influential and accomplished politician. He is the centre or master mind of an international combine, a syndicate of evil criminals. As a precaution, as security for his own fate and that of his associates, he takes three carefully selected hostages, three young people from very privileged backgrounds:

Adela Victor, aged 19. She is the daughter and only living child of an American banker, one of the richest men in the world;

Lord Mercot, an undergraduate. He is grandson to a most respected older statesman and heir to the greatest dukedom in the country;

David Warcliff, aged 10. He is the son, the only child, of a great soldier, a national hero.

Richard Hannay is appointed to find the hostages, who are in very real danger of being murdered, by a certain date. He is provided with some clues to their whereabouts in the form of a mysterious poem that Medina has sent to the families as a challenge. Medina is confident and feels secure: he can’t resist the opportunity to play games with people.

Hidden in plain sight
The usual procedure with kidnap victims is to imprison and hide them in some obscure and remote location, a place of concealment well away from areas they frequent and people who know them. 

Dominick Medina however does not shut his victims up in a secret place; he believes that the best way of hiding a person is to strip him of his memory. As Sandy Arbuthnot says to Richard Hannay:

Why is it that when a man loses his memory he is so hard to find?  You see it constantly in the newspapers.  Even a well-known figure, if he loses his memory and wanders away, is only discovered by accident.  The reason is that the human personality is identified far less by appearance than by its habits and mind. Loss of memory means the loss of all true marks of identification, and the physical look alters to correspond.  Medina has stolen these three poor souls' memories and set them adrift like waifs.

The new lives of the abducted and hypnotised hostages
Adela Victor is taken frequently to a low-class dance club, where she is closely guarded and watched over by a horrible thug, a former boxer who speaks with a Brooklyn accent.

In Richard Hannay’s words, before he realises who she is:

I looked and saw a slim girl, very young apparently, who might have been pretty but for the way her face was loaded with paint and the preposterous style in which her hair was dressed…her face shocked me.  It was BLIND, if you understand me, as expressionless as a mummy, a kind of awful death-in-life.  I wondered what kind of experience that poor soul had gone through to give her the stare of a sleep-walker.

A colleague of Hannay’s says:

"A melancholy little being with nothin' to say for herself.  She's had hard usage from some swine--you could see it by her eyes—”

The young Lord Mercot is taken to live on a farm in Norway under the control of a keeper. Mercot is underfed and has not had a bath for weeks. He escapes and encounters Richard Hannay, who describes what he sees:

I got out my torch and had a look at him.  It was the figure of a slight young man, dressed in rough homespun such as Norwegian farm lads wear.  His face was sallow and pinched, and decorated with the most preposterous wispish beard, and his hair was cut roughly as if with garden shears.  The eyes that looked up at me were as scared and wild as a deer's.”

David Warcliff is dressed as a girl and forced to act as assistant to a middle-aged Swedish masseuse. Once again Richard Hanny describes an as yet unrecognised hostage:

“… and she had as her attendant a small thin odd-looking girl, who also wore an overall, and whose short hair was crowned with a small white cap. ‘This is Gerda,’ Madame said…She smiled on Gerda, and Gerda smiled back, a limp little contortion of a perfectly expressionless face.

Richard Hannay later hears some slow, heartbroken sobs: they come from David Warcliff.

The memories start to return
Lord Mercot is the least susceptible of the hostages to the hypnotism, and he is the furthest from London and Medina. The spell starts to wear off. In Hannay’s words:

I suppose that Medina's spell must have been wearing thin during these last days, and that the keeper, Jason, or whoever he was, could not revive it.  For Mercot had begun to see Jason no longer as a terror but as an offence--an underbred young bounder whom he detested.  And with this clearing of the foreground came a lightening of the background.  He saw pictures of his life at Alcester, at first as purely objective things, but soon as in some way connected with himself.  Then longing started, passionate longing for something which he knew was his own. . . .  It was a short step from that to the realisation that he was Lord Mercot, though he happened to be clad like a tramp and was as dirty as a stoker.  And then he proceeded to certain halting deductions. Something bad had happened to him: he was in a foreign land—which land he didn't know: he was being ill-treated and kept prisoner; he must escape and get back to his old happy world.  He thought of escape quite blindly, without any plan; if only he could get away from that accursed saeter, he would remember better, things would happen to him, things would come back to him.

Lord Mercot says:

I don't know what has happened to me, but I've been mad a long time, and I've only got sane in the last days.  Then I remembered--and I ran away.”

John Buchan described Mercot’s coming to himself very well. How did he know what it is like when the evil spell starts to dissolve, resulting in the return of some memories and a terrible awakening?

Relevance to real life
In the real world, some people appear to be in the same state as the hostages: memories wiped, in the power of victimisers, helpless prisoners with no hope of escape, desperate for someone to save them, waiting for their people to come and take them away, desperate to get away but feeling trapped in Hell with no way out.

Some unfortunate people appear to be very out of place, surrounded by the wrong people, living very unsuitable lives, wearing unsuitable clothes, miserable and frightened, neglected and ill-treated, going through the motions of living and more dead than alive.

This scenario could be a metaphor for the human condition: perhaps our memories are wiped before we re-incarnate into this chaotic, painful and unpleasant 3-dimensional reality and we retain a longing to return to the Source. We feel deep down inside that we belong in a better place and that life is not supposed to be like this.

Perhaps the human race really is hostage to 4th-dimensional entities that use mind control and hypnotism to enslave us. We are to them what the hostages are to Dominick Medina.

Perhaps the scenario is a metaphor for dysfunctional families where it is the children who are the hostages and the parents who are the mind-controlling victimisers. The parents are naturals: unlike Dominick Medina, they do not need to enhance their abilities by studying Indian magic techniques under Kharáma, the Indian guru with the 'beastly bare feet'.

The three hostages were lucky: they had Richard Hannay searching for them and a place in society, good homes and caring families waiting for them. The time spent in captivity was just a painful but short-lived episode: they had good lives before and afterwards.

Real life victims who come to their senses must try to save themselves and build suitable lives from first principles. Some people spend most of their lives as hostages, only to experience the ‘too little, too late’ syndrome if they ever do escape.

John Buchan: free books online
The Three Hostages is available on the Project Gutenberg Australia website. Other works by John Buchan are available to download or read online on Gutenberg sites.