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Literature / Greenmantle

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Greenmantle is a thriller novel by John Buchan. It is the second to star Richard Hannay, who was introduced in The Thirty-Nine Steps.

December 1915. World War I has broken out. Hannay has enlisted in the army, but is approached by the British Secret Service, who remember his work in The Thirty-Nine Steps. Hannay and four friends make their way through wartime Europe to Turkey, searching for the truth behind the rumours of a German secret weapon that could throw the entire Muslim world into the war on the Germans' side.

This novel contains examples of:

  • The Baroness: Hilda von Einem, a seductive and ruthlessly intelligent German noblewoman in charge of the secret German scheme. Hannay is resistant to her sexual wiles but admits to finding himself jealous of her attention and foolishly pleased when she decides he's dangerous enough to actively try and kill. There are hints that she's attracted to Sandy Arbuthnot, Hannay's colleague who infiltrates her organization; her biggest loss of composure is when she learns that he's been a mole for the British side all along.
  • Berserk Button: Hannay has several. Bribe him, bully him, or turn traitor, and you'll see. Or don't. It never ends well.
  • Captain Crash: Almost every car that Richard Hannay gets into ends up either careering off the road or pre-emptively breaking down.
  • Chaste Hero: Sandy Arbuthnot, who resists the charms of Hilda von Einem.
  • The Chessmaster: Hilda von Einem.
  • Contrived Coincidence: The series is known for its many improbable coincidences; Buchan declares in the foreword to The Thirty-Nine Steps that he regards them as a characteristic and necessary attribute of the genre. In this novel, for one example, it just so happens that Hannay is in Lisbon at the same time as his old friend Peter Pienaar, who is more than willing to join him on his mission.
    • Later, Hannay is stuck in central Europe and needs to get to Turkey as soon as possible. He spots a tug pulling a convoy of large munitions barges, making their way down the Danube, which would be a great means of transport if only he could a.) get on board in the first place without anyone noticing, b.) hide himself and stay alive for several days, and c.) get off at the other end without anyone noticing. But the barges aren't stopping. Then, lo, they pull into a landing place near him and some crewmen disembark carrying a body, which they bury. Hannay realises that one of them must have (conveniently) died, and that he might be able to wangle his way on board as a replacement, which he indeed manages to do.
    • Later still, when Peter sneaks through the Turkish lines to deliver secret information to the Russians, the Russian general he's finally brought to just happens to be someone he'd been hunting with before the war, who remembers him fondly.
  • Cool Old Guy: Peter Pienaar, who taught Hannay most of what he knows about disguise, spying, and veldtcraft, and can still do it all himself.
  • Determinator: Probably Richard Hannay's defining character trait as well as his preferred modus operandi, both mental and physical—he will keep running long after anyone else would have lain down and died from exhaustion, exposure, injuries, or being blown up.
  • Diabolical Mastermind: Hilda von Einem is brilliant, ruthless and more dangerous than any of the male antagonists. Blenkiron is of the opinion that a man would not have been able to achieve what she has done.
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: Hannay has a recurring nightmare of being pursued through a valley and trying to reach a particular hill where he will find safety. At the end of the novel, when he and his colleagues are fleeing the villains, he sees the hill from his dream and they have their showdown there. Just when it looks like all is lost, the heroes gain the upper hand due to a random event that would not have affected them if they'd kept moving.
  • Fake Defector: Several characters use different versions of this ruse to get close to the Germans.
  • Gentleman Snarker: Richard Hannay may be something of an idealist, but like all Britons he is perfectly capable of a few zingers.
    He was a man of remarkable qualities, which would have brought him to the highest distinction in the Stone Age.
  • Heroic RRoD: At one point Hannay's exertions catch up with him and he is bedbound for several days with a relapse of the malaria he caught in his Africa days.
  • Hiding Behind the Language Barrier:
    • There are several occasions when Richard Hannay and Peter Pienaar converse in Cape Dutch (or Sesutu, if there might be Dutch speakers around) to keep the content of their conversation secret.
    • Sandy Arbuthnot and another Scottish officer have a brief conversation in broad Scots, while surrounded by people who, if they know English at all, have enough trouble with standard pronunciation.
  • Historical Domain Character:
    • Kaiser Wilhelm II gets a sympathetic portrayal when he briefly meets Hannay, who sees him as a Tragic Villain who's unleashed forces beyond his control. This is all the more impressive when you consider that that book was published during the First World War.
    • İsmail Enver also puts in an appearance.
  • Home by Christmas: Greenmantle begins in December 1915, so even the most optimistic don't believe the War will be over by Christmas, but while traveling through Germany Hannay overhears a soldier confidently asserting that it will all be over by next Christmas.
  • Honor Before Reason: With a lampshade! While impersonating the foreman of a barge transporting German munitions to Turkey, Hannay is offered a bribe so he'll ignore a bit of corruption and embezzlement going on with the cargo. He makes damn sure those responsible don't get away with it, and only later reflects that it might have been wiser to have let it continue as an impediment to his nation's enemies.
    • Invoked later when Peter discreetly offers to disable all the Maxim guns on his barge so that they'll be useless to the Germans. Hannay appreciates the sentiment but advises him that it'd be safer not to.
  • Hypnotic Eyes: Hilda von Einem tries them on Hannay.
    The eyes grew large and luminous, and I was conscious for just an instant of some will battling to subject mine.
  • I'm Dying, Please Take My MacGuffin: A dying man staggers into a Kashnir outpost carrying a bit of paper on which is scrawled, 'Kasredin', 'v. 1' and 'cancer'. Cue race against time to figure out what he was trying to warn them about.
  • Immune to Mind Control: Hannay is naturally resistant to being hypnotized, which stands him in good stead against the mysterious Oriental mesmerism employed by Hilda von Einem.
  • Informed Ability: We are repeatedly told that Hilda von Einem is a combination of The Baroness and Evil Genius with an almost uncanny ability to bend people to her will; Sandy, after spending a lot of time with her, regards her as almost an Eldritch Abomination. In all her actual appearances, though, she comes across a rather polite Ice Queen.
  • Majorly Awesome: At this point in his career, Hannay has achieved the rank of major in the army.
  • Master Actor: Hannay, quoting his old friend Peter Pienaar, states that acting the part is a necessary component of any disguise, and may even be the most important part of any disguise, more than costume or make-up. "A fool tries to look different: a clever man looks the same and is different." Peter demonstrates this when Hannay tells him that their cover will be as two men who fought in the failed Maritz Rebellion of 1914. Peter immediately starts to talk as though he has fond memories of that event, even though he wasn't in it.
  • Master of Disguise:
    • Sandy Arbuthnot. There's a scene where Hannay meets him in disguise without having the slightest clue that it's him, even though they're friends and have lived in close quarters for an extended period.
    • To a lesser extent, Hannay and his friend Peter Pienaar.
  • More Deadly Than the Male: Hilda von Einem is a brilliant and ruthless chessmaster, and more dangerous than any of the male antagonists. Blenkiron explicitly gives it as his opinion that a man would not have been able to achieve what she has done.
  • Narrative Profanity Filter: When Peter Pienaar decides to drink himself stupid in front of German soldiers. Being a gentleman, Hannay can't exactly repeat what kind of aspersions his friend threw towards the German army's character and their mothers'.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Hannay begins to unload one of these on Stumm. Averted in that his Unstoppable Rage evaporates once the fight is won:
    I had no particular ill-will left against Stumm. He was a man of remarkable qualities, which would have brought him to the highest distinction in the Stone Age.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: The subtrope that involves pretending not to understand a language. Hannay, Pienaar and Blenkiron trawl for information about the German plot by traveling through Germany in assumed identities that don't understand German and keeping their ears open.
  • Officer and a Gentleman: Richard Hannay and Sandy Arbuthnot.
  • Once per Episode:
    • As in each of the first three novels, Hannay is bedbound for several days due to a relapse of the malaria he caught in his Africa days, and ends up figuring out something important as a result of having nothing to do but lie and think.
    • Sandy Arbuthnot goes off on his own to find out what he can about the villains, disappears without leaving any message, and then an apparent antagonist turns out to be Sandy in a disguise he's adopted to infiltrate the villain's organisation. He does this again in every subsequent novel he appears in.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Justified good and proper. Taking on a new personality is more effective than new clothes. The only problem is that to successfully pose as harmless idiots the characters run the risk of Becoming the Mask and losing their intellectual edge!
  • Person with the Clothing: Greenmantle revolves around the foretelling of a great Islamic prophet's arrival, to be identified by said green mantle. When Sandy is picked as the puppet prophet to replace the intended candidate who untimely died, he does a runner wearing the full regalia in order to grind the villains' plans to a halt.
  • Prophecy Twist: Greenmantle revolves around a foretelling that a great Islamic prophet will reveal himself to the people at a time when they are in great need. The villains are trying to set up a puppet prophet to gain influence over the Islamic world. Sandy, who has infiltrated the villains' operation undercover, gets picked to be the false prophet after the original candidate dies suddenly, and subsequently does a runner wearing the full prophetic regalia to forestall the fake revelation. Later, after the villains are defeated and the Allied forces have, with the heroes' help, won the Battle of Erzurum, the heroes go to join the army heading into the city, with Sandy in particular so keen to be back in the fighting that he doesn't bother to change out of the regalia, which he's still wearing. Observing the reaction of the defeated Turks as Sandy rides past in the van of the conquering Allied army, Hannay observes that the prophecy has technically been fulfilled. "Greenmantle had appeared at last to an awaiting people."
  • Rage Breaking Point: Hannay's disguise as a backveldt Boer is given away when Stumm's bullying, intimidation, and insults finally push him beyond this.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Definitely on the Idealist end of the scale owing to Buchan's convictions about the war. However his idealism need not be mistaken for ignorance or shallowness. The books treat Germans (up to and including the Kaiser) sympathetically, and Buchan witnessed trench warfare firsthand as a newspaper correspondent.
  • Small Reference Pools: Buchan assumes that the reader knows more about the history of the British Empire in the early 20th century than modern readers probably know. At one point, Hannay informs the reader about Peter Pienaar that "he was in Swaziland with Bob Macnab, and you know what that means." Uh, no we don't. note 
  • The Spymaster: Sir Walter Bullivant, returning from The Thirty-Nine Steps.
  • Stern Chase: It's just not a Buchan novel if at some point there isn't an awesome Stern Chase.
  • Stiff Upper Lip: Richard Hannay and friends.
  • Tranquil Fury: Peter never raises his voice (unless he's drunk) and never gets excited. His preferred term of complete loathing for someone is a murmured "I don't like that [name]."
  • Unstoppable Rage: Hannay can be pushed into this with severe bullying, as Stumm finds out.
  • Wacky Americans Have Wacky Names: Hannay's American ally John S. Blenkiron. He has the kind of amusing mannerisms you would expect to come packaged with a name like that, but proves to be a man of courage and resource when the chips are down.
  • Working Through the Cold: Blenkiron has chronic dyspepsia (like his creator, who had a duodenal ulcer) but he doesn't let it stop him.