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February 2005
 
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The Three Perils Of Man: War, Women And Witchcraft, by James Hogg (1822)

IMAGINE a world inhabited by brownies, kelpies, and bogles, and you've imagined the legendary and mysterious Borders area of Scotland. Throw in a couple of giants, a demon or two, some courtly love, and a very large measure of satire, and you've got James Hogg's epic novel The Three Perils of Man. Perhaps best known for his supernatural character study Confessions of a Justified Sinner, Hogg (1770-1835), a native of the Borders, drew much of his inspiration from the ballads and folktales learned at his mother's knee. The Three Perils combines elements of romance, fantasy, and the small-group adventure we have come to know well from epics such as The Lord of the Rings, but Hogg's novel predated Tolkien's works by well over a hundred years.

The English have seized the Castle of Roxburgh. It's all just a game between English and Scottish nobles, but Sir Ringan Redhough knows the political implications of the contest. To help him decide which side to join, he sends his ambassadors to woo the great Borders wizard, Sir Michael Scott of Aikwood, into a foretelling of the future. This group consists not of smooth-talking flatterers but of men chosen for their unusual talents and wiles, such as Gibby Jordan, the silliest laird in the Borders; the "Deil's Tam," the crabbiest man in the Borders; and a monk who turns out, fortuitously, to be man-of-science Roger Bacon, the inventor of gunpowder.

The journey is fraught with peril from the malevolent forces that stalk the group at every turn, requiring epic feats of strength and cunning from the beleaguered band. Science clashes with religion, intellect with superstition, and when the Devil himself finally turns the lot of them into cattle, the key to the retaking of Roxburgh Castle just may be at hand.

—Connie Braton Meek

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