Campbell’s Kingdom by Hammond Innes (1952)

‘There’s something about the Kingdom,’ he said slowly. ‘It clings to the memory like a woman who wants to bear children and is looking for a man to father them. Last year, when I left, I had a feeling I should be coming back. There is a destiny about places. For each man there is a piece of territory that calls to him, that appeals to something deep inside him. I’ve travelled half the world. I know the northern territories and the Arctic regions of Canada like my own hand. But nothing ever called me with the fatal insistence of the Kingdom.’ (p.89)

The set-up

Thirty-five-year-old Bruce Campbell Wetheral hasn’t thrived since the War ended. While colleagues have prospered and succeeded in life he has remained a lowly clerk in an insurance office. Until the day his doctor gives him the news he’d been dreading – he has cancer of the stomach and it’s terminal; he has 6 months to live. Coincidentally, on the same day, a lawyer visits him with news that his 80-year-old grandfather in Canada has died leaving him the barren tract of land high up in the Canadian Rockies, jokingly referred to as ‘Campbell’s Kingdom’.

Campbell only met his grandfather once, when he and his mother met him outside prison after he’d served a five-year sentence for fraud. He’d spent his entire adult life convinced there was oil beneath his bit of land high up in the Canadian Rockies, and his various shenanigans to fund surveying and drilling got him into various scrapes and then prison. His complete failure meant that Campbell’s mother, widowed from the First War, had to raise young Bruce in humiliating poverty. He was bullied by other children and, when his mother died, ended up being sent to reform school. He never forgave the shadowy figure who ruined his childhood.

But now, as he reads his grandfather’s will and his plain honest wish that his grandson continue his quixotic quest for oil, Bruce realises that, with literally nothing left to live for, you know what – he’s going to go out to Canada to find out for himself whether his grandfather really was mad and to see Campbell’s Kingdom for himself!

The plot

The lawyer in London had tried to persuade Bruce to sell the land to a company keen to make a good offer. But Bruce turns him down and travels by plane across the Atlantic and by train the width of Canada. Then by car and lorry through Calgary and Edmonton and up into the mountains to smaller and smaller settlements, all along the way meeting people who have heard of the Kingdom and the deluded old man who lived up there.

Finally, in the ghost town of Come Lucky high up in the Rockies, he realises the complexity of the local situation: before the War a dam was begun up by some mountains named Solomon’s Judgment. Now local constructors want to complete the dam and flood the land behind, including the Kingdom. Not least because, since the failure of the nearby Come Lucky mine, there has been unemployment and a crash in living standards. The dam means work.

A small queue forms of local lawyers, contractors and businessmen who all try to persuade Campbell that a) his grandfather was mad b) there is no oil c) he’s wasting his time on a piece of uninhabitable terrain d) he should make a quick sale to the dam people and clear out. In subsequent scenes he learns that, after mad old Campbell swore he’d seen oil seeping from a landslide, lots of townspeople invested everything they had buying up surrounding land, only to lose their money. Thus, there were multiple reasons for the locals to hate old man Campbell and, now, his interloping grandson.

But Campbell refuses all offers, defies all intimidation and persists with his dream, becoming more obstinate the more obstacles are put in his way.

I sank down on to the bed that my grandfather had used for so many years. Lying there, staring at the rafters that he had hewn from the timbered slopes above us, the world of men and cities seemed remote and rather unreal. And as I slid into a half-coma of sleep I knew that I wouldn’t be going back, that this was my kingdom now. (1972 Fontana paperback edition, p.148)


The first 150 or so pages set the scene – depicting the run-down ghost town of Come Lucky in the Canadian Rockies with its muddy main street leading down to the lake, the mountain peaks of Solomon’s Judgment looming over it, the swaying cable hoist up to the half-built dam and the 10-mile-long bowl of Campbell’s Kingdom lying behind it.

It is wet and cold, a land of ice and snow and hard to breathe up on the mountain tops. On his first visit Bruce sets off to walk from the hoist to his grandfather’s cabin, which is clearly visible from the top of the hoist. But half way there a blizzard comes down with terrifying speed, he is immediately lost and begins to fear he will wander forever in an impenetrable snowstorm. The physical realities of the terrain and climate are depicted with Innes’ usual gusto and vigour.

These pages also introduce us to the large cast of characters – the inhabitants of Come Lucky who mostly rally round Peter Trevedian, the contractor building the dam, who promises to revitalise the local economy – and Bruce Campbell and his band of supporters from Come Lucky and beyond, who he persuades to follow his quixotic quest to find oil ‘in them thar hills’.

The last 70 pages of the book recount Campbell’s efforts to rally his ragtag bunch of supporters into completing a geological survey, getting a drilling rig up to the Kingdom and finding oil, in a desperate race against time as the rival team, well funded and organised, proceed with their plan to finish the dam which, once complete, will flood Campbell’s Kingdom, ending his dream forever.

It comes as no great surprise that the hostility between the opposing camps deteriorates from harsh words and confrontations, to open violence and then sabotage.

Dramatis personae

  • Stuart Campbell – old man with delusions that his patch of Rocky Mountains bear oil.
  • Bruce Campbell – his ill grandson, fought in the War, given only months to live, decides to come out from England to prove his grandfather right.
  • Roger Fergus – old Stuart’s generation, Stuart’s friend, honest old man. Dies.
  • Henry Fergus – Roger’s son, fierce, competetive, underhand businessman, determined to use every trick available to finish the dam and sabotage Campbell.
  • Peter Trevedian – contractor on the dam. His father invested heavily in Campbell’s company and, when it went bust, killed himself. Leading opponent of the protagonist.
  • Max Trevedian – half-brother of the above, huge, retarded, aggressive. Bruce stumbles into him up at the old cabin and slowly realises he’s a kindred spirit, also persecuted in his childhood; tells him the Jungle Book to calm him.
  • James McLellan – responsible for the hoist ie the cable lift up the mountainside to the Kingdom; part of the alliance against Campbell.
  • Old McLellan – James’s father, owner of the Golden Calf bar and hotel. As friendly to Bruce as his family ties with the Enemy camp allow.
  • Boy Bladen – son of an American actor and Iroquois mother, parents died, brought himself up, flew in the War till he crashed, was burned, put in a POW camp. Back in Canada he is scarred and scared. Becomes a firm ally of Campbell.
  • Winnick – based in Alberta, charted the Kingdom, friend of old Roger Fergus, helps Bruce.
  • Johnnie Carstairs – friend from Edmonton.
  • Jeff Hart – ditto.
  • Bill Mannion – geologist and ally.
  • Garry Keogh – rough, self-made oilman, agrees to help Campbell drill for oil.
  • the Garret sisters – sweet and lonely little old ladies Miss Sarah and Miss Ruth who’ve lived all their lives in Come Lucky, dote on Jean Lucas, and kindly oversee Bruce’s progress.
  • Jean Lucas – the heroine: lives with the two nice old ladies, previously housemaid to old Stuart Campbell in the (brief) summer months. Worked for the French Resistance during the War till captured ie has suffered, like Campbell. Tough. ‘Get back to Trevedian and tell him next time he tries to shoot my dog I’ll kill him.’
  • Moses – Jean’s dog.

The story is fairly gripping but nowhere near as melodramatic as some of its predecessors. Only in the last 30 or so pages is there a sudden flurry of events, namely:

  • finally, against all the odds and setbacks, unexpectedly one morning, the rig blows sky high because they have struck oil
  • within hours the valley starts flooding because the dam people have completed it and closed the sluices
  • Bruce and Boy ride miserably over to the dam to arrive just as the few workmen still there realise it is starting to crack at the base – but they can’t raise the hundred or so men working down in the valley in the direct line of the flood waters to warn them of impending disaster
  • in a split second decision, Bruce takes the cable car down, horribly exposed if something goes wrong, harangues Trevedian’s men that the dam is bursting, resorting to shooting over their heads and only just escapes as it in fact does burst, unleashing a tidal wave of water, mud and rocks as big as houses. Trevedian, his opponent throughout the book, refuses to believe the dam is bursting and so is swept to his death by the flood

In an unashamedly Hollywood ending Bruce not only proves his grandfather right, makes himself a rich man, defeats his opponents without actually damaging the dam himself, overthrows his antagonist, wins the gratitude of all the other workmen and the townspeople for risking his life to warn them, BUT also secures the love of a good woman, Jean. It is such a deliberately feel-good conclusion that I was actually crying at the end.

The oil industry

Innes has, as usual, done his research.

The scenery of the Rockies as it changes from the depths of winter to spring and on into summer are evocatively portrayed – the feel of snow on your face, the pine smell of the timber, the squish of the mud under the truck tyres, the noise of the mountain streams.

And there are solid factual explanations of the geology of oil-bearing strata, how underground soundings work, the law surrounding prospecting land, and so on.

And the text has a working knowledge of the clink and rattle, the weight and labour, of the heavy oil-drilling equipment.

When I went down to the oil drilling site next morning I found the rig erected and the draw works being tightened down on to the steel plates of the platform. The travelling block was already suspended from the crown and the kelly was in its rat housing. They had already begun to dig a mud sump and there were several lengths of pipe in the rack… On the morning of Tuesday, June 9th, Garry spudded in. I stood on the platform and watched the block come down and the bit lowered into the hole. The bushing was dropped into the table, gripping the grief stem, and then at a signal from Garry the platform trembled under my feet, the big diesel of the draw works roared and the table began to turn. We had started to drill Campbell Number Two. (p.190)

Competence The most obvious appeal of the adventure yarn is that we readers identify with the hero (and heroine), who may suffer setbacks but are always resourceful and brave enough to overcome all challenges and win in the end.

Abroad There is also the appeal of exotic foreign locations. The impact of this has diminished over the decades as air travel has become widespread and ridiculously cheap. Everywhere is accessible now. But in the dark years after the Second World War, as rationing continued, foreign travel was as remote a fantasy as decent food. These novels fulfil those fantasies.

Rewarding work And a third aspect of fantasy wish-fulfilment is the appeal of demanding physical work. Most of us work in offices, as the hero of this book initially does, and are as bored and frustrated with it as he is. In these novels the rough, difficult, physical nature of the work, man’s work, whether it be tin mining, flying cargo planes, whaling or drilling for oil, is something office workers often fantasise about and which these fictions deliver in powerful and convincing detail for our vicarious enjoyment.

Becoming a man

In England Bruce is a sick man with a terminal disease. In the bracing air of the Canadian Rockies he recovers his health – the cancer Bruce is diagnosed with at the start of the novel has simply disappeared by the end. The Canadian doctor who investigates, ponders the way some conditions just clear themselves up, maybe related to healthy living, or to the resolution of psychological factors.

The uncertain London insurance clerk becomes a leader of men, driving a team of some twenty grizzled locals and outfacing big business and its bully boy tactics in his heroic quest. He becomes a man.

But part of becoming a real man is becoming a couple, finding the woman of your dreams. It is not just about becoming powerful or virile. It is about becoming complete, whole, finding a purpose, and this purpose is always, in Innes, connected to the love of a good woman.

‘I’m not leaving you, Bruce. Whether you marry me or not doesn’t matter, but you’ll just have to get used to having me around.’ … Her fingers touched my temple and then I heard her footsteps across the room, the door closed and I was alone. I lay there, feeling relaxed and happy. I wasn’t afraid of anything now. I wasn’t alone. (p.254)

Only as part of a heterosexual couple can the narrator face the big abstract which always appears at the end of Innes’ novels, the Future. Innes’ protagonists start his novels on the run, illegal, wanted, chased, in jeopardy, with no thought except surviving another day. They finish the novel a) having survived a whole series of trials b) with a good woman by their side c) and thus able to think about more than just the next few minutes or next day – to conceive of Future time as a secure place where ordered plans can be made and carried out. All Innes’ novels end with a tremendous and heartening sense of optimism.

Through the window I look across a clearing in the cottonwoods to the ford where the waters of Thunder Creek glide swift and black to the lake. Some day that clearing will be a garden. Already Jean has a library of gardening books sent out from England and is planning the layout. We are full of plans – plans for the house, plans for the development of the Kingdom, plans for a family. It is just wonderful to sit back and plan. To plan something is to have a future. And to have a future is to have the whole of life. (p.255)

The movie

The novel was adapted, ‘with the co-operation of the author’, into a 1957 movie, starring a suitably weedy-looking Dirk Bogarde, partnered with the lovely Barbara Murray and an array of British character actors doing appalling Canadian accents (including Stanley Baker and Sid James) and James Robertson Justice miscast as the tough oil driller and forced to do a terrible Scots accent.

Names are changed to make them easier (the baddie Peter Trevedian becomes the easier-to-say Owen Morgan, the driller changes from Garry Keogh to MacDonald to ginger up the Scots ambience (he plays the bagpipes in a jolly scene which doesn’t exist in the book)).

Although the exact outline of the plot is retained, it has to be dealt with at a breathless pace to squeeze it into 100 minutes which means that every extraneous scene, the cameos with the old ladies, the descriptions of the scenery, and a host of minor characters, the protagonist’s changing attitude to his pioneering grandfather – everything which makes it adult and interesting and thought-provoking – has to be ruthlessly jettisoned.

The climactic scene when the dam bursts has special effects worthy of Thunderbirds. Instead of the complexity of the novel where Campbell has to threaten the men with a gun in order to get them to believe him and save their lives – in the movie Bogarde runs around shouting, ‘Get out of the way, the dam’s breaking’. The touching reconciliation with all these rough tough men who treated him so bad and who he ended up saving is cut. And Campbell is told he no longer has cancer, marries Jean, and is pictured sunning himself by the now gushing oil well, in 2 minutes 6 seconds flat.

Movies murder novels.

Related links

1960 Fontana paperback movie tie-in cover of Campbell's Kingdom

1960 Fontana paperback movie tie-in cover of Campbell’s Kingdom

Hammond Innes’ novels

1937 The Doppelganger
1937 Air Disaster
1938 Sabotage Broadcast
1939 All Roads Lead to Friday
1940 The Trojan Horse – Barrister Andrew Kilmartin gets involved with an Austrian Jewish refugee engineer whose discovery of a new lightweight alloy which will make lighter, more powerful aircraft engines leads to him being hunted by an extensive and sinister Nazi network which reaches to the highest places in the land. The book features a nailbiting chase through the sewers of London and a last-minute shootout on the Nazi ship.
1940 Wreckers Must Breathe – Journalist Walter Craig stumbles across a secret Nazi submarine base built into a ruined tin mine on the Cornwall coast and, along with local miners and a tough woman journalist, fights his way out of captivity and defeats the Nazis.
1941 Attack Alarm – Gripping thriller based on Innes’ own experience as a Battle of Britain anti-aircraft gunner. Ex-journalist Barry Hanson uncovers a dastardly plan by Nazi fifth columnists to take over his airfield ahead of the big German invasion.

1946 Dead and Alive – David Cunningham, ex-Navy captain, hooks up with another demobbed naval officer to revamp a ship-wrecked landing craft. But their very first commercial trip to Italy goes disastrously wrong when his colleague, McCrae, offends the local mafia while Cunningham is off tracking down a girl who went missing during the war. A short but atmospheric and compelling thriller.
1947 The Killer Mine Army deserter Jim Pryce discovers dark family secrets at a ruined Cornish mine which is being used as a base by a father-and-son team of smugglers who blackmail him into doing some submarine rock blasting, with catastrophic results.
1947 The Lonely Skier Writer Neil Blair is hired to visit the Dolomite mountains in Italy, supposedly to write a script for film producer Derek Engles, in reality to tip him off when key players in a hunt for Nazi gold arrive at the ski hut in the mountains where – they all think – the missing treasure is buried.
1947 Maddon’s Rock Corporal Jim Vardin, convicted of mutiny at sea and imprisoned in Dartmoor, breaks out to clear his name and seek revenge on the captain and crew who pretended to sink their ship, the Trikkala, but in fact hid it at a remote island in the Arctic circle in order to steal its cargo of silver bullion.
1948 The Blue Ice Mineralogist and industrialist Bill Gansert sails to Norway to discover the truth about the disappearance of George Farnell, a friend of his who knew something about the discovery of a rare metal ore – an investigation which revives complex enmities forged in Norway’s war-time Nazi occupation.
1949 The White South Narrator Duncan Craig becomes mixed up in the disaster of the whaling ship Southern Star, witnessing at first hand the poisonous feuds and disagreements which lead a couple of its small whalecatcher boats to get caught in pack ice, fatally luring the vast factory ship to come to their rescue and also becoming trapped. It then has to evacuate over 400 men, women and children onto the pitiless Antarctic ice where Craig has to lead his strife-torn crew to safety.
1950 The Angry Mountain – Engineering salesman Dick Farrell’s wartime experiences come back to haunt him as he is caught up in a melodramatic yarn about a Czech spy smuggling industrial secrets to the West, with various people from his past pursuing him across Italy towards Naples and Mount Vesuvius, which erupts to form the dramatic climax to the story.
1951 Air Bridge – Bomber pilot fallen on hard times, Neil Fraser, gets mixed up with Bill Saeton and his obsession with building a new type of diesel aero-engine based on a prototype looted from wartime Germany. Saeton is helped by partner Tubby Carter, hindered by Tubby’s sex-mad wife Diana, and spied on by Else, the embittered daughter of the German who originated the designs. The story moves to Germany and the Berlin airlift where Saeton’s obsession crosses the line into betrayal and murder.
1952 Campbell’s Kingdom – Bruce Campbell, given only months to live by his doctors, packs in his boring job in London and emigrates to Canada to fulfil the dream of his eccentric grandfather, to find oil in the barren patch of the Canadian Rockies known as ‘Campbell’s Kingdom’.
1954 The Strange Land – Missionary Philip Latham is forced to conceal the identity of the man who replies to an advert to come and be doctor to a poor community in the south of Morocco. Instead of curing the sick, he finds himself caught up in a quest for an ancient silver mine, a quest which brings disaster to the impoverished community where it is set.
1956 The Wreck of the Mary Deare – Yacht skipper John Sands stumbles across the wreck of the decrepit steamer Mary Deare and into the life of its haggard, obsessive captain, Patch, who is determined to clear his reputation by revealing the owners’ conspiracy to sink his ship and claim the insurance.
1958 The Land God Gave To Cain – Engineer Ian Ferguson responds to a radio plea for help received by his amateur radio enthusiast father, and sets off to the wilds of Labrador, north-east Canada, to see if the survivors of a plane crash in this barren country are still alive – and what lies behind the conspiracy to try and hush the incident up.
1960 The Doomed Oasis – Solicitor George Grant helps young tearaway David Thomas travel to Arabia to find his biological father, the legendary adventurer and oilman Colonel Charles Whitaker, and becomes embroiled in a small Arab war which leads to a siege in an ancient fortress where the rivalry between father and son reaches a tragic conclusion.
1962 Atlantic Fury – Painter Duncan Ross is eyewitness to an appalling naval disaster on an island of the Outer Hebrides. But intertwined with this tragedy is the fraught story of his long-lost brother who has stolen another man’s identity. Both plotlines lead inexorably to the bleak windswept island of Laerg.
1965 The Strode Venturer – Ex-Merchant Navy captain Geoffrey Bailey finds himself drawn into the affairs of the Strode shipping company which aggressively took over his father’s shipping line, thereby ruining his family and driving his father to suicide. Now, 30 years later, he is hired to track down the rogue son of the family, Peter Strode, who has developed an obsession with a new volcanic atoll in the middle of the Indian Ocean, whose mineral wealth might be able to help the Maldive Islanders whose quest for independence he is championing.
1971 Levkas Man – Merchant seaman Paul goes to find his father, eccentric archaeologist Pieter Van der Voort, another typical Innes obsessive, this one convinced he can prove his eccentric and garbled theories about the origin of Man, changing Ice Age sea levels, the destruction of Atlantis and so on. Much sailing around the Aegean, feelingly described by Innes, before the climax in a vast subterranean cavern covered in prehistoric rock paintings, in an atmosphere heavy with timeless evil, where his father admits to being a murderer.
1973 Golden Soak – Alec Falls’ mining business in Cornwall goes bust so he fakes his own death and smuggles himself out to Australia to take up an invitation to visit a rancher’s daughter he’d met in England. He finds himself plunged into the mystery and intrigue which surrounds the struggling Jarra Jarra ranch and its failed mine, Golden Soak, a mystery which leads him on a wild chase out into the desolate hell of the Gibson desert where Alec discovers the truth about the mine and the rumours of a vast hill of copper, and witnesses archetypal tragedies of guilt and expiation, of revenge and parricide.
1974 North Star – One-time political agitator and seaman Michael Randall tries and fails to escape his treacherous past as he finds himself embroiled in a plot to blow up a North Sea oil rig, a plot which is led by the father he thought had died decades earlier.
1977 The Big Footprints – TV director Colin Tait finds himself caught up in the one-man war of grizzled African hunter and legendary bushman Cornelius van Delden against his old friend, Alex Kirby-Smith, who is now leading the Kenyan government’s drive to cull the country’s wildlife, especially its elephants, to feed a starving population and clear the way for farmers and their cattle. It’s all mixed up with Tait’s obsessive quest to find a remote mountain where neolithic man was said to have built the first city in the world.
1980 Solomon’s Seal – Property valuer Roy Slingsby prices the contents of an old farmhouse in the Essex countryside and is intrigued by two albums of stamps from the Solomon Islands. He takes up the offer of a valuing job in Australia and finds himself drawn into the tragic history of the colonial Holland family, whose last surviving son is running machine guns to be used in the coup and bid for independence of Bougainville Island. Though so much of the detail is calm, rational and business-like, the final impression is of an accursed family and a fated ancestral house which burns down at the novel’s climax.
1982 The Black Tide – When his wife dies blowing up an oil tanker which has hit the rocks near their Cornwall home, ex-merchant seaman Trevor Rodin goes searching for the crew he thinks deliberately ran her aground. His search takes him to Lloyds of London, to the Nantes home of the lead suspect and then on to the Persian Gulf, where he discovers several ‘missing’ tankers are in fact being repurposed by terrorists planning to create a devastating environmental disaster somewhere on the coast of Europe. With no money or resources behind him, and nobody believing his far-fetched tale, can Rodin prevent the catastrophe?
1985 The High Stand – When gold millionaire Tom Halliday and his wife Miriam go missing, their staid Sussex solicitor Philip Redfern finds himself drawn to the old gold mine in the Canadian Rockies which is the basis of the Halliday fortune, and discovers that the illegal felling of the timber planted around the mine is being used as a front for a gang of international drug smugglers, with violent consequences.
1988 Medusa – Former smuggler turned respectable ex-pat businessman, Mike Steele, finds his idyllic life on the pretty Mediterranean island of Minorca turning very nasty when he gets mixed up with mercenaries running guns onto the island to support a violent separatist movement and military coup.
1991 Isvik – Wood restorer Peter Kettil gets caught up in a crazy scheme to find an old Victorian frigate allegedly spotted locked in the Antarctic ice by a glaciologist before his death in a flying accident. His partners are the nymphomaniac Latino wife of the dead glaciologist, Iris Sunderby, a bizarre Scottish cripple, Iain Ward, and a mysterious Argentine who may or may not have been involved in atrocities under the military junta.
1993 Target Antarctica Sequel to Isvik. Booted out of the RAF for his maverick behaviour, pilot Michael ‘Ed’ Cruse is hired by Iain Ward, the larger-than-life character at the heart of the previous novel, Isvik, to fly a C-130 Hercules plane off a damaged runway on the Antarctic ice shelf. There are many twists, not least with a beautiful Thai woman who is pursued by the Khmer Rouge (!), before in the last few pages we realise the whole thing is Ward’s scheme to extract diamonds from the shallow seabed, whose existence was discovered by the sole survivor of the frigate found in the previous novel.
1996 Delta Connection An astonishing dog’s dinner of a novel, which starts out reasonably realistically following the adventures of Paul Cartwright, scrap metal consultant, in Romania on the very days that communist ruler Nicolae Ceaușescu is overthrown, before moving on to Pakistan and the Khyber Pass where things develop into a violent thriller, before jettisoning any attempt at realism and turning into a sort of homage to Rider Haggard’s adventure stories for boys as Cruse and his gay, ex-Army mentor, battle their way through blizzards into the idyllic valley of Nirvana, where they meet the secret underground descendants of Vikings who long ago settled this land, before almost immediately participating in the palace coup which overthrows the brutal ruler and puts on the throne the young woman who Paul fell in love with as a boy back in Romania, where the narrative started. A convoluted, compelling and bizarre finale to Innes’ long career.

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