Are these Scotland’s most influential books?

Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh. Picture: David Cheskin/PA
Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh. Picture: David Cheskin/PA
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FROM a boy wizard to an edition of the Bible, Scotland has produced some of the world’s most influential literature. Here we take a look at nine of them and examine how they’ve left their mark

1. The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Though Conan Doyle’s super sleuth first appeared in the late 1880s, Sherlock Holmes still finds favour as his adventures continue to be adapted for stage and screen today, including the Benedict Cumberbatch-starring Sherlock TV show.

Doyle modelled Holmes’s methods and mannerisms on those of Dr Joseph Bell, who had been his professor at the University of Edinburgh Medical School.

Today, in a sea of fictional detectives, Holmes possible remains the strangest and most orginal detective of them all.

2. Waverley by Sir Walter Scott

Sir Walter’s Scott’s story of young dreamer Edward Waverley, who dabbles with the passion of the 1745 uprising before being ‘saved’ by the forces of unionism, continues to split opinion.

The book was published anonymously in 1814 by Scott – a legal clerk, Tory and poet – and while it received high praise, the novel also became a byword for the bogus romanticism of Scotland that embedded itself deep into the Victorian era (and, perhaps, still endures).

Despite its controversies, many agree that Waverley was the precursor to the historical novel genre – in this respect, it was way ahead of its time.

3. The King James Bible

Credited with having a huge influence over how we speak and write English today, this edition of the Bible was produced in 1611 at the request of James VI & I in 1604 to improve existing English translations.

It eventually reigned supreme in the English-speaking world until the late-nineteenth century.

Whether you have ever opened a copy or not, some of the phrases forged on its pages will be part of your everyday speech: “salt of the earth”, “give up the ghost” and “a fly in the ointment” all came from the text.

4. The Harry Potter series by JK Rowling

Sales of the seven Harry Potter books have totalled around 500 million, all of whom fell in love with JK Rowling’s tales of the boy wizard. Not bad considering her first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, was rejected by 12 publishers. Famously written in an Edinburgh cafe, Rowling electrified the publishing world when Harry first hit the shelves in 1997. The sequels in Harry’s mission to defeat Lord Voldermort created the type of frenzy normally reserved for rockstars and boybands.

5. Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh

It was as if Scottish cultural life had been winded by a punch in the guts when Trainspotting arrived in 1993. This was the book that got people who didn’t do books get into books and made reading a novel feel dangerous as Welsh pulled us through the lives of Renton, Sick Boy and Begbie and the associated despair and euphoric of addiction, raves, sex and violence.

Yes, books had been written about heroin and psychos before, but not in this modern Scottish voice which crackled in the vernacular and disposed of the way we thought books should be. Welsh doesn’t think Trainspotting was his best book, but in terms of impact it was the most explosive.

6. Lanark: A Life in Four Books by Alasdair Gray

This modern version of hell set in the crumbling cities of Unthank and Glasgow earned Gray comparisons with writers such as Blake, Joyce, Kafka and Huxley.

It took 25 years on and off to write and the sheer scope, detail and imagination pummelled into its pages has left many a reader rendered hopeless in the face of Gray’s profound and sprawling examination of humankind.

Lanark is routinely described as a seminal Scottish novel; one critic hailed Gray as “the grand old man of the Scottish renaissance”.

7. How Late It Was How Late by James Kelman

The opening pages are powerful and hard to forget. Sammy wakes slumped in a park corner, wearing another man’s shoes, after a heavy couple of days on the sauce. “There’s something far far wrong; ye’re no a good man, ye’re just no a good man,” it continues.

Kelman never lets up with hard, furious prose that beats his readers as hard as the policeman who corners Sammy, who ends up blind and alone in this nightmarish version of life.

This book, published in 1993, is the only work by a Scottish author to win The Booker Prize.

8. Peter Pan - JM Barrie

“All children, except one, grow up,” wrote JM Barrie of Peter Pan, one of literature’s most enduring heroes.

Peter Pan has enchanted children through the generations – first as a play, in 1904, then as a book published two years later.

Initially adapted as a silent movie, the Walt Disney animation of 1953 made over $87 million dollars at the box office. The book was then given the Steven Spielberg treatment in 1991: Hook, starring Dustin Hoffman, Robin Williams and Julia Roberts took $120 million dollars at the box office. Finding Neverland, with Kate Winslett and Johnny Depp, followed in 2004.

9. The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

Robert Louis Stevenson’s gloriously Gothic tale of the duality in human nature was first published in 1886.

It was inspired by Edinburgh’s ‘dark heart’ but set in London. The work was said to have had a major influence on late Victorian Gothic novels such as Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray and Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula.

The book was originally dubbed a “shilling shocker” and is said to have inspired more than 120 film versions.