Neil and Calum, the cone-gatherers. Neil is proud and the brother and keeper of Calum, who is innocent and trusting

Calum embodies innocence in the novel. He is physically and mentally disabled and wholly reliant on his brother, Neil, for care and guidance.

Calum has an affinity with the natural world and is most at home amongst the trees, gathering cones.

A cluster of brown pine cones
Calum and Neil are paid to retrieve pine cones

His childlike mind perceives no prejudice or hatred, and he delights in simple pleasures like carving wooden animals or buying a gift for his brother.

Calum comes to represent goodness in the novel, assuming an almost Christ-like persona.

His death therefore, is a sacrifice so that other characters, namely Lady Runcie-Campbell, may learn to do better and follow the true meaning of Christianity.

Calum and the natural world

Calum’s deep empathy for nature is apparent in our first encounter with him - he is high up in a homely tree as indigenous as squirrel or bird.

Amidst the trees Calum moves confidently and instinctively, often directing Neil. However, once on the ground, we see him stumble and scramble to keep up with his brother.

There are several points in the novel where Calum identifies with the animals of the wood, whether they are the rabbit caught in Duror’s snare or the deer hunted by remorseless man.

In the hunting incident, we see Calum adopt the same plight as the deer, taking on the creature’s suffering as his own:

Calum flung himself upon the deer, clasped it round the neck and tried to comfort it. Terrified more than ever, it dragged him about with it in its mortal agony. Its blood came off onto his face and hands.

A stag in the autumn light, in the distance stands another stag
Calum is forced to participate in the deer hunt

Calum’s pity overwhelms him as he becomes one with the dying creature. The word flung connotes this sense of abandon. Utterly selfless, Calum is carried by the strength of his feeling, sharing the deer’s agony.

The fact that the blood is on his face and hands acts as confirmation of this bond between man and nature. It also anticipates Calum’s own death when he too is hunted and shot – another meek and humble creature destroyed by the brutality of the world.