Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Man Who Was Dr. Fell: A Close Look at G. K. Chesterton

Hello and welcome everyone to another special edition of At the Scene of the Crime! Today, I’ve asked a very special guest to join me: Chris Chan, who often goes under the moniker of “GKCfan”. Chris, thanks ever so much for joining me!

Back when I had finished reading all of Agatha Christie’s works, I flopped around from author to author trying to find new mysteries to read. Eventually, Chris suggested that I read G. K. Chesterton. (His chosen alias of GKCfan should have told me what I was getting myself into…)

And so I found a Father Brown collection (The Innocence of Father Brown) and sat down to read… I’ve been an addict ever since, and discovering Chesterton was one of the many things that propelled me into discovering the Golden Age of Detective Fiction. (So Chris can take part of the blame for creating this out-of-control literary monster.)

It thus seemed to me appropriate that we should discuss G. K. Chesterton, who is still a very popular author today. Many have read the Father Brown tales but are entirely unaware of his other efforts, such as the books Four Faultless Felons or The Club of Queer Trades. But Chesterton was more than a mystery writer, he was also an eloquent philosopher who eventually converted to Catholicism and was one of the great defenders of his faith. (And as a Catholic myself, there are many wise things Chesterton wrote that I keep in mind while living my everyday life.)

So Chris, now I’ve shared how I became acquainted with Chesterton… how did you first come about him?

***

Hi Patrick!  Thanks for having me here on your blog!

Well… I suppose I should start at the VERY beginning.  When I was ten, I received a beautiful copy of Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None” for Christmas.  It was one of a new Bantam “Complete Christie Collection,” bound in soft black leather and stamped in gold.  I had no idea what the book was about, and I had only heard of Agatha Christie once in my life, when the anonymous book editor in James Howe’s “Bunnicula” series referred to “picking up some Agatha Christie mysteries at the train station.” 

It was mid-January, and I was in fifth grade, and we had about an hour of free reading every day.  I was heading out the door on the way to school, and I realized that I needed a new book to read, having finished the last novel I was reading the previous day.  I had no time, so I just grabbed the first book that I saw– “And Then There Were None,” which was on the piano.  I didn’t have any interest in it, but I figured I’d just be bored with it for one day, and the next day I’d switch to something better.  Well.  That day changed my life.

I started reading it, and I was immediately drawn into the book.  I had never read anything like it before, and I loved every page of it.  I took ATTWN home and finished it that evening… or so I thought.  You see, for some silly reason, I neglected to read the epilogue where the killer confesses, since I was under the mistaken impression that it was just some tacked-on afterword that had no connection to the story.  So I was left wondering “who killed them?” (the last words I read), until right before bed, when I took another look and realized that the pages I had stupidly skipped over were in fact the solution! 

I took ATTWN back with me to school and reread it the next day, appreciating it even more the second time, and even more the third.  I soon learned that Agatha Christie had written many other books, so I started checking her novels out from the library and buying her books whenever I could.  I would read each of her books at least three times (with one exception, which to date I have only read once), and often much more.  This lasted for twenty-one months.  By the end of September of seventh grade, I had read all of Christie’s mysteries that were in print, (basically her entire corpus aside from the unpublished short stories, some hard-to-find plays, her poems, “Come Tell Me How You Live,” and her Mary Westmacott novels), plus her autobiography.  I was devastated.  I felt like a chapter of my life had ended.  There were no more Agatha Christie novels.  But I needed more.

Here was the problem.  I wanted mysteries, but most of what I read severely disappointed me.  I hated most of the current bestsellers.  None of them had Christie’s style or intelligence.  I had read the entire Sherlock Holmes series years earlier, and I was vaguely aware that there was a collection of really great mystery writers known as the “Golden Age Detective Writers,” but I didn’t know who they were.  I decided to track them down.  I bought some anthologies, but I also remembered that Christie’s “Partners In Crime” referenced some of the most famous mystery writers of the 1920’s.  I found a list of the authors parodied in PIC in “The Agatha Christie Companion,” and determined to track some of them down.  Most had long faded from the public eye, but I did find one volume by one writer on the list: G.K. Chesterton’s “The Complete Father Brown.”

My parents gave it to me for Christmas, and I read it that spring for an English class project.  I loved it.  It was so nice to read mysteries that respected my intelligence AND portrayed Catholic priests in a wholly positive light.  Every Father Brown story was a pure pleasure for me to read. 

I learned that GKC had written many other books (I had no idea he’d written as much and as diversely as he had), but at this time most of his work was out of print.  Only Dover Books printed a few of his novels and non-Father Brown short story collections, so I had to specially order them since they weren’t in my local bookstores, and I loved all of them, especially “The Man Who Was Thursday,” which in a just world would be universally ranked as one of the top ten novels of the twentieth century. 

And then… I went through a lull.  My rigorous high school curriculum meant that I had much less time for fun reading than I had in middle school.  I read nothing new by Chesterton or Christie throughout high school (though I did read Sayers, Gardner, and Stout extensively).  It was not until my sophomore year of college, when I was tired and decided to play around by Googling names, that the situation changed.  I Googled the names of some of my favorite writers, eventually reaching GKC.  I checked the searches, and soon found the websites for Gilbert Magazine (then Gilbert!) and the American Chesterton Society (see chesterton.org).

Well.  I knew that Chesterton had written more than mysteries, but I’d never read any of his other essays.  I was blown away by how clever, insightful, and darn it, how right he was.  I soon subscribed to Gilbert! and joined the American Chesterton Society, and started buying some of GKC’s other books.  This was just the right time, since most of GKC’s books were just starting to come back into print after a way-too-long hiatus.  I submitted a piece called “Chesterton and the Green Bay Packers” to Gilbert! and it was published soon afterwards.

In fall of my senior year of college, a friend of mine advised me to visit a used book sale a few blocks from campus.  There, I found a volume of the Nobel Prize Library (O’Neill/Faulkner/Steinbeck), and upon reading it, I discovered that Chesterton had been a nominee for the 1935 prize (no one won that year).  I e-mailed Dale Ahlquist, president of the ACS, and asked him questions about this, and he’d never heard about GKC’s Nobel nomination.  We corresponded for a couple of weeks, and then Dale asked me to present a paper on GKC vs. the Modernist British Writers for the 2004 Chesterton Conference in Minnesota.  I should mention that I had just completed an independent tutorial comparing five GKC novels and one of his plays to six works by Conrad, Shaw, Woolf, Lawrence, Joyce, and Forster. 

My conference speech went fairly well that summer, and that fall I was invited to join Gilbert Magazine as a contributing editor.  Since then I have written columns on literary criticism, lots of book and DVD reviews, and essays on many other topics.  I have now worked at GM for over seven years, my Master’s thesis in U.S. history was inspired by GKC’s “Eugenics and Other Evils,” and I continue to keep learning more about GKC’s work.

Well, that was a long answer, but that’s how I learned about GKC and started working for the American Chesterton Society.  What else would you like to know?

***

But what a fascinating story! Although I came to Chesterton through his fiction, I eventually got to his non-fiction writing and his poetry, and I was fascinated. But one question remains… who was Chesterton, the man? He’s been the subject of many biographies, including his own Autobiography, but nobody seems to have been able to capture him (which, considering his hefty size, seems like it would be an easy task). We know that John Dickson Carr modelled Dr. Gideon Fell after him, and he was clearly a colourful character. It’s really very little surprise that Ian Ker has written a brand-new biography of Chesterton, which I’ve managed to get ahold of. I haven’t read much of it yet (due to a lack of time, alas!) but I have read many chunks of it here and there. I find myself fascinated by this man and plan to read the entire book as soon as I can manage. Just read what he wrote under his signature on a copy of his book The Thing: “(Author of Thanks Old Thing, A Thing Like You, How to Pack Your Things, Tea Things and Night Things, Something Like a Thing, Not a Thing, Thing a Thong of Thixpence—and other things.)”

And then of course there’s his poetry. I haven’t read as much of it as I would like, but ordinarily, when I see verse, my reaction is not unlike Satan’s at a tub of holy water. (This is due to overzealous analysis in English classes, where teachers insist that everything down to the last comma has meaning.) But it’s impossible not to take his poetry into account— it’s simply everywhere! In The Flying Inn, for instance, poems are incorporated into the narrative, with one of my personal favourites being “An inquiry into the causes geological, historical, agricultural, psychological, psychical, moral, spiritual, and theological of the alleged cases of double, treble, quadruple, and other curvature in the English Road” (“conducted by a specially appointed secret commission in a hole in a tree by admittedly judicious and academic authorities specially appointed by themselves to report to the Dog Quoodle, having power to add to their number and also to take away the number they first thought of; God save the King”). There’s something very special about Chesterton’s poetry and I can’t quite define it. There’s that element of mad sanity, solemn amusement, humble magnificence… He can write a poem that deals crushing satirical blows with a perfectly straight face and that just makes the whole thing so much more effective. (Obviously, this is not the most in-depth analysis, but like I said, I haven’t read as many of the poems as I’ve liked.)

But for the purposes of this blog, it’s the creation of Father Brown and the mysteries that I’d really like to focus on. Simply put, the Father Brown tales are among the most wonderful ever written. Who could forget the unmasking of The Invisible Man, the true explanation of The Oracle of the Dog, or why a murderer chose a complex way to kill a man when three simple weapons were within reach (The Three Tools of Death)… Chesterton had, as Paul Halter says, that “sense of the unusual and the bizarre”—the paradox he was so fond of. And many of these cases are solved with moral, philosophical, and spiritual truths.

I admit that, like you, I was delighted that the Father Brown took religion seriously and gave priests the respect they deserve. Far too often nowadays they are targets of mockery or hateful rants with serious holes in their logic. Before I got into the Golden Age, I read many modern mysteries where the author seemed like their goal in life was to condemn priests to the lowest circle of Hell. Even in books written by a nun, Sister Carol Anne O’Marie, priests didn’t get off lightly—they were everything from philanderers to blackmailers, but few were actually decent men! But here is Father Brown, a simple man who puts his faith in his God. As a priest, he has learned all too well about the evil men are capable of. Evil is terrible, of course, but he doesn’t gasp at its sight and act like a drawing-room-comedy priest. The Blue Cross and The Secret Garden are the first two Father Brown tales and they deal with these themes very well.

In fact, I’d like to briefly defend The Secret Garden. It’s one of my all-time favourite mysteries and I’ve seen it mocked very often. (If you haven’t read the story, I recommend going to your local bookstore this instant and getting The Complete Father Brown.) The ending reveals that the murderer is a fanatical atheist who has committed murder so that a rich man does not join the Catholic Church. But many take Chesterton’s arguments as “atheists are evil, thus, the killer is an atheist”. It’s not that simple. Chesterton’s argument here is based more on fanaticism than atheism. The killer is the sort of person who hates the very idea of religion, and this hatred becomes murderous. At the end of the story, the killer commits suicide, and on their dead face is a look not of anger at being found out, but of supreme pride. From the killer’s atheism sprang out hatred, and that became the fanaticism which in turn led to murder. It’s true that as a Catholic, atheism represents an evil for Chesterton—after all, it is the categorical rejection of God and His love. But Father Brown does not hate the evildoer— he hates the evil. Catholicism is about redemption, not getting a kick out of condemning people to be burned at the stake. When a sinner is repentant, he is welcomed back with open arms. In the case of this particular murderer, the sinner allows sin to consume his soul, and that’s where Father Brown steps in.

Of course, readers may choose to entirely reject Chesterton’s worldview and philosophy, but that doesn’t change the quality of the Father Brown stories as mysteries. But personally, as a Catholic, they do more than satisfy me in terms of their mysteries: they give me food for thought. Spiritual reflection combined with the fun of a most mysterious murder? No wonder I fell in love!

***

Yes, there are a lot of biographies and critical books on Chesterton.  I have not read Ker’s book yet, although I have read his book “The Catholic Revival in English Literature,” which focuses on GKC and five other authors (see my July 2011 review of the book here: http://catholicbookreviewsmonthly.com./archivedReviews.aspx).  Joseph Pearce’s biography “Wisdom and Innocence” is pretty good, but any of the books found here (http://www.chesterton.org/wordpress/store/#ecwid:category=447288&mode=category&offset=0&sort=normal) is a useful resource on GKC.

By the way, GKC appears in a new novel, “Toward the Gleam,” by T.M. Doran.  The central character is based on a real-life author, and other writers appear in the novel, referred to only by their first names.  “Gilbert” and “Agatha” play pivotal roles in the book. 

One of the problems with including GKC as a fictional character is that most writers can’t get them to sound like him.  A teenaged version of GKC appears in “The Tripods Attack!  The Young Chesterton Chronicles,” where an adolescent GKC battles evil aliens in a steampunk alternative world, assisted by his best friend H.G. Wells and Father Brown.  I really liked “Toward the Gleam” and “The Tripods Attack!” but neither really captures GKC’s authentic voice.

Also, read "Murder in the Vatican: The Church Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes" (http://holmeschurchmysteries.com/). Father Brown appears in it as well.  These are three good short stories written in the Doyle style.  I highly recommend them.

I don’t know why people would attack “The Secret Garden” due to the killer’s identity and motivation.  Today, crime shows love to make practicing Christians the killers, murdering out of fanaticism, which annoys me to no end.  Why shouldn’t the people who approve of fictional murderous Christians accept a villainous evangelical atheist as well?    Who criticizes “The Secret Garden?”  The only negative comments I’ve heard about it are from people who comment on the title similarity to the classic children’s book.

***

Well, I’ve seen negative comments about it in various spots online. Many claim it is offensive, bigoted, or what-have-you, but I agree there’s a big double standard in terms of judging the quality of the work. The wildly popular TV show Dexter in its sixth season features a pair of crazy religious-maniac killers who pattern their murders on the Book of Revelations. This is perfectly acceptable, because as everyone knows perfectly well, all religious people are loonies. (Just look at me!) But an atheist who goes crazy? Why, that’s just shockingly unrealistic! It would never happen! (I make a point of mentioning all this because The Secret Garden got me into a heated debate with an acquaintance of mine; I innocently recommended Chesterton’s mysteries only to find out that this person was militantly anti-religious. My motivations were entirely misconstrued.)

I enjoy a good homage, and since I haven’t read any you mention, I am grateful that you’ve brought these to my attention! I’d also recommend Leo Bruce’s Case for Three Detectives, which features Monsignor Smith, a parody of Father Brown. Bruce manages to write a very good, observant false solution based on the typical Chestertonian solution.

But to get back to Father Brown—these stories truly are among the greatest mysteries ever written. Apart from The Secret Garden, I’ve mentioned The Invisible Man, The Three Tools of Death, and The Oracle of the Dog. But there are so many favourite stories! The Hammer of God is one of my all-time favourites, where a man is murdered under seemingly impossible circumstances: he was viciously murdered with a hammer but nobody with the strength to pull off such a crime was anywhere within miles! And then there’s one of my personal favourites, The Purple Wig, which asks an interesting question: if a man is forced to wear a hairpiece, why does he choose such an outlandish colour for it as purple? There’s a lot of really neat moral questions here too, as the story deals with a miscarriage of justice and there are several scenes where the editor of a newspaper edits out all references to God and religion, replacing Father Brown with the character of “Mr. Brown, a Spiritualist.”

And yet, as much as I admire G. K. Chesterton, charges have been laid at his feet for alleged racism and anti-Semitism. These charges take their root in tales like The Purple Wig that I like so much, and more famously in The God of the Gongs, which contains passages that are very much unacceptable today. It’s not easy to read a passage such as:  ‘That negro who has just swaggered out is one of the most dangerous men on earth, for he has the brains of a European, with the instincts of a cannibal.  He has turned what was clean, common-sense butchery among his fellow-barbarians into a very modern and scientific secret society of assassins…’

But Chesterton’s views here are not quite so simple—one cannot dismiss him as a bigot nor praise him as ahead of his times. In The God of the Gongs, there are several racist descriptions of black men, but on the flip side, Father Brown staunchly condemns lynching as “a work of hell”. There’s also a lot of satire on English prejudice, and Father Brown at one point says that “I fear we English think all foreigners are much the same so long as they are dark and dirty…’ Descriptions such as those in The God of the Gongs were simply socially-acceptable norms. (Even Dr. Thorndyke gets into the racist action— see The Pathologist to the Rescue, a story in The Magic Casket. On the flip side, there’s The Yellow Face, an unremarkable Sherlock Holmes adventure with a strong anti-racist message.)

As for the alleged anti-Semitism, Chesterton in his own Autobiography defends himself and points out that he had many Jewish friends at school and was known for defending Jewish boys from bullies (see p. 74). Brief glances through Ian Ker’s biography reveal a discussion on pages 20-21 on this issue. It’s a complex issue and I would honestly need to educate myself more about it before attempting to discuss it in detail.

What are your thoughts on these allegations?

***

I would like to point out a very strong anti-racism message spoken by Father Brown in The Red Moon of Meru, where Father Brown confronts stereotypes, prejudice, and reverse prejudice amongst the aristocracy.

Issues of Chesterton’s alleged prejudice are complex, but I believe that Chesterton underwent a “learning curve” over the course of his life.  He may have been inculcated in the common prejudices of his day, but throughout his career he became one of the most eloquent voices against bigotry in the world.  The best refutation of Chesterton’s anti-Semitism is the November/December 2008 issue of Gilbert Magazine, Volume 12, No 2 & 3.

I have seen the first five seasons of Dexter, but not the sixth.  It is my understanding that the title character is an atheist, and he’s a serial killer, too.  There are numerous examples of nihilistic atheists being portrayed as psychotic killers.  Christians have often been ridiculously made into villains on the Law & Order series, but on Criminal Intent there were two episodes where Professional Atheists wind up being portrayed poorly, one as an opportunistic fool who causes disaster, another as an enraged killer.  On Luther (the Idris Elba series), the amazing Ruth Wilson brilliantly plays Alice, a sociopathic serial killer and scientist who is obsessed with chaos.  So there are a lot of atheist villains out there.  I believe that any type of person from any background with any set of beliefs can be portrayed as a villain.  The problem with so many portrayals of religious killers is that the writing tends to be ham-fisted, with the writers clearly playing into stereotypes about what they think religious people are like.

All in all, I think that by the end of his career GKC was ahead of his time in terms of transcending stereotypes and racism.  “Eugenics and Other Evils” shows him denouncing the pseudoscientific racial theories that spurred Nazism and other racist ideologies.  Meanwhile, George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells, and many other writers who supported eugenics get a free pass!

***

I think it’s also important to realize that we view anti-Semitism after the horror of the Holocaust. G. K. Chesterton died in 1936, and if he’d lived to see the horrors of the concentration camps exposed, I don’t think he’d have been quite so light-hearted in defending himself against these charges. We’ve seen just what bigoted views and unmitigated hate can do. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Auschwitz, but I knew a priest who was thrown in there after transporting wounded soldiers from the battlefield. (Poles and Jews were very close to each other on Hitler’s agenda— as I recall, he planned to rid Poland of its people and colonise the country anew with Germans.) I went to Auschwitz one time in my life and it is something I will never forget. But how can we expect Chesterton to know the full extent of Nazi practices? Condemn them he did, but if he’d known the magnitude of this depravity, I think he would’ve been much more vocal about it. As it is, the stigmas of bigotry and anti-Semitism have (perhaps rather unfairly) attached themselves to his name.

I believe that a new Father Brown TV series is potentially in the works. I wonder how the religious elements would be handled in that. There has been a definite tendency in the media to censor references to religion, so having a priest who solves mysteries based on truths of his faith and common sense might not be received too well! (In particular I wonder how The Secret Garden would be received… but your comments on interpretations of similar characters to that murderer make me think it just might work out.) I can’t help but think of the editor in The Purple Wig, who in the final lines of the story, alters purely by habit the word “God” to the word “circumstances”. This has often been done out of fear of offending anyone, to the point that religion is expected to be a purely personal matter that you cannot impose on anyone else by practicing it in public. I find the argument self-defeating because it in turn imposes its own standards as the social norm.

Perhaps G. K. Chesterton anticipated these ideas when he wrote that masterpiece, The Flying Inn. I read it last year and loved it enormously, as it chronicles the adventures of Humphrey Pump and Captain Patrick Dalroy, who travel around England with an inn sign and outsmart those who try to enforce strict Prohibition laws. It invents an entire “Progressive Islam” movement, and the drinking laws are patterned on these philosophies. Plenty of other laws are drawn up, including one that discourages the practice of using a cross on election ballots in favour of drawing a shape that might pass for a crescent. If it was written yesterday, it would have been recognized as a wicked satire on the fear of the possibility that any group could be remotely offended.

But the book is more than that. It is a high-spirited adventure filled with everything between alcohol and poetry (though admittedly those two aren’t that far apart). There’s a marvellous dog character named Quoodle, and the primary antagonist is a very unpleasant man indeed, caring all about the Cause for Animals but not caring at all about the dog under his nose. It’s a very interesting and complex book, and wickedly funny (which only helps).

***

Yes, The Flying Inn is one of my favourite GKC books. I just love the image of a giant man, a smaller man, and a little dog riding around in a donkey cart with a cask of rum and a gigantic wheel of cheddar cheese.  But I think that the best part of the book is the songs– actually, poems– that punctuate the action.  GKC actually dramatized “The Flying Inn” into a stage play/musical, although it lacks some of the punch of the novel due to the softened ending.

The book is also a brilliant attack on the political/cultural forces of the day, as well as illustrating how dangerous it can be when a country is ruled by a morally corrupt political class, and is a joyful celebration of civil disobedience.

If you pay attention to British politics today, you see that the government is full of Lord Ivywood types.  And one of the antagonists’ names is essentially a play on “Mammon,” a dig at the unholy alliance between the forces of earthly power and evil incarnate.

***

Then there’s The Man Who Was Thursday. I actually don’t think too highly of this book as a mystery—it’s very easily solved and not particularly surprising—but my goodness, I love it as a novel! My favourite scene is the one where we find out that an elderly, seemingly infirm professor is actually quite agile as a stalker, shadowing the protagonist, Gabriel Syme. But let’s quickly recap the story: basically, Syme gets into an argument with an anarchist and wins, managing to get himself nominated to join a group of anarchists. He gets the title “Thursday” (hence the title) and thus begins our adventure, as we find out just who the mysterious leader “Sunday” is.

I remember the first time I read the book, the ending confused me no end. I wasn’t at all sure what was going on anymore— it was a most surreal experience. You did help me to understand the ending a bit more on the AC forums, for which I am most grateful. The book seems to be an allegory that there is good at the heart of everything. At least, that’s the way that it always struck me. But even without the fine allegorical aspects, the book is a rollicking adventure, bringing together everything from sinister meetings of anarchists to sword duels.

Since we’re on the topic of Chesterton’s mystery output sans Father Brown, I’d like to mention one of my all-time favourite short story collections, Four Faultless Felons, which brings together four long short stories. There is a framing device to it all, when we discover through the eyes of a newspaperman just how misunderstood one Marillac is. He is known as a fine gourmet, ordering only the very best meals, but the truth is, it is his way of fasting. As one character explains: “If he has twenty different hors-d'œuvres brought to him and takes the olives, who is to know that he hates olives? If he thoughtfully scans the whole wine-list and eventually selects a rather recondite Hock, who will guess that his whole soul rises in disgust at the very thought of Hock: and that he knows that's the nastiest--even of Hocks? Whereas, if he were to demand dried peas or a mouldy crust at the Ritz, he would probably attract attention.”

This launches us into the short stories, which form the adventures of the Club of Men Misunderstood: a Moderate Murderer, an Honest Quack, an Ecstatic Thief, and a Loyal Traitor. I didn’t particularly love the first story, but the second and third are among my all-time favourites. Chesterton manages to take an action and twist it around so that we find ourselves staring at a pattern completely different from the one we initially thought was there. It’s quite fascinating and difficult to describe without spoiling anything.

***

The Man Who Was Thursday is the first Chesterton novel I ever read, and I loved it.  Once you get into it, you can predict the twists, but anticipating the big reveals is part of the fun.  There is something marvellously grand guignol about the book, from the anarchists with caricatures of a face and a mad race with an elephant and a hot air balloon!  Like much of GKC’s work, it improves when you discuss it with other people, particularly the ending.  One GKC scholar commented once that when he was a boy, he read it but didn’t get the ending.  His teacher replied that, “NOBODY gets the ending!”

All too often in today’s society, we’re told not to judge people for their actions.  I think Four Faultless Felons puts an added spin on this, since we are shown how men we think are nasty bits of goods are actually decent and honorable men– we just don’t know all the details to their stories.  This continues some of the major themes of TMWWT, where seemingly evil and twisted situations prove to be utterly wholesome once one jettisons one’s initial misconceptions.  There are some men who wish to hide (or perhaps preserve) their virtue by inflating false impressions of vice.  Agatha Christie briefly expounds upon that theme in Sparkling Cyanide.  In any case, GKC loved to reverse the theme of various modern novelists where something seemingly innocent turns out to be horribly corrupted.  In GKC’s world, more often than not the apparently despicable turns out to be pure and benign.

***

A good point— again, we see the paradox that Chesterton loved to use over and over again in his work. There is so much of his stuff out there and I have only scratched the surface. Chesterton is one of those authors that I like to sample slowly; I have saved many of his books for later enjoyment. I particularly look forward to reading more Father Brown short stories (as I have not read them all on purpose).

Goodness, we’ve been running on for quite some time now! I suppose we’d better come up with a way to wrap everything up! Any final thoughts, Chris?

***

Well, the amazing thing about Chesterton is that he's written so much, that new works of his are being re-discovered all the time, so you don't have to worry about running out of his work anytime soon.  Before this ends, I wish to mention that some of GKC's best novels are not traditional mysteries– The Ball and the Cross is a kind of a twist on the buddy/road trip genre, focusing on a drawn-out duel between a religious man and an atheist, and winds up with the discovery of a plot to take over England.  Manalive starts as a romantic comedy and turns into a mystery about a man who may be a killer, thief, and a bigamist.  Many people find GKC hard to read at first, or perhaps they feel uncomfortable with his ideas and arguments, but I think that GKC is definitely worth the time and effort that readers put into him.

5 comments:

  1. I've been a fan of Chesterton for many years now, but I still haven't read all of his stuff. THE COMPLETE FATHER BROWN STORIES is something that I love to dip into at regular intervals. This is not only for the mysteries, but for the quality of the writing itself. For instance, in THE INVISIBLE MAN he describes a sweet shop or a block of flats in such a way that you seem to see them for the first time. But then this is the basis of all great detective novels; making you realise that the solution has always been right in front of you, but you have become blind from seeing what you expect to be there rather than what is actually there.

    As for his alleged racism...I'm afraid that he is simply too big a character to be given a simple label. One simply has to accept him as a whole, good and bad.

    I don't find him difficult to read, but his prose is enormously rich, and I find that it's sensible not to read too much of him at one go (rather like not eating all of the chocolates in the box at one sitting).

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  2. Thanks, Patrick! I had a great time with this! One thing- it's a bit hard to tell who's speaking sometimes if you're not paying close attention.

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  3. In the words of Edward D. Hoch, "though he did not formally join the Catholic Church until eleven years after the first Father Brown book appeared, it could be truly said that G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936) was a Catholic writer all his life." Ed Hoch considered "The Oracle of the Dog" to be the best of all the Father Brown tales. In an introduction to this story, he said, "Here Chesterton presents us with both an impossible murder and the seemingly supernatural behavior of a dog, with a cleverly constructed solution in which one explains the other. In a way it is also one of his most religious stories, with a blending of paradox and puzzle that is uniquely Chestertonian."
    For readers who to date are unfamiliar with the stories in the Father Brown series, I would suggest that "The Oracle of the Dog" is as good as any as a place to begin.
    Patrick, I think the use of coloured text for the guest in a crossover such as this, does make it simpler to contrast the contents from each source.

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  4. Thanks for your input, everyone! For some odd reason, Blogger rejected the formatting I copied from Microsoft Word and made everything white-- I suspect that it just didn't support the colour I chose. I did not notice this at first-- thanks for bringing it to my attention. It's been fixed.

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  5. This deserves a longer comment than I have time for right now, but I will be back, as the Terminator says! Thank for posting, very interesting!

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Please keep all discussion civil.