Tuesday, June 14, 2016

What's Wrong with the World? I don't appreciate Chesterton enough

Today, June 14, marks the 80-year anniversary of G.K. Chesterton's death. Maybe you are a hardcore fan of Chesterton. Perhaps you've never even heard of the man. In my life, Chesterton has often had a glimmer of a presence. A quotation of his adorned my bedroom wall as a teenager, I picked up a book or two of his a few times-but I've never thought much about him. A few years ago, I realized that things needed to change. I would proudly mention journalist, author, and apologist G.K. Chesterton to other people and profess how amazing he was..but I had only read a few small bits of his writings. 

I've tried to remedy this situation and read more about-and by-Chesterton. I still have much to read and much to learn, because I just don't appreciate Chesterton enough-and, in no particular order, here's why. 

He's a brilliant author of fiction that entertains and edifies the mind. 
Chesterton crafts such excellently creative stories! When I read The Ball and the Cross, I found the whole premise absolutely delightful and hilarious (2 Scotsmen-a Catholic and an Atheist-frolic across the pages as they try to find a place to fight a duel). The Flying Inn describes two men who try to run from Prohibition as they travel with a barrel of rum in their cart. I've heard amazing things about The Man Who Was Thursday, and I hope to read it someday. The novels of Chesterton have very creative plots which entertain, but they also enlighten the mind-many of his novels, at one point or another, strike a philosophical or religious note, which I think is cool. Also, the language he uses is beautiful:
"A wind sprang high in the west like a wave of unreasonable happiness and tore eastward across England, trailing with it the frosty scent of forests and the cold intoxication of the sea. In a million holes and corners it refreshed a man like a flagon, and astonished him like a blow." 
So begins Manalive, a novel in which a gusty wind sets off an outrageous course of events (I'm still in the process of reading the book, so I can't give many specifics yet).  Not only did Chesterton write novels, but he also wrote short stories (like the detective stories about Father Brown) and poems. 

His nonfiction work is pretty fantastic, too. 
While in college, I read part of What's Wrong with the World, which is a collection of essays about humanity and, well, what's wrong with the world :P C. S. Lewis once wrote that "“the best popular defense of the full Christian position I know is G. K. Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man.” This book gives a philosophical and historical view and defense of Christianity, and it's quite fascinating: 
“But in reality the rivers of mythology and philosophy run parallel and do not mingle till they meet in the sea of Christendom. Simple secularists still talk as if the Church had introduced a sort of schism between reason and religion. The truth is that the Church was actually the first thing that ever tried to combine reason and religion. There had never before been any such union of the priests and the philosophers. Mythology, then, sought God through the imagination; or sought truth by means of beauty, in the sense in which beauty includes much of the most grotesque ugliness.”
Chesterton wrote tons of essays, pieces of literary criticism, works of apologetics, newspaper columns, and books. What little I've read of his nonfiction work is great, and I'm sure his other stuff is amazing, too. 

He just seems like an insanely interesting person!
I still need to get around to reading Chesterton's autobiography, but the little I know about him is pretty interesting. He had a crazy spiritual journey that included some dabbling in occultism, converted to Catholicism, wrote literary critiques, was very vocal about politics and society, and ultimately sought to convey Truth and Beauty in his works. Seriously, his life must be extremely interesting to study, and I'm excited to learn more about him! And anyone who is credited with the following quotation must be a very interesting person! 
"In Catholicism, the pint, the pipe and the cross can all fit together.”
These few points about Chesterton barely comprise the tip of the iceberg of this man's brilliance and life. His writings have been lauded by many famous authors, including Neil Gaiman, Agatha Christie, and Ernest Hemingway. And yet...I've barely read the guy. I don't appreciate him as much as I probably should, and I think that's a problem. So, I'm going to commit to reading and studying more of Chesterton's works. I end by including one of his poems, so you can experience a sliver of the wonder of this man's writings. 

 You will find me drinking rum,
        Like a sailor in a slum,
You will find me drinking beer like a Bavarian.
        You will find me drinking gin
        In the lowest kind of inn,
Because I am a rigid Vegetarian.

        So I cleared the inn of wine,
        And I tried to climb the sign,
And I tried to hail the constable as “Marion.”
        But he said I couldn’t speak,
        And he bowled me to the Beak
Because I was a Happy Vegetarian.

        Oh, I knew a Doctor Gluck,
        And his nose it had a hook,
And his attitudes were anything but Aryan;
        So I gave him all the pork
        That I had, upon a fork;
Because I am myself a Vegetarian.

        I am silent in the Club,
        I am silent in the pub,
I am silent on a bally peak in Darien;
        For I stuff away for life
        Shoving peas in with a knife,
Because I am at heart a Vegetarian.

        No more the milk of cows
        Shall pollute my private house
Than the milk of the wild mares of the Barbarian;
        I will stick to port and sherry,
        For they are so very, very,
So very, very, very Vegetarian.

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