Thursday, December 29, 2005

The Chesterton Ideal

You have heard it said, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting, it has been found difficult, and therefore left untried.” (GKChesterton)

But now I say to you:

Reading Chesterton has not been tried and found wanting, it has been found difficult, and therefore (at times) left untried. (NCBrown)

Most of you here probably already read Chesterton. If you don't, we encourage you to do so, immediately.
And if you do already read Chesterton, find a way to encourage one other person to start reading him. Today. That's your task. If each one of us finds one more, we'd double the number of Chestertonians within the week! And the world would be better for it.


  1. One of the most frustrating reactions I get from people is when they say, "He just seems too hard to me," or "I don't think I'm smart enough to read him." These people are worse than the folks who make lame attempts and give up after a paragraph or two.

    Sure, his sentences are longer than the typical present-day reader is used to; he uses a lot of semicolons and to the neophite can seem to be meandering rather than getting directly to his point.

    But these are all cop outs. Yeah, his sentences are longer, but his words are simple. More than that, he once wrote about the virtue of using simple words (his challenge: to write using only one-syllable words); he wrote for ordinary people, remember. He was a journalist, after all. He considered intentionally using long, complex words to be an inexcusable vice, one resorted to by frauds intent on hiding their real meaning.

    As for the meandering, complaining about that is like complaining that a trip through some gorgeous state park is valuable only for getting to the other side and not for the scenery you may enjoy along the way. And anyway, Chesterton really isn't meandering. His writing may be simple but his ideas are hard -- hard like a multi-faceted diamond, and you need to examine each facet before you can appreciate the beauty of the whole thing.

    Once you get over the (relatively small) hump of getting used to his writing style, you'll find him one of the most engaging writers around. One virture Chesteton had was this: that he tended to put a lot of himself, his massive personality, into his writing. After a while, reading him is like sitting in the same room with him, sharing a laugh, reacting to some point. You feel he is going to pass you the wine decanter or the tobacco jar at any moment. Chesterton is the original interactive writer.

  2. "... he put a lot of himself into his writing..."

    Hee hee.

    "At a Distributist meeting someone said to Chesterton: 'You seem to be enjoying yourself,' and was told: 'I always enjoy myself more than others, there's such a lot of me that's having a good time'." [Ward, Return To Chesterton 132]

    Of course if one reads Tolkien's essay on Fairy Tales, or Sayers' book The Mind of the Maker, one will see that it is necessary to put a lot of one's self into one's creation. (Weren't we just celebrating something to that effect?)

    Speaking as a computer scientist, that old movie called "Tron" was right: programmers leave part of themselves in their programs - as writers do in books, painters in their paintings, and so forth.

    And you need not build your own kosmos to enjoy it - God already built one for you.

    GKC shows you all the ordinary things you already know - but when he shows them, it is as if you were seeing them for the first time...

  3. I forgot to say something!!! Nancy & "Chestertonian" hinted at this in a previous posting but there really is more to say about it during the OFFICIAL Christmas season. I will do it this way:

    Do you have a copy of Chesterton's The Everlasting Man? (It's in Collected Works II - that is, CW2, if you have them!)

    OK. Now, get it out. And turn to the middle: the chapter is called "The God in the Cave". Turn out all the lights in the room, except for those on your Nativity and Tree, and enough others so that you are able to read. Gather your children (or parents!), first supplying them with something to eat and to drink... then read that chapter aloud...

    You will find that, unexpectedly, it is about something you already know about - but it is told in a whole new way.

    Why start in the middle?

    Well, in that old movie called "E.T." there is a line which kind of gets lost in the special effects. The older brother tells the kid: "You can't just join a universe in the middle."

    But that is just what the LOGOS did... So try it, and see.

    (Later, maybe in a day or so, you will want to keep reading the chapters which follow. You will find more that you already know - but it will be as if you had never seen it before. Then finally, go back and do the first half of the book.)

    Here's a crumb, just to get you excited:

    "A mass of legend and literature, which increases and will never end, has repeated and rung the changes on that single paradox; that the hands that had made the sun and stars were too small to reach the huge heads of the cattle. Upon this paradox, we might almost say upon this jest, all the literature of our faith is founded."

  4. Dr. Thursday, that's an excellent idea. A week ago I gave a "study circle" to a bunch of men and for my talk, I read aloud from that chapter. I didn't have time to read the whole thing, but managed to gat at least through Chesterton's discussion of the significance of the shepherds.

    I'd never read it out loud before, and here's one thing I discovered: that the combination of Chesterton's poetic writing style and the sublime truths he relates make it very difficult to read, if only because it kept moving me to the point of tears. I had to keep fighting them back.

    Tolkien is the only other writer who does that to me.

  5. is necessary to put a lot of one's self into one's creation. (Weren't we just celebrating something to that effect?

    Once gain, Dr. T, you see connections that nearly everyone else misses. :-)

  6. Oh, how timely! Here's my contribution to the new springtime of Chestertonianism: My family just got a puppy this week, and my wife let me name him. Of course, I named him Chesterton. Great segway for talking about my favourite author.

    It's a great name for a dog, because, really, what was Chesterton all about? Love, Loyalty, and Wonder.

  7. Phil:
    What a great idea! Now whenever you are out and about, and calling "Here Chesterton! Here boy!" and people stop and ask you how in the world your dog got such a name, you have a perfect opportunity to evangelize about Chesterton! Brilliant! Gives me an idea....which I'll post.


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