Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Poet and the Lunatics: Chapter One

Chapter One: The Fantastic Friends

The Inn of the Rising Sun. I love the name. I love Chesterton's description of it. I love the painter. Notice that the only patron in months walks out and has red hair. Chesterton loved to give his lively characters red hair.

Having just traveled along Route 66 almost all the way to Texas last month, this line:
...and now everything goes by the new bridge a mile away.
reminded me of what interstates have done to the businesses along good old Route 66.

This line:
And on this side, where the white road curved over the hill, two figures were advancing, which seemed, even when they were hardly more than dots in the distance, to be markedly dissimiliar.
reminds me of both the Introduction to St. Thomas Aquinas, where Chesterton compares Aquinas to St. Francis of Assisi, and to the closing scene of The Blue Cross, where Father Brown and Flambeau are seen in sillouette against the setting sun in Hampstead Heath, just before the greatest arrest of the century.

I liked this:
the chin beneath jutted forward, almost as if it had formed an unconscious resolution of its own
watch for the chin to keep playing this prominent role.

Questions: What does the innkeeper mean when he says he wants a tonic of "Prussic acid"? Is he saying he wants to die?
When the two men arrive at the inn, the man with the painter (whom we find out is named Hurrel) says his painter friend is "an RA"--what does that mean?
Does a "pewter pot" hold paints?
Hurrel has been talking as if he were a "cheap-jack"--what's that?
"if you will play Haroun Alraschid"--what is that?
"tenacity of a tout" ?

Who is the insane person in this chapter? Why?

Chestertonian theme: He must be locked up in a cell to show him that life is worth living after all, and the world a bright, happy place to live in. The man standing on his head. (or rather on his hands, as Chesterton says) See the landscape upsidedown. It's true for philosophy as well as art.

Gale says: you can only forbid him to die, can you persuade him to live? What would persuade a person to live?

Transcendental tomfoolery. I love that phrase.

We're all flies crawling on the ceiling, and it's an everlasting mercy that we don't drop off. Peter, crucified upside down. All men hanging on the mercy of God.
Crazy! Crazy, crazy, crazy! She thinks. Ah, now we think we've identified the lunatic, don't we?

Another dark river was flowing between her and her own fairyland. What does this mean?

Gosh, there's so much just in this one chapter. So much Chestertonian thoughts packed in one short story!

What part of this chapter do you like the best? I like where Diana says, "I thought YOU were the lunatic!"


  1. "if you will play Haroun Alraschid"--what is that?

    From Alfred Lord Tennyson's Recollections of the Arabian Nights, a poem of childhood wonder. On the net see:

    The refrain goes "For it was in the golden prime/ Of good Haroun Alraschid."

  2. Prussic acid is HCN - hydrogen cyanide, a deadly poison. Very small amounts can be found in peach pits (NEVER eat them!) and other such seeds.

    High-Tech GKC link: this chemical has practical uses in industry - it is used in refining of gold. In a different chemical form, ferric ferrocyanide is called "Prussian Blue" first made in 1704 - it is the first of the modern synthetic pigments (colors used for painting): "A cake of prussian blue contains all the sea stories in the world" [GKC, The Coloured Lands]

    I love P&L. After Lepanto & Father Brown, my father quoted it most...

    --Dr. Thursday

  3. I love this book too.

    The "prussic acid" exchange I think has a dual meaning. The depressed inkeeper was contemplating suicide, but the good doctor totally misses the point, thinking of a real medicine (which sometimes did accidentally induce death) See:

    This 1898 book lists medical uses for spasm and nervous irritability. But it also lists dispepsia, "hysteria", angina, and "consumption", and "pointed tongue". It's cautioned that the practitioner might be disappointed because it sometimes doesn't work and sometimes causes death. (!)

  4. My favorite quote is "...and she wanted to hear more about the picture of St. Peter, or something interesting."

    I love it! I feel just that way sometimes, ravenous for interesting conversations. And what I wouldn't give to hear some from Gabriel Gale!


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