Monday, July 16, 2007

Chesterton: The Answer Man

Can Chesterton answer all our questions? John sent me this previously published article in response to the combox writer in a previous argument down below.

“Chesterton as ‘The Answer Man’”
A Paper Prepared for the Chicago Chesterton Society in 1987 as reprinted in Midwest Chesterton News, December 10, 1990
John Peterson

Chesterton said more than once that he could start with any seemingly insignificant or random point and build his entire philosophy from that beginning. He says it quite clearly, for example, in his Illustrated London News column of February 17, 1906:

“A Philosophical connection there always is between any two items imaginable. This must be so, so long as we allow any harmony or unity in the cosmos at all. There must be a philosophical connection between any two things in the universe. If it is not so, we can only say there is no universe, and can be no philosophy.” [See CW, XXVII, p. 127]Continue reading.

He said this often, and he demonstrated it more often. You will think especially of his essay, “What I Found in My Pocket,” which Chesterton wrote for the London Daily News in that same year of 1906. It was later collected in the 1909 volume titled Tremendous Trifles. The essay describes how, on a long railway journey somewhere, he found ultimate lessons in a tram ticket, a box of matches, a piece of chalk, a pocketknife, and anything at all among the random litter as he searched through his pockets.

Some might say the whole meaning and charm of Tremendous Trifles is this Chestertonian ability to see the eternal in the trivial. You might as easily say it is the whole meaning and charm of all his journalism, his newspaper work—the Illustrated London News essays included. Why else would we meet here in Chicago Illinois in 1987 to discuss newspaper columns from London England of 1906? Why are we interested in Chesterton’s reaction to a series of childish pranks that occurred over eighty years ago in time, in a foreign country over four thousand miles away in geography?

I realize this is a fairly well worn path in Chesterton discussions and criticism. We all know that Chesterton finds eternal significance in cheese; or, to use the essay under discussion here, eternal significance in undergraduate mischief and student disturbances. But having said that, we have to ask one more question. Does Chesterton teach us the meaning of cheese or beer or student ragging and rioting? Or does he teach us how to see cheese and these other things in order that we ourselves may be able to find meaning in them? Does he give us meanings or does he show the way to find meanings?

Put another way, the question asks about using Chesterton’s Collected Works as a kind of dictionary or encyclopedia. What are we to think of beer? Look it up in Chesterton. What are we to think of student mischief? What are we to think of Charles Dickens? Or The Book of Job? Or Christianity? One can use Chesterton as a source of doctrine, and doubtless many do. But it is also possible to suggest that Chesterton’s lessons in how to think are more valuable than his lessons in what to think. His essay on “Undergraduate Ragging” offers us a chance to make and to study this distinction.

In this essay, Chesterton does not offer us a single point of view on student outbreaks and mischief. He offers us lessons in how to use student outbreaks in various ways to illustrate moral lessons—moral lessons of more than one kind. How are we to judge the students? On page 612 we are told that the moral test of student mischief rests on the answers to two questions. (One) are their victims also their friends? (Two) are their victims strong enough to defend themselves and to retaliate? If the answers are “no,” Chesterton says student ragging is mere cowardice.

My point is that after reading the essay we are much better informed about how Chesterton thought about these kinds of events but not so well informed about what he thought about them. The “what,” he leads us to understand, is not the issue.

Next, we have the medical students who attacked the “celebrated anti-vivisectionist monument” near Chesterton’s home in Battersea. On page 614 we find that “because the medical students were acting from philosophical or fanatical motives,” their case is “more interesting and valuable.” This leads Chesterton into an intriguing discussion of vivisection with which the column concludes.

Meanwhile, back on page 332 [the column of 11/24/06] we remember having heard of “the English schoolboy Allen who was arrested for having painted red” yet a different public monument—this time the statue of a Swiss general. About this student uprising, Chesterton says,

“The morals of a matter like this are exactly like the morals of anything else; they are concerned with mutual contract, or the rights of independent human lives. I have no right to paint the statue of Lord Salisbury red, just as I have no right to paint the face of Mr. Moberly Bell green, however much I think they might be improved by the transformation.”

This general statement of moral principle might have been applied to the medical students who attacked the anti-vivisectionist monument. Or it might have been applied to the undergraduate bullies who attacked the defenseless old maiden ladies.

Also, turning the discussion around the other way, the rules for student ragging which Chesterton formulated on page 613 might have been applied to the case of Master Allen who painted the Swiss general on page 332. It is evident, however, that Chesterton was not aiming at a universal “law of unruly students.”

We all probably fall into the habit of using Chesterton as an encyclopedia—asking for the great man to supply us with definitive answers to highly specific questions. The problem is, on any narrow question, Chesterton was likely to have had an assortment of opinions, the one to be used depending upon the controversy of the moment, the surrounding symbolism, or the weaponry to be found in the enemy camp.

We make Chesterton “The Answer Man” when we paraphrase him, or quote him in an inappropriate contexts, or otherwise use his authority when speaking on behalf of our own pet ideas. One suspects that the one-volume Quotable Chesterton is misused in this way: want to know what Chesterton thought about advertising or Zionism. Look it up, it’s in alphabetical order.

Scholars conduct serious arguments in the pages of The Chesterton Review over whether Chesterton would or would not have voted for Ronald Reagan.

Critics publish long volumes of summarization, as, for example, Chistopher Hollis’ The Mind of Chesterton, in which the author’s only evident purpose is to paraphrase Chesterton’s published books, boil the ideas down, and “explain” what he wrote, in the fashion of Cliff’s Notes.

When Chesterton said he could connect any two ideas in the universe, he might have had in mind the meanings of all the world’s separate, distinct, and individual things. He also might have had in mind the pathways between things, the secret but real ties which, he was confident, he could always discern connecting A to Z, soup to nuts, and undergraduate riots to the morality of vivisection.

Chesterton’s grandnephew, David Chesterton, wrote in 1982 that his uncle convinced him to be busy about searching for conclusions rather than forming conclusions. [See The Chesterton Review, February, 1982, pp. 51-56]

We know that David Chesterton went to the other extreme: he was an ideologue. More moderately though, a case can be made that Chesterton should be read less for the final word on passing events such as student riots, and more for fresh ways of thinking about student riots, or about any of the countless, random, passing news items that have colored daily journalism from Chesterton’s day to our own.


  1. Mr Peterson, or Gramps, ( if you allow me to call you by your pseudonym),

    I am not arguing or opposing your notion that Chesterton teaches us how to argue. He does. But I disagree with the other part of your argument, i.e. that Chesterton has nothing to tell us about the "what" of things he wrote about.

    "The “what,” he leads us to understand, is not the issue."

    Chesterton was quite explicit about the "what" of many things and problems, from birth control, Prussian cruelty, race theory, eugenics, Dickens, Shakespeare or Stevenson, or Nietzche's or Kant's philosophy. We can learn a lot from the "what" Chesterton wrote about. As you wrote, the "what" is what most fans of Chesterton look for, and they find it in abundance. The same applies to the notion of "magic", Chesterton wrote about it in abundance, so the "what" of magic, or Chesterton's opinion of magic, is quite clear -- he certainly did not like the wizards and witches and the the things they do or deal with!

    Or reversing the argument, it would be ridiculous to only look for some theoretical thought patterns of correct thinking in the works of Chesterton.

    "We all probably fall into the habit of using Chesterton as an encyclopedia..."

    I am a fan of Bluegrass music, so I am quite familiar with the song "I am using my Bible for the Roadmap", and I maintain that Chesterton can also be used as a "roadmap":

    Really, if I have to choose to be guided through the rough roads of life, to identify good and bad "whats", I have found Chesterton a much better guide than most other people or their books full of confusing opinion.

  2. I regularly use Chesterton in articles I write for a military technology journal - his relevance and insight is amazing.

    There really should be some kind of "Chester-pedia." Maybe we could turn Wikipedia into a Chesterpedia, by simply adding a new section to each entry - GKC Says, followed by a relevant quote.

  3. Chesterton did not like real magic but he did love magic in fiction.

    We still do not know what he would have had to say about the Harry Potter books, and we can't extrapolate from what he said about Robert Louis Stevenson or Chaucer or George Macdonald to construct what his opinion might have been had he read these books.
    It's a simple point, really.
    ~ Gramps

  4. Gramps, we seem to be running in circles. But let me try again.

    If I highly value an opinion of a person, and consider everything he said or wrote deep, true and enlightening, why would I want to pick & choose and simply ignore his opinion about magic?

    Besides, there is no need to extrapolate. Chesterton's view of "black" magic is very explicit and condemning. '"Magic" has many meanings. It is a very confusing word. Cheserton's meaning of "magic" is opposed to "black" magic. Chesterton himself was quite uneasy about the word itself, just as he was about his play he called Magic, which Belloc, the cradle Catholic who had that instinct, didn't like at all for that very reason. (If one could criticize Chesterton, it would be this one faux-pas, but it is insignificant compared to all the other things he wrote about black magic, which he condemned.)

    Rowling has made the meaning of magic even more confusing, and never mind the supposedly "good story" (opinion which it rather arbitrary), she deserves to be not praised, but criticized for it!

    Simply put, the issue is important not only for Christians. People will either untangle or cut this messy Gordian knot, or they will inevitably succumb to the satanic, just as most people have succumbed to dark and satanic things, such as in rock music or Hollywood movies.

    Has anybody asked or considered why there is such infatuation with this "magic" phenomenon?

  5. “A Drama of Dolls” All is Grist

    The man at the bottom coming out on top, is expressed in this puppet-play in the person of Dr. Faustus' servant, Caspar. Sentimental old Tories, regretting the feudal times, sometimes complain that in these days Jack is as good as his master. But most of the actual tales of the feudal times turn on the idea that Jack is much better than his master, and certainly it is so in the case of Caspar and Faust. The play ends with the damnation of the learned and illustrious doctor, followed by a cheerful and animated dance by Caspar, who has been made watchman of the city.

    But there was a much keener stroke of mediaeval irony earlier in the play. The learned doctor has been ransacking all the libraries of the earth to find a certain rare formula, now almost unknown, by which
    he can control the infernal deities. At last he procures the one precious volume, opens it at the proper page, and leaves it on the table while he seeks some other part of his magic equipment. The servant comes in, reads off the formula, and immediately becomes an emperor of the spirits. He gives them a horrible time. He summons and dismisses them alternately with the rapidity of a piston-rod working at high speed; he keeps them flying between the doctor's house and their own more unmentionable residences till they faint with rage and fatigue. There is all the best of the Middle Ages in that; the idea of the great levelers, luck and laughter; the idea of a sense of humor defying and dominating hell.

    ~ Gramps

  6. Oh, ROTFL!!! Hilarious! I forgot all about this - I can see it wonderfully animated, sort of like those engine-dissections on car commercials, pistons going back and forth... and that commonplace text about how "even the demons are subject to us!"

    Utterly hilarious, like the gargoyles puking the rain-water, or that utterly wonderful moment in the cartoon "Sleeping Beauty" where Merriweather finally manages to zap the witch's crow into stone! Anyone with a childlike wonder delights in the power of the GOOD MAGIC therein, the shield with the cross, and even better, laden with the conjoined powerful incantation of the three Virtues:

    "Now, Sword of Truth, fly swift and sure:
    Let evil die, and Good endure!"

    (Oooh, I know what I'll have to watch tonight. Either that or Tron.)

    Say - I wonder if the script to that puppet-play is available somewhere? Do we know?

    Also, it reminds me vividly of something I have read recently... Oh, yes, I remember - Harry Potter (Chamber of Secrets). And something else, a wonderful book, which shall be revealed on a future Thursday.

    Just to check, Gramps, I thought that was in "Alarms & Discursions"? Did I glitch again?

    --Dr. Thursday

  7. Oo! A Harry Potter debate and I didn't see it until now! A pox on me!

    I'll dive in later when I have a bit more time. :-)

  8. The good story argument to justify the "magic" and "witchcraft" aspect of Harry Potter is not valid until this Friday. Until the last book is out the story is unfinished and we can not say it is good or bad till then.

  9. Oooops. Apologies. Alarms and Discusions it is!
    ~ Gramps

  10. Gramps, Now that you have mentioned Faust, read Illustrated London News article April 9, 1910, "Stories Spoilt by Great Authors" (Collected works vol. XXVIII, p. 507-510).

    Chesterton is critical of great authors like Milton, Shakespeare, Wilde and Goethe who screwed up the meaning of great stories because of their ignorance or stupidity.

    Chesterton writes: "The true objection is this: that in the medieval play, Faust is damned for doing a great sin; but the new Faust is saved for doing a small sin--a mean sin. ... Personally, I prefer the puppet play: where Faust is finally torn by black devils and dragged down to hell. I find it less depressing." (p. 509)

    If you draw a parallel to Harry Potter, and consider why Chesterton condemned Goethe, it will hopefully become clear that the desire of Faust to resort to magic was that great sin for which he deserved to be torn by the black devils and dragged into hell. Chesterton criticized Goethe because he had made magic a justifiable thing, just as Rowling has made magic acceptable and normal to billions all around the world. In Goethe's time magic was still seen as evil, but Goethe, by perverting a perfectly good and logical folk story, started a pernicious trend which has culminated in Rowling.

    Properly speaking, it is an eternal truth that wizard and witch is an evil character, even if he or she supposedly tries to do good things by his or her magic. That is why the Catholic Church has always condemned magic. Rowling goes even further than Goethe. By selecting the medium of magic as a genre and background for her story, and by treating it casually, as if it were a normal and desirable thing, Rowling has indiscriminately glorified all magic, and all her attempts to separate the good and evil magic throughout the series are pathetic. In other words, it can't be done, and this is regardless of what happens in the last book. (Which has supposedly already been leaked, if you want to know who died.)

    Assuming Harry dies, and he manages to kill Voldemort by his magic, how is this going to justify the wizardly magic he was supposedly using to do a good thing like that? And don't tell me that this a Christ-like parallel, because Christ didn't kill Satan.

    In a nutshell, it is the very use of magic that is to be condemnd. If billions accept Harry Potter' magic as the previous generations accepted Faust, it will be even more depressing!

  11. "it is an eternal truth that wizard and witch is an evil character, even if he or she supposedly tries to do good things by his or her magic. That is why the Catholic Church has always condemned magic."

    Yes. But the point is, the Catholic Church has NEVER condemned the portrayal of magic in fiction. It condemns murder, but it doesn't condemn murder mysteries. And so on.
    ~ Gramps

  12. "But the point is, the Catholic Church has NEVER condemned the portrayal of magic in fiction. It condemns murder, but it doesn't condemn murder mysteries."

    Insofar as fiction doesn't deal with Catholic faith and morals, causing scandal or confusion among the faithful, the Magisterium wouldn't care. But it is its mandate to deal with such scandal or confusion, and it may eventually respond, like it responded against the DaVinci Code. Rowling may be walking a tight line, but the Christians and Catholics who look for Christ-like analogies and Christ-like symbolism may eventually sway the Magisterium into issuing some sort of statement, especially if too many priests get involved in the "Pottermania", see for example

    Still, I am not so much concerned with official condemnation, as with truth and with the proper Chestertonian understanding of the problem of magic.

  13. "Insofar as fiction doesn't deal with Catholic faith and morals, causing scandal or confusion among the faithful, the Magisterium wouldn't care."

    Why should they care? Harry Potter is not a Catholic book, it is a pagan book, or as it is more commonly called a secular book, just like most fantasy fiction.

    That doesn't mean it should cause confusion among the Magisterium. No more than a buddhist or hindu fiction piece.

  14. We must not leave this discussion leaving "Magic" undefended.

    "All the reviews hailing from Germany where the play was very soon produced compare Chesterton with Shaw and many of them say that he is the better playwright. 'He means more to
    it,' a Munich paper was translated as saying, 'than the good old
    Shaw.' Chesterton's superiority can hardly be entertained in the
    matter of technique. Actually what the critic meant was that he
    preferred the ideas of Chesterton to the ideas of Shawl Both men were chiefly concerned with ideas. But while Shaw excelled chiefly in
    presenting them through brilliant dialogue, G.K.'s deeper thoughts
    were conveyed in another fashion. The Duke might almost, it is true,
    have been a Shaw character, but the fun the audience got out of him was the least thing they received. Chesterton once said that he suspected Shaw of being the only man who had never written any poetry. Many of us suspect that Chesterton never wrote anything else. This play is a poem and the greatest character in it is atmosphere. Chesterton believed in the love of God and man, he
    believed in the devil: love conquers diabolical evil and the
    atmosphere of this struggle is felt even in the written page and was felt more vividly in the theatre. After a passage of many years those who saw it remember the moment when the red lamp turned blue as a felt experience."
    ~ Gramps

  15. "We must not leave this discussion leaving (Chesterton's play) "Magic" undefended."

    Gramps, I am not criticizing Chesterton's play "Magic", despite the fact that Belloc didn't like it. But there is a crucial difference between Chesterton's "Magic" and the pointless or haphazard "magic for magic's sake" literature and movies of today. (Not pointless if considering selling one's soul's to the devil for success and money, like Goethe's Fuast, as many such modern authors and producers do.)

    As you wrote, Chesterton believed in the love of God and man, and the crucial difference is in how Chesterton resolved the conflict of his Magic in a proper Christian way: the conjurer fell in love, refused to lie, regretted his involvement with magic and the dark powers that rule it, and, finally, repented and asked for God's forgiveness for his sin of practicing magic.

  16. I neglected to mention the quote was from Masie Ward's Chesterton biography. Sorry.

    Just to make your position clear, Anon, tell us if you think it okay to read the Arabian Nights, the Odyssey, and Grimms Fairy Tales.
    ~ Gramps

  17. If I may be allowed to join in the discussion...

    Arthur C. Clark famously stated that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Thus, a caveman watching a television would consider it magical (and a caveman *on* television would try to save me money on my car insurance).

    My point is, one thing that always struck me about the magic in Harry Potter was how scientific most of it is. Potions class at Hogwarts reminds me of chemistry classes I've taken.

    In the Harry Potter world, magic seems to tap into consistent, universal laws which muggles are unaware of, just as a television uses the "magic" of electricity to produce moving images and sounds.

    This is contrary to portrayals of black magic, which tends to express a desire to control and dominate, coupled with a willingness to sacrifice one's soul in the quest for Power. That's not at all what is happening at Hogwarts (but it is what Voldemort is doing - and Voldemort is appropriately condemned throughout books 1-6).

    And, setting magic aside for a moment, what I love about the HP books is fact that evil is portrayed as destructive, unattractive, greedy, ugly, half-dead, etc... You'll notice there aren't any kids running around in Voldemort costumes on Halloween. Nobody things Wormtail is cool, despite his shiny silver hand. Nobody aspires to be like Draco Malfoy. That's a very, very good thing.

    Compare this to recent Star Wars movie, in which the demonic Darth Maul is clearly portrayed as one of the coolest guys on screen - he's got the best weapon (double-light sabre), and his face is plastered all over t-shirts, halloween masks, etc.

    I'll take Harry Potter over Star Wars any day.

  18. " tell us if you think it okay to read the Arabian Nights, the Odyssey, and Grimms Fairy Tales."

    Gramps, I don't want to censor anybody, I don't want to ban or restrict anything, including Harry Potter! (Except some filthy stuff and smut, as Chesterton would as sell.) I would encourage everybody to read all of the above!

    I just want people to reason correctly and write intelligently about what they read. In her book and in her radio interview Mrs. Nancy Brown stated that she didn't want to encourage or discourage parents from reading HP, and that would be fine, providing she gave correct guidance to the parents of the kids who will read HP anyway. (Although on her blog and on this, she actively promotes HP, and that is a contradiction and a violation of such pretended neutrality.) I realize it is today next to impossible to prevent one's kids from reading or seeing HP if they so desire, (besides, prohibited fruit tastes sweeter), so parents better know how to reason about HP intelligently.

    Dan, I am not very fond of Star Wars. If I had to choose sci-fi, I would go with the original Startrek which was still closer to reality and devoid of the magical elements, such as in the Stargate.

    "My point is, one thing that always struck me about the magic in Harry Potter was how scientific most of it is."

    Science developed from magic and alchemy, but it is radically different. Read Chesterton's Ch. 3 of St. Thomas Aquinas, THE ARISTOTELIAN REVOLUTION:

    "Albert, the Swabian, rightly called the Great, was the founder of modern science. He did more than any other man to prepare that process, which has turned the alchemist into the chemist, and the astrologer into the astronomer. It is odd that, having been in his time, in this sense almost the first astronomer, he now lingers in legend almost as the last astrologer...."

  19. Mr Anon,

    You have asked why there is such a interest in the masses in literature and film recently, such as Star Wars and Harry Potter.

    Could it be that the masses are looking for spirituality? "Magic" is just a distortion of the miracles and works of God. As even Stephen the sorcerer was amazed at the miracles of the apostles.

    I believe Chesterton had said that paganism was a precursor to Christianity in the west, and that it could lead to Christianity.

    So could not Harry Potter lead discerning children to the real source of signs and wonders.

    As I had stated earlier that I think Harry Potter as literature is sub par and should be ignored by readers for that. But I think if the devil as an agenda with Harry Potter it is to distract intelligent people from worse children's fantasy such as Phillip Pullmans "His Dark Materials" trilogy


  20. Here's what I must be made to understand. Maybe I'm not alone in this. If the magic in fairy tales is good entertainment, why is the magic in HP bad, or dangerous, or subversive, or what ever the complaint is? What is the difference (good or bad writing aside)?
    ~ Gramps

  21. There is very little difference Gramps. If only this, magic in most fairy-tales is more subtler and there is more caution when using it.
    In the fantasy books I grew up reading Magic was not an every day thing, at least not in the HP way, and it was never anything you used lightly.

    To me I don't think that "magic" is the real controversy though. To me it was always the use of the word witch and witchcraft. Honestly what I've read of the series, I think if Rowling called it something else there would never have been any of this controversy.

    Christians have heard that word used and only know that that word is the title for all that is not of God and so they cry out.

    If you feel that way about it I say just ignore it. Jesus did say "Resist not the evil person."


  22. I have read 6 of the HP books and I would have to agree that they're poorly written (especially compared to the stuff I usually read, like GK).
    So one may wonder, as Anon does above, why there is such a widespread obsession with these books. Why are they so popular?

    I doubt very much that it is a diobolic obsession, as Anon seems to suggest. The books have such a good vs. evil theme that a diabolic origin is very unlikely. (As Christ says, the devil does not make war against himself.)

    At times there is a little confusion within the books as to which side is the good side. Harry and his friends sometimes lie, take revenge, disobey parents and teachers, etc. They are far from perfect, like most people in real life.
    But at all the crucial points, the "good guys" follow the natural law while Voldemort and his crew do not. Voldemort and the Malfoys go around killing and torturing innocent people. There is a clearcut difference between good and bad, and Voldemort's side is consistently condemned. That's the whole point of the series.

    As long as the reader knows they are obviously fiction, things are ok. But if the reader goes beyond that point and tries to practice magic or find a real wizard, well then, that's insanity.

    But why is there such a demand for them? Why do people, especially young people, get so excited about these books?

    I think that's a more worthwhile question to explore.
    Is it because HP is a new, exciting idea? Hardly. As is clear from the above discussion or any walk through the juvenile section of a library, books about magic are fairly common.

    Books, television, movies, video games, and the internet are sometimes viewed as a way to temporarily escape from reality.
    Do the HP books provide this? The HP world is certainly drastically different from our own.
    Perhaps youth are attracted to the idea of having magical powers to use to defend oneself and the good, and thus not be so helpless.

    I look around the real world and see innumerable evils: abortion, euthanasia, suicides, murder, rape, pornography, embryonic stem cell, in vitro fertilization, cloning, the list could go on and on. It is easy to feel helpless, especially if you don't have an active confidence in God.

    If you think about it, there are a lot of Voldermorts around today. Magic can't help us fight evil, obviously.
    But a desire to fight evil is a necessary first step, and I think the HP books are helping to awaken that in a lot of people.
    One of the chief trademarks of our materialistic age is indifference.
    If it takes the HP books to help some people shake off their apathy, then I'm all for it.

    -A 19 year old girl who hopes you don't mind if she puts in her two cents.

  23. Dear Living Image,
    Thanks for your helpful and insightful commentary. We graybeards have no problem sitting at the feet of a 19 year old who has something to say.
    ~ Gramps

  24. "Could it be that the masses are looking for spirituality?"

    Dan, I don't think so. HP phemomenon has been embraced mostly by smaller kids to teens, who have very little idea about spirituality, especially within the context of magic. They, like all kids, and many "primitive" adults today, want thrill and suspense. They are influenced by mass marketing, TV, their, peers, etc. This is where the real danger of misrepresenting magic in HP lies! Other then some "sophisticated" adults searching for deeper Christian meaning and symboism in Rowling, kids and most modern neo-pagan adults just want thrill and suspense. An example, wife of my friend is so thrilled about HP, and tons of other such reading, even Tolkien, that she devours stuff like this, without really understanding what it's all about. No deep spiritual or religious yearnings.

    "I believe Chesterton had said that paganism was a precursor to Christianity in the west, and that it could lead to Christianity. "

    Short of some miracle, you or we will have to wait a long time for that thesis to be fulfilled. In the meantime the bad influences of magic will escalate and there will be more victims of bad literature for kids.

    " If the magic in fairy tales is good entertainment, why is the magic in HP bad, or dangerous, or subversive, or what ever the complaint is?"

    Gramps, Fairy tales or books for kids are not just entertainment! It is common sense, (and also psychologists tell us), that childhood influences form the psyche of adults. Chesterton argued that they are an essential part of their education, and as such, all such books & stories be better logical, philosophical and educational -- in morals, religion, habits and otherwise! For the dangers of bad influences of magic, see for example:

    (There are many other such stories and testimonials.)

    (Dan wrote): "There is very little difference Gramps. If only this, magic in most fairy-tales is more subtler and there is more caution when using it. "

    Dan, there is a huge difference! That's what I am trying to say! Science isn't magic, and neither are fairy tales the same as modern novels about magic. That was the point of Chesterton's criticism of Goethe's Faust!

    "I doubt very much that it is a diobolic obsession, as Anon seems to suggest."

    Livingimage, if your are a Christian, read parts of Scripture, St. Paul, St. Peter, etc. where in this world we have to battle evil spiritual forces and powers! This spiritual battle and struggle against the forces of darkness is the essential part of Christianity, it is the essence of every action of every free will in the world, and Chesterton understood it very well. It dumbfounds me that many otherwise intelligent Chestertonians and Christians are confused about this.

  25. "'Could it be that the masses are looking for spirituality?'

    Dan, I don't think so. HP phemomenon has been embraced mostly by smaller kids to teens, who have very little idea about spirituality, especially within the context of magic."

    First off my name is Adam not Dan.

    Second what I meant by spirituality is not in any terms Christian spirituality, but any spirituality. Like the demon in the "Screwtape Letters" who cations his nephew of telling the person he is tempting of their presence, and the spiritual world, because we live in an age of reason and materialism.

    What I meant by my statement was: maybe our culture is so over stuffed with mass marketing and materialism that they look for something more to life.

    And what they are finding is HP and Star Wars and Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia.

    And I think kids except this more because they have not been corrupted by materialism cares yet.

    But I also stand by my statement that kids and the child at heart have more discernment that us adults have in such matters.

    "Blessed are the pure of heart, for they will see God."

  26. "Second what I meant by spirituality is not in any terms Christian spirituality, but any spirituality."

    The fantasy world of Rowling is based on witchcraft, and it is simply not true that real witchcraft is in any way spiritual in a positive sense, not even like the New Age spirituality, unless you would call Satanism spiritual, because worshiping Satan is exactly what witches did and still do. To get some idea about real wizards and witches practicing real witchcraft and magic read about LaVey, who has had significant impact on the modern world. For more info, just google his name:

    "What I meant by my statement was: maybe our culture is so over stuffed with mass marketing and materialism that they look for something more to life."

    Ironically, HP is such a huge success mostly to mass marketing. Besides, (more intricacy and contradictions), witchcraft has been characterized as "spiritualized materialism".

    "And what they are finding is HP and Star Wars and Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia."

    There is a significant difference between LOTR & Narnia and Starwars & HP -- precisely in how each treats magic and witchcraft !

    "But I also stand by my statement that kids and the child at heart have more discernment that us adults have in such matters."

    Some smart kids, perhaps, but generally -- obviously not. During the recent Pottermania night, many kids were dressed as witches and wizards. Even those who were not dresses like that were basically approving of the same thing. They were not yearning for spiritual values & sentiments, showing signs of religiosity, or desiring to go to church next Sunday, were they? They were rather as if enchanted, or under a spell or mass psychosis, manipulated by the media, their parennts, the publisher, and Rowling herself, all culminating in a Rowlingian night, not unlike a modern day Walpugisnacht.

  27. Adam, sorry about not addressing you properly. Sometimes it's hard to keep track who said what in a blog, especially wher debating "everybody"and arguing "against all." Alos, when pasting in my previous reply, I forgot to copy the above sentence.

  28. Anonymous, I am willing to be persuaded that the HP books are morally bad and should not be read and especially not by children. I have no investment in HP, not having read any of them, and not having any intention of reading them (I’m too far behind in my must-read list). My problem is that your argument as stated (or at least as I understand it) does not hold up. Perhaps you can supply the missing pieces for me and the others.

    It seems your bottom line contention is that magicians (wizards, sorcerers, elves, and so on) are okay in fiction so long as they are portrayed as evil. But if a practitioner of magic is the hero, and is portrayed as good, then the story is morally bad and should not be read, especially by youngsters. Now if I have that right, and if that is your argument, then I can only say your theory is contradicted by (to name two of a vast host) Cinderella’s fairy godmother and Merlin the magician. What am I missing in your argument? Or do I have it entirely wrong?

    I write stories for Gilbert Magazine as those who read Tales of the Short Bow know. I have written stories in which magic is employed by the good guys for good purposes. I would point to “The Cloak” in 9.2, “Playmates” in 10.2, “Sheldon Retires,” in 10.5, and “Uncle Bob,” forthcoming in 11.1. I am not claiming that these stories are well written or entertaining or important in any way. That is for others to judge. But I can tell you from the inside out that having good people in stories use magic for good purposes is in no sense immoral.

    Now please tell me if I have misconstrued either your argument or the HP saga.
    ~ Gramps

  29. what the heck?7/25/2007 5:40 PM


    I need to admit that first commented on the initial posting about the what's or how's over a week ago. But that posting was lost out in cyberland. Needless to say I was a little bitter. And since I've gotten over that bitterness, I've returned to see this huge discussion which has erupted! But I thought I'd return to the original topic anyway. Hopefully you can decide for yourselves whether or not it has anything to do with Harry Potter.

    I would have to agree with to Gramps on that initial post—part of the reason why Chesterton remains relevant almost a century later is just because he didn't only teach what to think. He taught/teaches us how to think about the world, which makes him by far a better teacher.

    On the day I originally tried to post, I'd just heard a lecture concerning Tolkien and how he, oddly enough, claimed to not like allegory. We got into this great discussion on the nature of meaning and truth presented in story and whether meaning can be present that the author may never have intended. What came to me was rather Chestertonian: we believe something is true not just because one thing proves it, but because everything proves it.

    I'm studying Chaucer this summer, which of course means I'm reading Chesterton on Chaucer. In speaking of the past he says that

    “medieval morality was full of the idea that one thing must balance another, that each stood on the side or the other of something that was in the middle, and something that remained in the middle. There might be any amount of movement, but it was the movement round this central thing; perpetually altering the attitudes, but perpetually preserving the balance.”

    From a Christian perspective, if something is true, it is true on any level, at any time—whether medieval or modern. It is as if any thing which is true falls within this great system, all moving around this central thing—truth, reality—and like a clock, all the gears clicking into place in order for them to continue keeping time. Which is what led me to want to comment on whether Chesterton teaches the what to think or the how to think. Of course there are things he wrote about that we can be guided by. But I think that from the other side of eternity, he would be more pleased to know that he taught us to think for ourselves—how to apply the principles of this glorious, systematic, ordered, orchestrated universe to the little pieces that we come across every day, seeing how they fit into the dramatic whole.

  30. "And one thing I noticed while traveling: there is a real need for Chesterton out there. So we've got to keep on leading people to read his work, so that they--and we-- learn (or continue to learn) how to think."

    This is why I really can't follow those who say "we need to move beyond Chesterton". Most of America has not even arrived at Chesterton, much less achieved readiness to move beyond him. Does it seem to you that the overwhelming majority of Americans really knows how to think? They must not get out much.

  31. Ooops! My post here was supposed to reply to the "Back home" post of July 23rd. Somehow it ended up here. Sorry!


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