Wednesday, June 03, 2009


There, I thought that would get your attention. (hee hee!)

In my continuing search for inspiration as I proceed into my present subcreation, the third part of The Three Relics - that dark and fantastic Catholic Fantasy centred in Quayment's renowned "Weaver's Books" - I found an interesting entry in the real-world bookstore called Loome:

BELLOC, HILAIRE. Songs from the Bad Child's Book of Beasts. London: Duckworth, 1932. First edition. A delightful collection of 10 songs on various beasts by Hilaire Belloc, set to music by Dudley Glass, with illustrations by Basil Blackwood. Large 8vo, 36pp. Original pictorial hardcover boards with matching dustjacket. In very good minus condition. Scattered foxing throughout. Boards are slightly bowed. The unclipped dustjacket is in good condition, with some scuffing and very light edgewear, now protected in a clear Mylar wrapper. A naughty child has begun to color in (fairly neatly) two of the illustrations (Belloc would have disapproved, and written a cautionary tale about bad children who mark up their books). A lovely first edition copy overall.
Price: $50.00
I am not so familiar with Belloc as to postulate such a thing, though I have read about Mrs. Markham in G. K.'s Weekly. Perhaps, perhaps. But I do know a little about Chesterton, and I know that he had a very different perspective....
I earnestly hope that all children will spoil this book by painting the illustrations. I wanted to do this myself but the publishers would not let me. But let the colours you lay on be violent, gorgeous, terrific colours, because my feelings are like that.
[GKC "A Fragment" in The Coloured Lands]
And as tempting as it can be to colour in our blogg, I would advise against keeping a box of crayons by your computer - although I do keep one handy, I am a real computer scientist and know how to do such things safely.


In any case, today we shall consider another sort of books for children...

The sort called BOYS' Books. Now this is not as exclusive a term as you may think - but I shall let GKC handle that part of the argument, and I think you will be radically surprised how he does it. Besides, my discussion is not really to be that wide, or perhaps deep - as you shall see.

But what got me off the very curious matter of addition and the "free monoid" and such exciting topics? A very simple thing... reading a boys' book.

In order to maintain a certain kind of fluency with my material, I have been re-reading our collection of the very famous Hardy Boys mysteries. And at the end of one, I happened to notice there were still a couple of printed pages left, even though the story had concluded by the usual rituals, rewards, food, a scolding from Aunt Gertrude, a shiver at the narrow escapes of the past story and a tantalizing mention of the next title... Ah, for the good old pre-Vatican II form of such rituals! (Ahem, hee hee) Well, as you might expect, those last printed pages were an advertisement for another adventure series, about another young pair called Rick Brant and his pal Scotty. However, it was the lead-in which caught me, and which I repeat here for your consideration:
Have you ever thought why you get so much fun out of reading the Hardy Boys stories?

It's probably because the Hardy Boys, Joe and Frank, are fellows like yourself. They like action, plenty of it. They are as full of curiosity as a couple of bloodhounds. And just leave a mystery around and they'll be in it before you can say "Sherlock Holmes!"

It's probably, too, because they like a wisecrack almost as well as they like Aunt Gertrude's cooking, and because they think girls are all right - in their place!

It's because they can drive a car and pilot a speedboat and are at home in the great outdoors and keep their heads in an emergency (and an emergency always is just around the corner).

Isn't that why you like to read about the Hardy Boys?

Well, fellows, another treat's ahead of you!
[Franklin W. Dixon, While the Clock Ticked]
Very exciting. Girls, please do not take umbrage at the apparent slight; for one thing recall this was written in about 1928... and yet as difficult as it may appear, there is something mystical about it which we must defer to another time and place. But let it pass for now. Besides, your turn is coming!

This is perhaps one of the most Chestertonian bits of writing to be found anywhere. Compare that, if you will, to Chesterton's own encomium [a word I learned from Fr. Jaki's books: it means formal, elegant praise]:
No one will ever understand the spirit at the back of popular and juvenile literature until he realises one fact, that a large amount of it is the result of that enthusiasm of the young reader which makes him wish to hear more and more about certain heroes, and read more and more of certain types of books. He dowers the creatures of fiction with a kind of boyish immortality. He is not surprised if Dick Deadshot or Jack Harkaway renews his youth through a series of volumes which reaches further than the length of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. These books have the vital philosophy of youth, a philosophy in which death does not exist, except, indeed, as an external and picturesque incident which happens to villains.

The serious student of this class of books and papers will go on to observe that a very large mass of such works has arisen directly out of the interest taken in some of the creations of great masters. An irresponsible writer for boys early in the century continued the adventures of Pickwick. An interminable book of Oriental adventure which we read in our boyhood was avowedly a supplement to the Arabian Nights, and mingled Aladdin, Sinbad, and Ali Baba in one inexhaustible tale. To take a more vulgar example, it is said that "Ally Sloper" is simply an infinitely degraded version of Mr. Micawber; the literary zoologist will trace the same rudimentary organs, the hat, the tie, and the bald head. All this amounts to one of the great laws of the question, the fact that the youthful mind takes hold of certain figures, insists upon them, tears them, as if were, out of the covers of the story, and could follow their adventures in any number of day dreams. Hence one of the essential qualities of this cheap literature - its astonishing voluminousness. A library keeping a record of it would need a dome vaster than the Bodleian.
[GKC The Common Man 229-30]
Oh, yes. Did GKC ever read any Hardy Boys book? He could have; I don't know - the record is not clear. But certainly both GKC and the mysterious author (authors?) of the Hardys have an insight into a very deep truth about our longing for adventure and for Story Writ Large (as Fr. Jaki would say).

And you do not have to be a boy to enjoy them. Indeed, it is an even more mysterious truth that boys enjoy (hush, come close to the screen so I can whisper it) GIRLS' BOOKS.

Yes... and so did GKC:
For just as the boy was an intruder in that club of girls, [in Little Women] so any masculine reader is really an intruder among this pile of [Miss Alcott's] books. There runs through the whole series a certain moral philosophy, which a man can never really get the hang of. For instance, the girls are always doing something, pleasant or unpleasant. In fact, when they have not to do something unpleasant, they deliberately do something else. A great part, perhaps the more godlike part, of a boy's life, is passed in doing nothing at all. Real selfishness, which is the simplest thing in the world to a boy or man, is practically left out of the calculation. The girls may conceivably oppress and torture each other; but they will not indulge or even enjoy themselves - not, at least, as men understand indulgence or enjoyment. The strangest things are taken for granted; as that it is wrong in itself to drink champagne. But two things are quite certain; first, that even from a masculine standpoint, the books are very good; and second, that from a feminine standpoint they are so good that their admirers have really lost sight even of their goodness. I have never known, or hardly ever known, a really admirable woman who did not confess to having read these books. Haughty ladies confessed (under torture) that they liked them still. Stately Suffragettes rose rustling from the sofa and dropped Little Women on the floor, covering them with public shame. At learned ladies' colleges, it is, I firmly believe, handed about secretly, like a dangerous drug. I cannot under stand this strange and simple world, in which unselfishness is natural, in which spite is easier than self-indulgence. I art the male intruder, like poor Mr. Laurence and I withdraw. I back out hastily, bowing. But I am sure that I leave a very interesting world behind me.
[GKC on Louisa May Alcott in The Nation quoted in A Handful of Authors]
I would check for a parallel text in my Nancy Drew collection, but I have fewer and they are not the ancient texts... (Ask my sisters? I'd rather risk my life in your roadster! Hee hee.)

But what is the mystery? Do we need to call Bayport for the Hardys or River Heights for Nancy Drew? Is this something about th old Sherlock Holmes thing (which GKC comments on in many places, and has offered his homage in Father Brown and other forms of mimicry)? Or is it something simpler?

We grown-up people have made a mess of eating, as we have made a mess of everything else. We have made a mess of fighting, as we have made a mess of everything else. We have corrupted with an impure Epicurism the exalted, nay, the austere, joy of eating. The greediness of a schoolboy is something clean and chaste, which is above our heads - an armed and awful virginity. The bun is not a thing which we have passed: the bun is something perfect and terrible to which we cannot attain. We are not innocent enough to share the pure appetite of the schoolboy. We are not good enough to be greedy. And exactly as we have corrupted the original appetite for feasting, so we have corrupted the original appetite for arms. A child's instinct is almost perfect in the matter of fighting; a child always stands for the good militarism as against the bad. The child's hero is always the man or boy who defends himself suddenly and splendidly against aggression. The child's hero is never the man or boy who attempts by his mere personal force to extend his mere personal influence. In all boys' books, in all boys' conversation, the hero is one person and the bully the other. That combination of the hero and bully in one, which people now call the Strong Man or the Superman, would be simply unintelligible to any schoolboy. To put the matter shortly, a boy feels an abysmal difference between conquest and victory. Conquest has the sound of something cold and heavy; the automatic operations of a powerful army. Victory has the sound of something sudden and valiant; victory is like a cry out of the living mouth. The child is excited with victory; he is bored with conquest. The child is not an Imperialist; the child is a Jingo - which is excellent. The child is not a militarist in the heavy, mechanical modern sense; the child is a fighter. Only very old and very wicked people can be militarists in the modern sense. Only very old and very wicked people can be peace-at-any-price men. The child's instincts are quite clean and chivalrous, though perhaps a little exaggerated.
[GKC ILN Oct 20 1906 CW27:306-7]
Actually, I think it is simply answered in the famous "Argument From Story" in GKC's The Everlasting Man, butressed by Tolkien's essay on Fairy Tales and such things as Ende's The Never-Ending Story... it is really part of our life as subcreators, made in the image and likeness of the Creator, and our longing to share in His adventures... but I cannot go into this further today. I must go back to Quayment... Now where are the keys to my roadster?

1 comment:

  1. The bad child's book of beasts is a fun read.
    Interesting quotes, esp. on eating. My english honors literature course features Epicurus' writings. I may be able to once again quote GK in my papers!


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