Monday, February 12, 2007

The Title and Reactions

TMWWT=The Man Who Was Thursday

Over the weekend, you hopefully had the chance to read a bit of The Man Who Was Thursday.
Have you read it before? What did you think? Did you love it? Were you confused?

We watched the last episode of Season 3 of the Apostle of Common Sense yesterday, and guess what? It had a scene from TMWWT acted out by Kevin O'Brien (as the policeman) and one of his troup (as Syme). My husband and girls were watching with me. The scene was rather long. They all said afterwards, "We didn't understand anything about that scene."

That's Chesterton for you. Writing a play, using people's normal conversations, but talking about something completely different. Why are policemen talking about philosophy on the street corner? That's not normal. Why is there a secret society trying to arrest those who have bad thinking? That's not normal.

First task: Let's discuss your initial reactions. It seems to me that today, in 2007, if you've heard of TMWWT at all, someone's usually told you something about it. "This is a great book." "This is good, but confusing." "This is the best Chesterton novel!" etc. And then you read it, and you feel a certain way about it. What was your first reaction?

The title: What's great about the title? What's confusing about the title?


  1. I had no idea whatsoever about TMWWT before listening to it read aloud--I think I just picked it up because I recognized Chesterton's name. So it came upon me completely as a surprise--I felt what it meant immediately, but it took me a long time to understand.

  2. I've been listening to Dale Alquist on Sunday evenings and been fascinated by Chesterton.

    I just found your blog and was happy to see that you're at the beginning of a book, so I'm going to "jump in"

    Just downloaded the text from the online site (bless them!) and will have a go at chapter 1 right away.

    I'm looking forward to some lively discussion

  3. The first time I read The Man Who Was Thursday it only took me two sittings. I have to say that it was, and continues to be, a favourite of mine. The impression I was left with after having read it was satisfaction. Chesterton is a genius of the mystery genre (as well as having many other talents). I didn't find TMWWT confusing. On the contrary, I was delighted by the twists and, as I said, satisfied at the conclusion.

  4. This is what Kingsley Amis said, in his introduction to the Penguin edition of TMWWT:

    "I have read it [Thursday] so many times since that, if a sentence anywhere in it were put in front of me, I bet I could be pretty accurate about what was the next one. And yet, it remains the most thrilling book I have ever read.

    I feel that's preety high endorsement for a book. I haven't ever met anyone who hated Thursday (maybe they are out there but won't admit it) but I've met plenty of people (or read about them) who love Thursday.

  5. "Of course, fairy-stories are not the only means of recovery, or prophylactic against loss. Humility is enough. And there is (especially for the humble) Mooreeffoc, or Chestertonian Fantasy. Mooreeffoc is a fantastic word, but could be seen written up in every town in this land. It is Coffee-room, viewed from the inside through a glass door, as it was seen by Dickens on a dark London day; and it was used by Chesterton to denote the queerness of things that have become trite, when they are seen suddenly from a new angle...The word Mooreeffoc may cause you suddenly to realise that England is an utterly alien land..."

    From J.R.R. Tolkien's essay "On Fairy-Stories"

    The first time I read TMWWT I really enjoyed it. Especially since I nearly didn't buy it in the used bookstore where I had found it, because it's full title is "The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare", and really wasn't in the mood for a horror story.

    But when reading it for the second time last year I think it should be called "The Man Who Was Thursday: A Fairy-Story". As Tolkien explains a fairy story is generally about someones adventure in that perilous realm which is both beautifully enchanting and dangerous and most of all a mystery where if you ask to many questions you might find out more than you wanted to know.
    All the elements of the story seemed to glow even more when I thought of it in that way.
    You've got Syme's adventure through the mysterious and chaotic world of the Anarchists, which is ruled by a horrific giant, whose lieutenant are all cruel and malicious goblins, who turn out to prankster elves or angels in-disguise.
    I don't want to say any more for those who haven't read it but that is my view on the story.

  6. TMWWT was my first foray into GKC (before I even knew about the ACS, or Dale and his EWTN series). I am yet another in a long list of readers who was confused after reading the novel. I found the book very interesting, but couldn't quite make out what GK was trying to say by the end of the book. The subtitle of the novel made it even more confusing. I hear that the annotated version is very helpful in clearing up some of that confusion.

    I've only read it once (and do plan on eventually read it again). Currently, I'm about a quarter of the way through "The Flying Inn," and will be reading Dale's "Common Sense 101" book next.

  7. My girlfriend said TMWWT was one of the greatest books she had ever read (and she reads lots of them). I trust her literary taste, so I borrowed her edition, this one with introduction by Kingsley Amis. I'm reading TMWWT for the first time - and loving it - and it was when I was searching for some blogs talking about it that I've stumbled upon this blog. Don't you think it's an amazing coincidence that you guys are going to celebrate the centenary with a series of posts while I'm still reading it? I just ask you to be careful and avoid the spoilers, please. :)

  8. The butler did it, Tiago.

    (I'm joking... I'm joking.)

  9. "Thursday" was the first Chesterton novel I read, and I was disappointed. I had read only his essays and apologetics at the time, which are lucid and illuminating; while "Thursday" struck me as deliberately abstruse. I really liked the scene with the policeman that we acted out for the ACS series because I thought Chesterton nailed it - there does indeed exist a conspiracy against the family, it is composed of those who fancy themselves intellectuals, and there is a relatively innocent outer ring and a supremely guilty inner ring. Beyond that, I found the novel at times too much like the last episode of Patrick McGoohan's TV series "The Prisoner".

    BUT having now re-read it, after having read much more Chesterton in the meantime, I must say that TMWWT now strikes me as a tremendous book and has in it perhaps everything Chesterton ever wrote or was later to write. Not only is every Chestertonian motiff present in this novel, but it is profoundly insightful and deeply Christian.

    This can be a frustrating book, but it is a great one.

  10. This can be a frustrating book, but it is a great one.

    I know exactly what you mean, Kevin. The first time I read TMWWT I finished having no idea what it all meant. Then a few days later the World Trade Center crumbled into huge piles of rubble, and it struck me that Chesterton's book was about this sort of nihilism, sort of. So I read it again, and also read some of his introduction to the book of Job, about how we're satisfied with riddles, and so on, and this time was awestruck by how deep Chesterton actually plumbs the depths with this book.

    I highly recommend that anyone participating in this discussion also read Chjesterton's "Introduction to the Book of Job" as a preparation. It is on the web page.

  11. About two years ago when I was still a headstrong atheist, I had never heard of Chesterton, though I'm sure that I'd heard the title of the novel being tossed around several times. It showed up on an online list of recommended fantasy novels from the early 20th century. At the time I devoured anything related to fantasy (and I still do); I found a copy in a library and started reading during a cross-country flight.

    The first thing I recall was being dazzled by the crystal-clear prose. I was just beginning to write for publication then, and I was struck by the way that Chesterton made every sentence and paragraph fly directly to the target. I still turn to Chesterton's fiction whenever I need guidance on writing at the basic level. Just about any paragraph is a full-length course on skillful prose.

    I remember the lavish description of the sunset at the very start, the "poet's duel", the debate with the policeman, the surprise revelation of the secret identities, and the unending series of twists through the middle section. All of those were pulled off perfectly. Then came the ending, and when I finished I almost dropped the book in puzzlement. I barely had the faintest clue at the time, but even so, I knew I had read the greatest short novel in history.

  12. I'm probably the only person who wasn't put off by the long speeches about philosophy the first time through. I'm a big fan of anime and Japanese comics, and in those, before there's any fighting, people nearly always make speeches about their ideas--because if they agreed, there wouldn't be any reason to fight. There's more philosophy in "One Piece" than in all American literature after 1940.

    What struck me as interesting about Thursday was its mystical take on the problem of evil, Theodicy (Hoo-ey, I just used me a technical term!). There's none of the usual triteness about suffering being a test, or training, or (God forbid) a punishment; not even the Greek Orthodox answer, that suffering is inherently meaningless, and just something you have to put up with. The answer given in Thursday is the only one I've ever found wholly satisfactory.


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