Sunday, June 14, 2009

Ladies and Gentlemen... G.K. Chesterton

According to my friend Matt Baugher, GK Chesterton died on June 14th in 1936. Chesterton was a celebrated wit, an apologist and a writer who routinely served up works of prophetic insight via his books, essays and letters. And he's very funny.

I still remember when I stumbled across my first Chesterton book and thought, "Why has the world been hiding the works of this man from me?" Here are a few of my favorite Chesterton books so you have a place to start if you're interested:

1) The Napoleon of Notting Hill. This is the story of a bored ruler in England who decides (as a joke) to make fanciful costumes, traditions and false histories for each neighborhood of London. What starts as a hilarious entertainment for him and the upper class takes an unexpected turn into drama when a young man named Adam Wayne (who has no sense of humor) takes it upon himself to start a war among the neighborhoods of London. I love this book... I've probably read it five times. One of the most amazing things is how perfectly Chesterton balances comedy and drama in this novel so that you are laughing one moment and profoundly moved in another.

2) The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare One of Chesterton's most famous novels, this is the story of police officer Gabriel Syme, who takes the name Thursday and infiltrates a society of anarchists. It isn't long, however, before he begins to suspect that some of the anarchists are undercover cops... and some of his fellow policemen are actually undercover anarchists.

3) I've always been fond of The Ball And The Cross, which is the story of an enraged Christian who throws a brick through the window of a man who runs an atheist newspaper. The atheist is pleased to have some attention (society at large ignores him as much as they ignore the Christian) and they happily decide to have a duel to the death. But they keep getting interrupted and eventually become friends and have adventures together.

4) Last fiction I'll mention is the The Father Brown Stories. Father Brown is a priest who has a nose for mystery. In fact, he loves mysteries and the insights he gains into the nature of humanity, God and the universe while solving the worst crimes of the human heart. Some of the stories don't even involve crimes as such, but Father Brown is such a delightful companion you won't even care. I'm particularly fond of the stories involving his nemesis, whom he is trying not only to capture but also convert to Christ.

5) If you've not read or heard of The Everlasting Man it's a sort of spiritual history of humanity. C.S. Lewis called it the contemporary book that had helped him most in his spiritual journey, and, in fact, it played a decisive role in his conversion from atheist to Christian. A great book.

6) Orthodoxy is Chesterton's own spiritual history of how he moved from non-believer to Catholic Christianity. It's beautifully written and well worth your time.

Well, that's enough reading to keep you all busy today. Many of these books are also available for free download on the web here. But you can buy these books without hesitation, they won't disappoint.

If I know the friends here at BHR I'm guessing there are plenty of people with strong opinions about Chesterton to share in the comments. Opine away, my friends... would love to hear your thoughts.