Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Pearce on Chesterton & St Francis

Chesterton and Saint Francis, an essay by Joseph Pearce
from his new book Literary Giants, Literary Catholics, is now available on www.ignatiusinsight.com.

Here is Joseph's Pearce-ing smile:

Monday, May 30, 2005

Bad Pun

Probably the worst pun in the history of the English language was penned in July of 1944 by the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas when he wrote, "We were two months near Beaconsfield, where Chesterton sat on his R.C." [The Collected Letters, New York: Macmillan, 1985, p. 517]

Friday, May 27, 2005

McNabb on GKC's Death

A little take-off on the Memorial Day weekend theme:

Following the death of G.K. Chesterton . . . as soon as Father Vincent had read the Gospel for the day, his first remarks were, "Chesterton is dead," and again, "Chesterton is dead. . . A great Englishman and one of the greatest thinkers and writers of our time. His writings will be even better appreciated in years to come than they are now." A Saint in Hyde Park, E.A. Siderman.

From Gilbert Magazine, April/May 2005 (which should be hitting mailboxes now).

Thursday, May 26, 2005

New GKC Blog

Peter Floriani has started a blog: Frances Blogg, named after GKC’s wife, “Frances” being her first name and “Blogg” her maiden name. Or maybe the name of the blog is "GKC's Favourite." We're not sure. No matter, we're happy to have another Chestertonian playing in the b-sphere.


Wednesday, May 25, 2005

The Most Famous of Oxford Societies

Once he [Benjamin Jowett] asked Belloc what he regarded as the best form of government. Belloc, as one of the only four Republicans in Oxford ... replied: 'A Republic.' 'Ah', said Jowett, 'but before you can have a Republic, you must have Republicans.' There were never enough Republicans for the Republic of which Belloc dreamed. There were enough, however, to form the Republican Club, one of the smallest, the shortest-lived, and the most famous of Oxford Societies. To qualify for membership you had to hold radical ideas of government and you had to have been fined for misconduct. The philosophy of the Club was inspired by Thomas Jefferson, whose birthday was celebrated as the principal feast of the year, although the beheading of Charles I and Louis XVI were remembered with an almost equal enthusiasm.

- Robert Speaight, The Life of Hilare Belloc, 1957

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

GK's Enemies

For those who like to say that Chesterton never made an enemy, there is the fact of Thomas Hardy's very last literary work. In the final days before his death in 1928, Hardy dictated what biographer Robert Gittings, in Thomas Hardy’s Later Years describes as "two virulent, inept, and unworthy satirical jingles" directed at Chesterton and George Moore—Hardy's "two most hated critics."

Aleister Crowley, likewise, is fairly characterized as an enemy. According to Joseph Pearce, “It is likely that Chesterton saw in Crowley a vision of the diabolist acquaintance of his student days at the Slade who ‘had a horrible fairness of the intellect that made me despair of his soul’; who sought to ‘find in evil a life of its own’; who sought to corrupt women for no other reason than ‘the expanding pleasure of ruin.”

Now, Crowley was a sexually perverted, black-magic invoking, drug-using Satanist. Pearce: “He liked to be known as ‘the great beast’ and ‘the wickedest man alive.’ It’s difficult to know what this says about GKC’s other enemy, Mr. Hardy, but it cannot bode well for him.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Brown Motion Picture

The first Father Brown motion picture, a 67-minute feature starring Walter Connolly as the priest, Paul Lukas as Flambeau, and Robert Loraine as Valentin, was released by Paramount in 1935 with the title Father Brown, Detective. Chesterton saw the film and liked it. Several inadvertent flaws in the film's presentation of clergymen suggested to Chesterton the basic idea for a new Father Brown story, "The Vampire of the Village."

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Finding a Cure

John Haldane writes on scotsman.com in an article Britain is debased, vulgar, brutalised - but there is a cure:
GK Chesterton remarked that in human affairs one must first find the cure before one can identify the disease. This reminds us that in the area of values one needs to know what is good, before one can say what is wrong. It is the example of a secure and loving family that illuminates the problems of failed ones. It is the sight of a well-functioning community united by shared goods that shows up the fact that in many parts of Britain communal existence long ago gave way to mere society, which in turn dissolved into mere co-existence, and from there declined into "strangerliness".

Not a Greasy, Smarmy Person

Fr Lou Guntzelman writes about humility in the Batavia, OH, Community Journal. Here is an excerpt quoting C.S. Lewis:
Most of us completely misunderstand the word humility. It's usually confused with a cringing meek attitude, submissiveness or self-deprecation.

We think it means saying we're not a very good golfer when we know we really are. That's not humility. That's being coy and subtly begging for compliments, "Oh, yes you are, you're very good!" As Dag Hammarskjold put it in "Markings," "Humility is just as much the opposite of self-abasement as it is of self-exaltation."

"Do not think that if you meet a really humble person he will be what most people call 'humble,' nowadays:" writes C.S. Lewis, "he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person who is always telling you he is a nobody. He'll seem a cheerful, intelligent chap who takes a real interest in what you say to him. If you do dislike him, it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all."

Humility is so important that it is impossible for anyone to have any type of genuine spiritual life without the virtue of humility. Humility tames the ego and rids us of superficiality and compels us to be true to ourselves and others. Because of the nature of our egos, humility is an extremely slippery quality. In the act of thinking we possess it, we prove to ourselves that we don't. Like happiness, it alights on our shoulder only when we're unaware of it.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005


Christianity Today interviews Dick Staub, author of Christian Wisdom of the Jedi Masters. The Q&As below refer to Chesterton-influenced authors CSL and JRRT.

In the book, you call both Star Wars and Christianity "mythology." What do you mean?

A myth is a story that confronts us with the "big picture," something transcendent and eternal, and in so doing, explains the worldview of a civilization. Given that definition, Christianity is the prevailing myth of Western culture and Star Wars is a prevailing myth of our popular culture. However, one of these myths is actually true and historically based, and that is Christianity. Both C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien loved great myths, but each believed beneath all well-crafted myths there was the one true myth, Christianity.

George Lucas, to my knowledge, has never made explicitly Christian claims for Star Wars. How would you compare his fantasy world with those of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien?

As you mentioned, the Lucas story is more theologically attuned with Hinduism. In Jedi mythology, the highest good is achieved by balancing light and dark, whereas Jedi Christians believe the highest good is achieved when darkness is defeated. In Jedi Christian lore, the dark side is not just the opposite of light, but is an unequal opponent of God, who, in Star Wars terms, is the Lord over the Force.

In Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, there is a ring over the other rings, and then there is a Lord of the Rings. The wizards Sauron and Gandalf represent the dark and light sides, but Tolkien's title reveals his Christian belief that above all the rings and all manner of powerful wizardry, there is a Lord of the Rings who rules over all, and who will bring history to a just and good conclusion. Tolkien said of his work, "The Lord of the Rings is a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; it is about God, and his sole right to divine honor."

Lewis also recognized the ultimate rule and authority of God over the "forces of good and evil." As Lewis put it, we must ultimately decide whether Jesus was a liar, a lunatic, or who he said he is, the Lord. The first chapter of Christian Wisdom of the Jedi Masters draws this important distinction between the Star War's Hindu, monistic worldview and Christianity, which teaches that there is one who is wholly other and Lord over all.

Friday, May 13, 2005

War for Your Inner Child

Best Sellers Illustrated is a startup graphic novel publisher. BSI's first item of business is a "modernized adaptation of H. G. Wells' classic, The War of the Worlds."

You can view the promotional "trailer" at their website: www.bestsellersillustrated.com

here is the cover (linked in from the BSI website):

I Can Sympathize

Roy Campbell's "attitude, however theologically questionable, was that one should look after the pennies of heaven and let the world go to Hell." Joseph Pearce, Literary Converts, Ignatius 2000, p. 329.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

un-French when seen in France

Fr Ian Boyd, in a Dec 7, 2003, article for the Tablet, writes about the French side of Hilaire Belloc:

Belloc’s ... claim to understand France was based mainly on the time he had spent in a French military college and in the French army. In fact, he left the Coll├Ęge Stanislas after only a few months and the army after only one year of his three-year military service. He disliked both experiences intensely, taking from them little more than the anti-Semitism of the French Right, a prejudice which was to remain with him for the rest of his life. His knowledge of French political and cultural life amounted to little more than what he learned from a few months spent in northern France in the late 1890s, as Pall Mall magazine’s “Cycling Correspondent”.

Maurice Baring, then a young diplomat in Paris, met Belloc about this time. Baring, who was completely at home in continental Europe, thought the young Belloc was out of place. Significantly, he described him as “very un-French when seen in France. In fact his Gallicism is an untrained pose. His Catholicism is a political opinion: he is really brutally agnostic. His Gallicism too is a political opinion”.

Hardy Har

For those who like to say that Chesterton never made an enemy, there is the fact of Thomas Hardy's very last literary work. In the final days before his death in 1928, Hardy dictated what biographer Robert Gittings describes as "two virulent, inept, and unworthy satirical jingles" directed at Chesterton and George Moore—Hardy's "two most hated critics." [Thomas Hardy's Later Years, Boston, 1978, p. 211]

Monday, May 09, 2005

Pearce on GKC, JRRT, CSL, etc.

from a recent interview with Joseph Pearce:

Lazu: Gilbert Keith Chesterton is the other author you have written much about. What is Chesterton’s place in the literature of the twentieth century? How can the specific features of his works be summarized?

Without doubt, Chesterton is a major figure in several areas. As a popular Catholic apologist he is perhaps without equal; as an essayist he is one of the finest prose stylists of the century; as a poet his work is very uneven but his finest verse deserves a place in any reputable anthology of twentieth century poetry, e.g. Lepanto, The Donkey, The Rolling English Road, A Second Childhood, The Skeleton, The Fish etc. As a novelist his work is also uneven and of variable quality, but his finest novel, The Man who was Thursday, ranks as one of the most important novels of the last century.

Lazu: It is hard to imagine that Catholic writers are well received by non-Christian literary critics in Central Europe. What is the situation in Great Britain and the United States as far as non-Catholic criticism authors such as Chesterton, Tolkien, Lewis, etc.?

I am pleasantly surprised at the number of times that Chesterton is quoted in the secular press in Britain and America; Tolkien is now taken more seriously than ever before, partly because of the huge success of Jackson's films but also because The Lord of the Rings has passed the test of time and has forced itself into the canon in spite of the hostility of many critics and academics to its resolutely Christian and conservative ethos; Lewis remains hugely influential in Christian circles, both Protestant and Catholic, and the forthcoming film adaptation of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe might catapult him back into the popular mainstream; Waugh's Brideshead Revisited is widely accepted as one of the great novels of the twentieth century even amongst liberal critics hostile to its Catholic traditionalism.

Mental Distance

Ronald Eveston writes on LewRockwell.com about the gap between writer and reader:

[The] mental distance [between writer and reader] is a main reason why, for example, G. K. Chesterton is not widely read today (with the possible exception of his Father Brown stories). He makes, especially in his early work, a set of assumptions about his reader that are no longer true. He expects the reader to be more educated, more actively intelligent and more, as it were, sensitive to the workings of the universe than most reading public is today. He expects a lot of things to ring a bell. He expects the reader to handle more or less effortlessly complicated chains of reasoning as well as complicated strings of images, to be comfortable with the endless intertwined strands of meaning that are the stuff of thought. After all, the reader is supposed to have been to school and to University. What is more, he assumes a common moral ground. "Democracy in its human sense is not arbitrament by the majority; it is not even arbitrament by everybody. It can be more nearly defined as arbitrament by anybody. I mean that it rests on that club habit of taking a total stranger for granted, of assuming certain things to be inevitably common to yourself and him. Only the things that anybody may be presumed to hold have the full authority of democracy." This is from a work written in 1910. Now we have moved a long way from this cheerful faith in common sense and the ultimate spiritual brotherhood of all men. There are no things that I can assume to be inevitably common to myself and a total stranger. The stranger may be a cannibal for all I know.

C. S. Lewis, who wrote a few decades later, is much nearer to us mentally because the assumptions he makes about his readers are totally different. Chesterton expects us to join in the fray as equals, and enjoy it as much as he does; Lewis expects no more than that we should sit quiet and let him talk while he patiently and carefully explains simple things in the simplest possible terms. Lewis is better known today because he had to write for an audience that was, generally speaking, both more stupid and more wicked than Chesterton’s.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Ephemeral City

Joel Kotkin writes about the San Francisco as the "ephemeral city", and attributes the prediction of this to H.G. Wells.

There is historical precedent in the ephemeral city phenomenon. Cities are natural theaters. In the past, cities provided the overwhelmingly rural populations around them with a host of novel experiences unavailable amid the hay fields.

Rome, the first mega-city, developed these functions to an unprecedented level. It boasted both the first giant shopping mall -- the multi-story Mercatus Traini -- and the Colosseum, where urban entertainments grew monstrous both in its size and nature.

Maybe it makes sense for some cities to hitch their futures to their role as cultural and entertainment centers -- one hopes without resorting to gladiatorial contests. This is a transformation that H.G. Wells predicted over a century ago. He saw the transition of urban centers from commanding centers toward a "bazaar, a great gallery of shops and places of concourse and rendezvous."

Saturday, May 07, 2005

During World War I, James Joyce formed a theater company to produce English plays in Switzerland. One of the productions was to be Chesterton's Magic, which went into rehearsal in May of 1918. When, however, the British consulate deemed the play unpatriotic, two of the actors resigned, and so Joyce scrubbed Magic in favor of less controversial material. [Richard Ellman, James Joyce, Oxford, 1982 (revised), pp. 439-40]

Friday, May 06, 2005

Spielberg's War

H.G., heretic, and friend of G.K., will have a new version of his story War of the Worlds released June 29. Here are some comments and some quotes from Spielberg about the new film:

As George Pal did with his 1953 version, Spielberg updates H.G. Wells' "War of the Worlds" from 1890s Britain to the contemporary United States, partly because turbulent times today provide a relevant backdrop for terror from the skies, and partly for simple cosmetic reasons.

"I can't stand the costumes of 1898," Spielberg said. "There's just something about those high collars, those frou-frou gowns. It's not my style, I guess.

"I think also, we're living in a fearful atmosphere, fearful times, and every version of 'War of the Worlds' that has occurred either in literature, radio or film has occurred during fearful times."

Spielberg also jettisons Wells' premise that humanity's assailants come from Mars, noting that explorations of the red planet have shown that "if life is ever discovered on the surface of Mars, it will be microscopic life."

The film never reveals where the aliens come from. Spielberg figures their anonymity adds to the terror.

"It's just really scary to imagine being invaded, especially being invaded by not only an unknown race bent on our total annihilation, but with no context," Spielberg said. "They don't spend any time explaining why they're here. There's no, 'We needed to move here because our planet has become inhospitable.'

"We have absolutely no idea why they've come, why they're doing this to us."


Here's a publicity image linked in from movies.about.com:

Thursday, May 05, 2005

The New Lion King


Hey, so have you heard about the upcoming adaptation of "The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe?"

If you haven't already caught the buzz for Buena Vista's [Disney's] upcoming C.S. Lewis adaptation, odds are that you will over this weekend. "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe" will debut its theatrical trailer this weekend to what is being described as the largest worldwide audience ever for a trailer premiere.

Here's a publicity image linked in from movies.about.com:


Here is another conversion story. Not a conversion from paganism but from evangelical Christianity. Not a conversion to the Roman Catholic Church but to the Orthodox Church.

Frank Schaeffer is a "trophy" Orthodox convert... He appeared all over the country, from Jerry Falwell's church to "The 700 Club." But he said he soon became tired of the "hero-worship cult" in evangelical circles, where a ministry rises and falls with its big-name founder.
In the mid- to late-1980s, he began to dissociate himself completely from that world, seeking a faith that would be his own, instead of being tied to his career as a Christian filmmaker or his father's reputation. He began studying church history and attending Roman Catholic and Episcopal churches.

But he couldn't reconcile the idea of the papacy, and the modern, stripped-down Catholic services he attended, with their "happy, clappy nonsense," felt less liturgical and even more Protestant than the services he grew up with.

At the urging of a friend, he visited an Orthodox church, where he said he found authentic Christian worship. In 1990, he was chrismated, or anointed, into the church as a member.

The conversion story includes his father, "the renowned evangelical theologian and philosopher Francis Schaeffer," who was a friend of Malcolm Muggeridge. Muggeridge was a convert to the Roman Catholic Church and was influenced by G.K. Chesterton. Muggeridge wrote "When I was still a schoolboy my father took me to a dinner ... at which G.K. Chesterton was being entertained ... As far as I was concerned, it was an occasion of inconceivable glory." (Chronicles of Wasted Time; quote courtesy of Dave Armstrong).

I have noticed, and I am sure that you have as well, that many conversion stories begin with a line like "Well, I read Merton's Seven Storey Mountain" or "Well, I read Chesterton's Orthodoxy (or The Everlasting Man, or The Ball and the Cross)." A man can have quite an influence. Chesterton was a very large man in many ways; a large man can make a large splash of waves and ripples in all directions. This conversion story is just one of many that was helped along by a splash from Chesterton.

Maybe someone over at the Small Pax Guild will someday draw up a picture of Chesterton in bathing attire and doing a "cannonball" into the Atlantic Ocean. And perhaps someone could write an article, to accompany the fine artwork, about the influence of the Big Splash. And ship it off to a dandy publication like Gilbert Magazine.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Lord of the Servile State

William H. Stoddard, science fiction & fantasy author and creator of role playing games, writes about the influence of Chesterton and Belloc on the Shire:

... since Tolkien in fact does not tell us any of the history that might account for the origins of the Shire's dual government, I am going to talk about the sources for the idea of such a system in Tolkien's own intellectual background.

One of these two sources, I believe, was two writers of the generation before Tolkien: G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc. Tolkien refers explicitly to Chesterton, notably in his essay "On Fairy Stories," and though I do not know of any such mention of Belloc, he does turn up elsewhere in the Inklings' writings — Lewis mentions his theory of Distributivism in That Hideous Strength (Lewis, 1946, p.19) — and it seems virtually certain that Tolkien had at least heard about it frequently.

Belloc and Chesterton were the two leading Catholic intellectuals in their generation in England; their prose and poetry was widely read; and they joined in advocating a social order which was in effect an idealization of the Middle Ages, a system in which as many people was possible were small property owners — most notably in Belloc's own The Servile State (Belloc, 1913 / 1977), but in many other writings as well.

John P. McCarthy's Hilaire Belloc: Edwardian Radical (McCarthy, 1978) traces the evolution of Belloc's views in detail, showing in his early views a synthesis of republican liberalism and Catholic traditionalism that Tolkien's own offhand remarks bear considerable resemblance to. The "estates, farms, workshops, and small trades" (Tolkien, 1965, p. 30) [Fellowship] that Tolkien describes could be a portrait of the society Belloc recommends. On the other side, Belloc's critique of modern industrialism as leading inevitably toward a revival of slavery seems akin in turn to Tolkien's fictional portrayal of Sauron and Saruman and to his factual comments about the horrors of the modern society.

Chalberg Reviews New Chesterbelloc Book

For a review of Jay P. Corrin's Catholic Intellectuals and the Challenge of Democracy, see the May 2005 issue of Touchstone. Chuck Chalberg wrote the review. It offers a nice summary of the book, which seems to focus on Catholic thinkers' tendency to find a "third way" that doesn't embrace capitalism or totalitarianism. It's a nice review (mostly on Chesterton and Belloc), but at this time there's no link for it.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Disappointed by the reception of his autobiographical Father and Son (published in 1907], Edmund Gosse complained to his fellow critic Arthur Symons that the editors were now interested only in "the new school of Chesterton and Belloc, ltd.," proving, according to Gosse, that editors "lack judgment." [Ann Thwaite, Edmund Gosse, Chicago, 1984, p. 439]

Courtesty of John Peterson

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Joseph Epstein on Maurice Baring

Maurice Baring remained, as did so many Englishmen of his generation and after, something of a schoolboy for life. He corresponded his life long with one of his tutors in verse (in triolets, specifically). His whimsy, surely, was very much that of the schoolboy. When, for example, he was required to spell out his name for people over the telephone, he would exclaim: “B for Beastly, A for Apple, R for Rotten, I for England, N for Nothing, G for God.” Eddie Marsh remembers him at a post office in Florence insisting that the stamps he purchase be “freschi” (fresh), since “they were for an invalid.” (Non-sequitorial humor, to be sure, is not everyone’s cup of claret.) As a university student, he partook in much throwing of food and wine; and, at Oxford, where he spent two terms after work at the crammers’, he and his friends used to buy wine that they referred to as “throwing port.”