Monday, July 31, 2006

A New Chestertonian Is Born

Mike Hostetler is a computer whiz here in Omaha who I met after speaking at his church (Prarie Lane CRC) one Sunday morning. We found we shared interests in reading, blogging, a deep appreciation for family and, of course, our mutual embrace of Christ's gospel. This afternoon I received an e-mail from Mike alerting me to a brief essay about GK Chesterton he had just posted on his very interesting, very eclectic web site, Where Are The Wise Men?. I really enjoyed it (after all, the subject of Mike's essay is a particular favorite of mine) and I think you will too.

So, here as a "guest post" is...

The Man at War With Our Time

by Mike Hostetler

In the early 20th century, The London Times asked the big writers of the day to write an essay on the following question: “What is Wrong With The World?’ One writer named G.K. Chesterton wrote:

Dear Sirs,

I am.

Sincerely yours,

G. K. Chesterton

This story is probably the best introduction to Chesterton. He was quick and witty with his words; he liked dealing with paradox; and he liked to make people think.

My first introduction to Chesteron was in college. A good friend of mine was an incredible reader and ate GK up like candy. I hadn’t heard of him, but started reading a copy of Orthodoxy that a friend gave me. But it was college—I was up to my neck in abstract mathematics and computer science—there wasn’t room in my brain for the prose Chesterton. The book ended up in the box of books that went home to my parents and stayed there for a few more years.

In Bible studies at church, almost every book we used seemed to have some sort of pithy Chesterton quote. A lot of people had never heard of him. I knew he was witty and very intelligent—but I always wondered what those quotes would mean in the context they were given.

Independent of that, I started reading Denny Hartford’s blog The Book Den. I don’t always agree with Denny’s opinions, but I do tend to agree with his taste in books — Watership Down is one of my all-time favorites and I was shocked that he hadn’t discovered The Phantom Tollbooth until recently. Denny is also a huge Chesterton fan—he belongs to the Omaha Chesterton Society and recently returned from the American Chesterton Society convention. I remembered that I had a copy of Orthodoxy at my parents’ house. when we went there over the Fourth of July holiday, I dug around until I found it (my parents made me take a whole box of other books with me as well . . .). So now I had it—but did I read it? No. For some reason, I didn’t.

On some web page, I read about Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday. The plot line seemed fasincating and seemed like it had just stepped out our time. The Omaha Library had a copy that I quickly grabbed up. For such a small book, it has a lot of action. Instead of being preachy about the point he was making (because Chesterton always has a point to make) he showed you while making you smile and taking you along with his tale. He could spin words like no other. The plot was tight and make perfect sense, yet was not predictable. Probably one of the best books I have ever read.

One of the first things I noted about G.K. Chesterton is that the issues he talks about are issues we have in the world today. At first I thought it was because the big issues were the same then as they are now. But after some observations, I decided that isn’t quite right. G.K. Chesterton saw the direction the world was taking and tried to stop it. But no one listened. So we are deeper into the problems that Chesterton first warned the world about.

Another thing that impresses me is how many authors have been influenced by Chesterton—and not just in the Christian world. One of the big surprises is Neil Gaiman. For example, Gaiman dedicated the book Good Omens “to the memory of G.K. Chesterton: A man who knew what was going on.” But it shouldn’t have been such a big surprise. Gaiman talks about the same sort of issues that Chesterton does, though not from a Christian viewpoint and his books are darker, more fairy tale than satire. But the themes in American Gods and Coraline (among otheres) are the same ones that Chesterton wrote about 90 years ago. Chesterton saw where the world was going, and was trying to change the path. Gaiman sees where the world is now, and is trying to show us how it really is.

So Denny should be happy now—another Chesterton fan has been born.