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Introduction

A study of a book by GK Chesterton.

Introduction

Postby The Bigsleep J » 04 Jan 2006, 08:12

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A sketch by GK Chesterton


Orson Welles wrote:"It can be guaranteed that you will never, never, guess the solution until you get to the end; it is even feared that you may not guess it then. You may never guess what The Man who was Thursday is about, but definitely if you don’t you’ll ask."
- Orson Welles introducing the Thursday Radio Play, 5th of September 1938


2002 was what I considered to be one of the best reading years of my life. Early in the year I discovered, amongst others, CS Lewis and slowly I began reading many books that I considered some of the best I’ve read. I discovered Chesterton through Lewis and when I ran his name through the book-search engine of Amazon.com I cam across the oddly named "the Man who was Thursday". Intrigued by the on-site review I sought it out at my library and borrowed a copy. I began to read not really knowing what I’ve gotten myself into.

The thing that struck me about Thursday the first time I read it was how incredibly fresh it felt. Although Chesterton’s descriptions were wordy it never felt like the writing lagged; it flowed very naturally like a mountain stream, it never got bogged down in the pacing (something that can happen to other writing) and by the end, even though it left my head spinning with no idea what was happening, I felt that I had just discovered El Dorado. Or at least a labyrinthine El Dorado since I was lost for the most part. I have several theories about what it is trying to say (although they are theories that can be proved wrong). I also had some help from other sources.

For instance Martin Gardner, a recreational mathematician, skeptic and non-denominational theist once said in an article I read that the book is about two themes in particular; (1) the existence of evil and its relationship with free will and (2) the search for the belief in a good, caring God in a universe that is totally chaotic and random. (I wont be using all of Gardner's points and theories since I don't agree with them entirely). He also pointed out that Thursday is linked thematically to the Book of Job on which Chesterton wrote a long, complex Introduction a year before the publication of Thursday. Here's a quote from that article I found significant.


Chesterton on Job wrote:For if the word "pessimist" means anything at all, then emphatically Job is not a pessimist. His case alone is sufficient to refute the modern absurdity of referring everything to physical temperament. Job does not in any sense look at life in a gloomy way. If wishing to be happy and being quite ready to be happy constitutes an optimist, Job is an optimist. He is a perplexed optimist; he is an exasperated optimist; he is an outraged and insulted optimist. He wishes the universe to justify itself, not because he wishes it be caught out, but because he really wishes it be justified. He demands an explanation from God, but he does not do it at all in the spirit in which [John] Hampden might demand an explanation from Charles I. He does it in the spirit in which a wife might demand an explanation from her husband whom she really respected. He remonstrates with his Maker because he is proud of his Maker. He even speaks of the Almighty as his enemy, but he never doubts, at the back of his mind, that his enemy has some kind of a case, which he does not understand. In a fine and famous blasphemy he says, "Oh, that mine adversary had written a book!" (31:35). It never really occurs to him that it could possibly be a bad book. He is anxious to be convinced, that is, he thinks that God could convince him. In short, we may say again that if the word optimist means anything (which I doubt), Job is an optimist. He shakes the pillars of the world and strikes insanely at the heavens; he lashes the stars, but it is not to silence them; it is to make them speak.


I do believe I am getting a bit ahead of myself though since the book only declares its ties to Job in the final chapters where the above is especially significant, but I do believe that this is something to keep in mind through the reading of the book. I can only hope that we can begin to fathom the possible meaning of this book or at least have a great learning experience for all concerned.

Quick Side-note:
• In order to give sufficient time for participants to respond to any particular post I will say that each new chapter discussion is going to be every two weeks (on Thursdays from now on – I consider it a good day as any ;) ).

• Chapters 1 to follow soon (today).
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re: Introduction

Postby Tuirgin » 04 Jan 2006, 17:37

What a brilliant quote on Job! I love this in particular:

Chesterton on Job wrote:He shakes the pillars of the world and strikes insanely at the heavens; he lashes the stars, but it is not to silence them; it is to make them speak.


It has been noted by several authors that I have read in the last year or two that the Old Testament saints so believed in God and so loved Him that they argued with him, fought with him... even wrestled with him. Meanwhile, we have developed this terribly submissive view of sanctity where questioning is a form of faithlessness or even blasphemy.

The Bigsleep J wrote: I can only hope that we can begin to fathom the possible meaning of this book or at least have a great learning experience for all concerned.


Perhaps we can at least learn to ask better questions.
To read only children's books, treasure / Only childish thoughts, throw / Grown-up things away / And rise from deep sorrows.
-- Osip Mandelshtam, 1908
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re: Introduction

Postby Tuirgin » 04 Jan 2006, 19:44

I just found this note on the book from Chesterton, himself... published the day before he died, in fact:

... I recur here to my personal point about the tendency to miss what the title means; or even what the title says.... In a rambling column, whether because it is personal or impersonal, it is permissible to introduce personal trifles about oneself, as well as about other people, so long as it is made sufficiently obvious that they are trifling. And I may remark in this connexion, or disconnexion, that I happen to have a very strong objection to that trick of missing the point of a story, or sometimes even the obvious sense of the very name of a story. I have sometimes had occasion to murmur meekly that those who endure the heavy labour of reading a book might possibly endure that of reading the title-page of a book. For there are more examples than may be imagined, in which earnest critics might solve many of their problems about what a book is, merely by discovering what it professes to be.

... It is odd that one example occurred in my own case... in a book called The Man Who was Thursday. It was a very melodramatic sort of moonshine, but it had a kind of notion in it; and the point is that it described, first a band of the last champions of order fighting against what appeared to be a world of anarchy, and then the discovery that the mysterious master both of the anarchy and the order was the same sort of elemental elf who had appeared to be rather too like a pantomime ogre. This line of logic, or lunacy, led many to infer that this equivocal being was meant for a serious description of the Deity; and my work even enjoyed a temporary respect among those who like the Deity to be so described. But this error was entirely due to the fact that they had read the book but had not read the title page. In my case, it is true, it was a question of a subtitle rather than a title. The book was called The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare. It was not intended to describe the real world as it was, or as I thought it was, even when my thoughts were considerably less settled than they are now. It was intended to describe the world of wild doubt and despair which the pessimists were generally describing at that date; with just a gleam of hope in some double meaning of the doubt, which even the pessimists felt in some fitful fashion.


To read only children's books, treasure / Only childish thoughts, throw / Grown-up things away / And rise from deep sorrows.
-- Osip Mandelshtam, 1908
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re: Introduction

Postby Kanakaberaka » 04 Jan 2006, 20:51

From what I remember of reading The Man Who Was Thursday a few years back, the whole book felt like several dreams linked together. Chesterton took what I thought to be familiar locations around his London and gave them a surreal feeling. That's what held my attention for the whole book.

BTW - I'm glad that you will be posting new chapter studies every other week rather that a new one every week. I shall be re-reading the whole book as this study goes along.
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Re: re: Introduction

Postby The Bigsleep J » 05 Jan 2006, 07:15

Tuirgin wrote:It has been noted by several authors that I have read in the last year or two that the Old Testament saints so believed in God and so loved Him that they argued with him, fought with him... even wrestled with him. Meanwhile, we have developed this terribly submissive view of sanctity where questioning is a form of faithlessness or even blasphemy.


I think its some kind of puritanical trait that might have entered the head of most Christians today. I think a thread running through most Christians minds subconsciously is "if I think about it, then it'll prove false" which means that people would rather not think (or reason) for God in fear of losing Him. Chesterton, Lewis and others believe in Reasoning as being part of Christian thought. In fact Chesterton mocks the idea of Christians 'not thinking' in both Thursday and the First Father Brown adventure, the Blue Cross.
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Re: re: Introduction

Postby The Bigsleep J » 05 Jan 2006, 09:06

Tuirgin wrote:I just found this note on the book from Chesterton, himself... published the day before he died, in fact:


I have read it (ironically it was included in the book that ommited the poem - but my current copy has the poem yet omits this article - stupid publishers should make up their minds) but the first time it hardly made an impression on me as my head was still spinning. Having read it now years later I understand what Chesterton is trying to say much better in context of the story. Thanks for posting it.
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re: Introduction

Postby Guest » 05 Jan 2006, 17:31

Being a visual person, please name the characters in the Chesterton sketch. I think I know who is who, but I would like to hear what others think. Such things as is Gogol the hairy man or the bald man? And what about the order? Which leads me to the order they were introduced into the book.
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Re: re: Introduction

Postby The Bigsleep J » 06 Jan 2006, 13:08

Anonymous wrote:Being a visual person, please name the characters in the Chesterton sketch. I think I know who is who, but I would like to hear what others think. Such things as is Gogol the hairy man or the bald man? And what about the order? Which leads me to the order they were introduced into the book.


I have no real idea myself. Its an interesting picture, but really I don't know who's who. The last one on the right is possibly Gregory and the old man is definitely Prof de Worms, but I have no idea who the rest are. These could have been only a preliminary sketch by Chesterton - the rest might be early concepts of the characters.
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re: Introduction

Postby Sven » 06 Jan 2006, 21:01

Here's an extra treat for everyone :pleased:

TMWWT is probably most often found in the 'classics' section, bound attractively, even in paperback form. However, once upon a time, it was published for a, erm, wider audience... I give you the March 1944 cover for Famous Fantastic Mysteries magazine.

Image
Rat! he found breath to whisper, shaking. Are you afraid?
Afraid? murmured the Rat, his eyes shining with unutterable love.
Afraid! Of Him? O, never, never! And yet -- and yet -- O, Mole, I am afraid!
Then the two animals, crouching to the earth, bowed their heads and did worship.
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re: Introduction

Postby The Bigsleep J » 06 Jan 2006, 22:01

Heh! Hey, that's a cool cover! Do you own a copy or did you find it on the 'Net? :) I'm surprised they published it like that well after Chesterton's death. Thanks for the treat, Sven.
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re: Introduction

Postby Sven » 06 Jan 2006, 22:21

Found it on the 'net. I knew it existed, though I didn't have the exact right title in my memory. Close enough to find it on the third google, though.

The site I found the image on has a copy for sale for US$15.00. Too much for me, but a neat item none the less.
Rat! he found breath to whisper, shaking. Are you afraid?
Afraid? murmured the Rat, his eyes shining with unutterable love.
Afraid! Of Him? O, never, never! And yet -- and yet -- O, Mole, I am afraid!
Then the two animals, crouching to the earth, bowed their heads and did worship.
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Pulp Fiction Chesterton

Postby Kanakaberaka » 06 Jan 2006, 22:55

Sven wrote:Image


Personaly I think Chesterton would have loved seeing any of his works in this format. He did write an essay entitled "A Defence Of Penny Dreadfuls". I assume the cover illustration refers to TMWWT. It looks like some sort of role playing game played out on a common chess board. The artist should have included the hornbill among the players just for the drama.
Is that the hands of "Sunday" moving the players about?

Here's a link to "A Defence of Penny Dreadfuls" :
http://www.dur.ac.uk/martin.ward/gkc/books/penny-dreadfuls.html
Last edited by Kanakaberaka on 07 Jan 2006, 06:35, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Pulp Fiction Chesterton

Postby Sven » 06 Jan 2006, 23:13

Kanakaberaka wrote:...Is that the hands of "Sunday" moving the players about?


That was my guess.
Rat! he found breath to whisper, shaking. Are you afraid?
Afraid? murmured the Rat, his eyes shining with unutterable love.
Afraid! Of Him? O, never, never! And yet -- and yet -- O, Mole, I am afraid!
Then the two animals, crouching to the earth, bowed their heads and did worship.
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Re: Pulp Fiction Chesterton

Postby The Bigsleep J » 07 Jan 2006, 03:20

Sven wrote:
Kanakaberaka wrote:...Is that the hands of "Sunday" moving the players about?


That was my guess.


Not only is Sunday moving them like chess-pieces, but the one "piece" is violently trying to fight against this, which goes well thematically with the story. That's a nice touch. Interesting; this 'penny dreadful' seems to grasp the story better, I suspect, than most serious publications by publishers.
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Re: re: Introduction

Postby Gabriel Syme » 13 Jan 2006, 19:22

The Bigsleep J wrote:
Tuirgin wrote:I just found this note on the book from Chesterton, himself... published the day before he died, in fact:


I have read it (ironically it was included in the book that ommited the poem - but my current copy has the poem yet omits this article - stupid publishers should make up their minds) but the first time it hardly made an impression on me as my head was still spinning. Having read it now years later I understand what Chesterton is trying to say much better in context of the story. Thanks for posting it.


Erm... just a first tentative dip into this forum.
I also have a copy without the poem but with the note (at the end of the book), and I think I envy you very much if you've come to understand its meaning. For me, I though I was pretty close to those who "infer that this equivocal being was meant for a serious description of the Deity; and [...] like the Deity to be so described."
(You might have guessed that from another post of mine...)

So, when I read it (no more that a month ago, by the way) I felt sort of... well... :??: :angry: :blush: :x :??:

Then I quickly went on to rationalize that maybe it was just a sort of "disclaimer", very similar in a way to Tolkien's "As for any inner meaning or 'message', [the book] has in the intention of the author none" which can be found in the foreword of the Lord of the Rings one-volume edition.
JRR then changed topic and went on explaining the differences between "allegory" (bad) and "applicability" (good) and so comforted me by keeping my mind busy with something interesting, while those Chesterton's words left me with a strong feeling (I might as well call it 'fear') of having completely misread the whole story, and it wasn't nice for me 'cause I had let myself get very much involved in it, much more than in any other book I had loved before.
In the end I just hoped (and I still do...) that Chesterton didn't really mean it.

So, sorry if I bother you with this (I know I'm lagging behind with our study...) but could you please give me a hint of what he was saying?

Thanks,
God bless you all.

Gabriel
In our school, on a wall, there is a big writing, saying «I care». It is the untranslatable motto of the best among young Americans. It means: «I AM interested in it; it is dear to me». That's the exact opposite of the fascist motto, «I don't care». (Lorenzo Milani, priest. Lettera ai giudici; 1965)
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