Friday, January 18, 2008

G. K. Chesterton

The Man Who Was Thursday
by G. K. Chesterton
Recommended Age: 14+

C. S. Lewis (Space Trilogy) meets Rudyard Kipling (Kim) in this bizarre, metaphysical spy thriller from the author of the Father Brown mysteries and such treatises on the Christian faith as Orthodoxy: the Romance of Faith. This is a book you may want to re-read once every year or two. I don't know that it will ever become entirely clear, but you'll find something new in it each time.

It's a madcap adventure, having to do with a secret group of men code-named for the days of the week. Dedicated to anarchy and the annihilation of all meaning, they do not realize that there is a traitor in their midst - an agent of Scotland Yard, posing as a poet with radical philosophical leanings. But as the danger of his assignment increases, the number of traitors on the Council multiplies until it seems that everyone is chasing, or being chased by, the same person.

I'm still not altogether clear on what Chesterton was getting at, and (if this story is an allegory) what signifies what. On the one hand, Chesterton was firm that he was really talking about philosophy, the kind of inhuman and dehumanizing philosophy that was popular in the early and mid-20th century, and I suppose his message was that when it came to putting thoughts into practice, no one really believed in that sort of thing. On the other hand, sometimes he seems to be talking about the hiddenness of God and the wonderful/awful surprise of discovering that even the philosophy that tries to do away with God, somehow ends up serving him against its will...

Gee, I don't know. Why don't you read it and tell me what you think it means? I think, for all the heavy philosophy woven into it, that you'll enjoy it anyway because it's full of action and humor, suspense and surprise, and all the things that add up to a great espionage caper. But the biggest surprise is that it doesn't end up being about that at all, leading to a powerful and unexpected ending that had me laughing and crying at the same time.

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