The Prince of Paradox

300px-Gilbert_ChestertonIt isn’t uncommon to know an author and perhaps their most popular work, but to be completely unaware of the rest of their accomplishments.

A pity really, because most popular doesn’t always equate to most prolific or influential, best work or even the most accurate example of talent.

Far too often it’s a case of literary masterpieces and works of art fading into obscurity instead of being shared with the world, so everyone can enjoy them. This is probably the case for each scribe or artist, more’s the pity.

So, case in point, or one of them, is Gilbert Keith Chesterton ( 1874 – 1936), perhaps best known for the Father Brown Mysteries, however he is also a veritable treasure chest of surprises.

From poetry to politics, thrillers, crime, religion, science and even eugenics. Chesterton has left quite a variety of work, which encompasses quite a few areas of fiction and non-fiction. He wrote over a eighty books and hundreds of poems, he wrote plays, short stories and newspaper essays. He wrote a weekly column for the London Illustrated for over 30 years.

Gilbert Keith Chesterton is often referred to as the Prince of Paradox. On a more personal level he was known for his eccentricities and walked the streets of London donned in a black cape, a wide-brimmed hat, a pince-nez and brandishing a swordstick. Just in case he encountered or came upon a situation, which merited him defending himself like a character out of a fictional novel.

Chesterton gave the appearance of being a scatty-brained nutty professor, and yet for all his oddities he was equipped with a keen intellect and a thirst to challenge all things deemed to be ‘just so, because.’ He took each phrase, saying, allegory, proverb, idea and concept, and turned them inside out, upside down and back to front. Chesterton didn’t just accept, he questioned why, what, where and when.

By the Babe Unborn
If trees were tall and grasses short,
As in some crazy tale,
If here and there a sea were blue
Beyond the breaking pale,
If a fixed fire hung in the air
To warm me one day through,
If deep green hair grew on great hills,
I know what I should do.
In dark I lie: dreaming that there
Are great eyes cold or kind,
And twisted streets and silent doors,
And living men behind.
Let storm-clouds come:  better an hour,
And leave to weep and fight,
Than all the ages I have ruled
The empires of the night.
I think that if they gave me leave
Within that world to stand,
I would be good through all the day
I spent in fairyland.
They should not hear a word from me
Of selfishness or scorn,
If only I could find the door,
If only I were born.

Chesterton converted to Catholicism at the age of 48. His work, his thoughts, his daily encounters are clearly influenced by his fascination with his faith and Catholicism in general. He often debated religion and Western culture with his peers.

I find this aspect of Chesterton particularly fascinating, especially considering how he spent many years as a young man playing around in the world of the occult. Playing with tarot cards and ouija boards in an attempt to contact the other side.

It seems as if his drive to explore words, concepts and knowledge was pushed by his deep connection and understanding of self. In turn he used that to try to comprehend the rest of the world. A truly compelling man, who shouldn’t be relegated to being just the author of the Father Brown stories.

Download and read Eugenics and Other Evils, Heretics, The Man Who Was Thursday, The Innocence of Father Brown, Orthodoxy, The Wisdom of Father Brown, The Napoleon of Notting Hill, The Man Who Knew too Much, The Wild Knight and Other Poems or St Francis of Assisi at Feedbooks, Thoughts from G.K. Chesterton , The Wild Knight or The Wisdom of Father Brown from the Internet Archive.

Alternatively you can listen to A Ballad of an Anti-Puritan, The Appetite of Tyranny, A Ballade of Suicide, The Innocence of Father BrownThe Everlasting Man or The Defendant at Librivox.

Read House of Mystery, What Katy Did, And Then There Were None, A Scandal in Bohemia, The Ghost Who Walks, A Quick Roundup of Kate Greenway. Turn of the Screw, The Dancing Pirate, The Reluctant Dragon, The Dream of a Ridiculous Man or Rashōmon right here on the blog.

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