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Understanding GK Chesterton

G.K.CHESTERTON: LOOKING BACK LOOKING FORWARD

By Stephen R L Clark, Templeton Foundation Press, London, Philadelphia, $49.95

Reviewed by Terry Oberg

IF you love something and wish to reinforce its appeal – especially to those who may not share your admiration – find a celebrity with whom that

something can be identified and write a book about this connection.

That seems to be what Stephen Clark has done. His passion is science fiction and he has discovered links, some tenuous, between G.K.Chesterton and this literary genre.

The name of the great Englishman is synonymous with paradox.

It was he who first wrote what all Catholic boys’ schools could, profitably, use as a motto: “If a game is worth playing, it’s worth playing badly.” I digress.

The author, here, uses much of Chesterton’s output to establish that this

Catholic apologist was a notable contributor to the growth of science

fiction.

This relationship is analysed in one section in which six of his

novels are used to illustrate the common elements that join science fiction and these plots.

Generally, Clark makes a good case, showing that the novelist’s ingenuity is a precursor to much of today’s popular fantasies.

However the reader should be warned about some long bows that have to be

stretched to, in some cases, incredible lengths.

The author’s introduction prepares one for this when he craves the audience’s forbearance by admitting that, “None of the novels are strictly science fictional themselves but …”.

Nevertheless this splendidly written tour of Chestertonian fiction is well worth the read.

Of particular topical interest is his view of postmodernism

so rampant in our schools today.

If it is agreed “that there is no true, objective standard of behaviour” as our modern senior English syllabus implies, “what reason can there be to suffer or to labour on behalf of ordinarily life-loving people?

If common virtue is a con, what then?”

To add some objectivity to a very personal piece of writing, Stephen Clark’s opening two chapters probe the pros and cons of his favourite literary genre.

Against this literature that attempts a futuristic gaze he admits the

strong possibility that these tales “of the future tell us more about the

time in which they were written than about the real oncoming future”.

Conversely and again paradoxically, he can quote Chesterton to champion the cause: “Times do change, empires break, industrial conditions alter, the suburbs will not last forever.”

Which is right? The anti or the pro G.K.C.

Part three examines several themes and it is in these that the writer-philosopher Chesterton emerges.

The thoughts that inspired such as C.S.Lewis are to be found in this section plus some welcome additions by Professor Clark, who is an academic at Liverpool University.

Given that he has a science-fiction agenda, this is an original study of an original mind and it is fascinating reading.

The commonsense that was the foundation of Chesterton’s writing and religion is here on display illuminated by a writer who understands his subject even if, occasionally, he uses that understanding a little self indulgently.

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