Considering the circles I run in, people might be surprised to know that I’ve just discovered G.K. Chesterton. Of course, I knew vaguely about him before — his work in Christian apologetics, the vague way his name always got paired with C.S. Lewis, and all this sprinkled with quotes from him found in the work of other writers. But, I’ve never read any of his writing in earnest fashion until I recently started reading The Complete Father Brown Stories, a little gem that I picked up at a book sale. Drawn to the book because I love all things mystery writing and knowing that I can’t read Agatha Christie forever (though the prospect is tempting), I decided to take the 25 cent risk. I’m glad I found the complete volume of stories, or I’d be running about trying to track down all of the collections individually.
If I had to compare Chesterton to Christie, I’d say that Christie, for the most part, still excels at plotting a story. Sometimes Chesterton wraps up the explanation a bit too quickly (and to his credit, I’ve never seen him at work in a novella length work; some of Christie’s short stories have a bit of a whiplash feel to them as well). But, when it comes to the ability to consistently work magic with the English language, I’d say Chesterton wins that round. I only rarely feel the need to read Christie with a pen in hand to underline beautiful phrases; when reading Chesterton, I’d venture to say that having a pen handy is a must.
So, for fun, I thought I’d post a link to one of my favorite Father Brown mysteries so far: “The Sins of Prince Saradine.” This story might not be for you if you can resist a story that leads off with “when Flambeau took his month’s holiday from his office in Westminster he took it in a small sailing-boat, … The vessel was just comfortable for two people; there was room only for necessities, and Flambeau had stocked it with such things as his special philosophy considered necessary. They reduced themselves, apparently, to four essentials: tins of salmon, if he should want to eat; loaded revolvers, if he should want to fight; a bottle of brandy, presumably in case he should faint; and a priest, presumably in case he should die.”
However, if like me, you find the humor of the passage delightful (and you furthermore revel in Chesterton’s absolutely brilliant use of parallelism in his sentence structure), then please enjoy the story.
I won’t ruin the end for you, but I did enjoy the O. Henry type twist to end the story.
I will end my blog on an O. Henry related note. I was telling Todd about finding Chesterton tonight, and I fell in love with Todd all over again. Here’s a rough paraphrase of the conversation:
me: Who can resist a story that’s a hybrid of the best of Agatha Christie and O. Henry.
Todd: I have to confess my ignorance of these names (He’s sweet enough to always make me feel smart even though he’s brilliant).
Me: You know Agatha Christie. I’ll lend you a book sometime. O. Henry wrote “The Gift of the Magi”…
Todd: Oh! “The Gift of the Magi!” Yea, that’s a classic.
Then, thinking that I should just confirm that Todd is indeed so well rounded in the literary world, I thought I should make sure we were talking about the same story.
Me: Yeah, she sells her hair…
Todd: …and he sells his watch.
Ah…he’s a smart one who knows how to make his English teacher girlfriend happy.
And, I just kinda ruined the end of the “The Gift of the Magi” but here’s the link if anyone wants to enjoy it. It’s a sweet love story, almost as good as the one I’m living.