I couldn't think of what possible book I had reviewed with that title. For the life of me, the content of it escaped me. So I clicked on it, curious to see what it was, and found that once again, my dear and shameless hacker of a sister had broken into my Blogger account and had her own merry time of it.
Thank-you, Junior Bibliophile! I really enjoyed it, and all your surprises made my birthday so special yesterday. :)
And now, on to today's post...
Suzannah has often encouraged me to read a G.K Chesterton, in our swapping of book titles, and not too long ago, wrote a highly enjoyable post on some key themes to be found in his works.
Well, the truth is, I've read a Chesterton. All except the last chapter, that is.
Years and years ago I picked up Tales of the Long Bow, back in the days when I kept my current reads between my mattress and my bed-frame when I wasn't reading them, and every night before going to sleep I would take a daily dose of the very strange adventures of the Long Bow Society. I got the main gist of it, though missed just about every major point Chesterton put in, and just as I was about to finish the last chapter, the due date came around.
Every year since then I've thought about getting it again. I think it's been a good six years now that I've wondered whatever happened in that elusive last chapter. After reading Suzannah's article I decided to pick it up again, though it may not be the flashiest or best-known of his works, and follow through on the promise I had made myself to find out what happened to the Long Bow Society.
When Colonel Crane, the epitome of respectable British society, takes to wearing a cabbage to church and everywhere else as a hat, his neighbors are quite shocked. Shocked, that is, until they begin to wonder if they themselves should take up the fashion.
Owen Hood sits by the Themes every day with a fishing pole in his hand, never catching a fish and content to let the world drift past him. Then an oily scum appears on the surface of his glorious river, stinging him to take action.
Hilary Pierce takes daredevil rides in his airplane and finds his thrills bucking respectable government policies. Until a pretty innkeeper's daughter brings him down to earth and he turns his attention to helping locals retaining their right to raise pigs.
These three men form the core trio of the Long Bow society, and are mentioned most often, but not to be despised are the exploits of various other intrepid members, including Parson White, Enoch Oates, Professor Green, and Commander Blair. Each of these men is responsible for debunking acts considered impossible by the English language. "Castles in the air," "I'll eat my hat," and such other statements are taken up one by one, and proven to be possible.
Why go to such lengths? Because these men have a far greater purpose than making public spectacles of themselves. What, in the first chapter, looks like a random act of eccentricity, quickly pulls together into a driving purpose: three men who are absolutely determined to prove a point to their society. The point? Read on...
No first review of Chesterton can be complete without praising his writing style. His imagery is fantastic; he puts in such descriptive detail, but it's solid stuff and not a fluffy filler to reach a word count. If you want to improve your imagery, read Chesterton. A steady diet of him will be better than all the chapters on adjectives and adverbs and similes and metaphors put together, and the brilliant thing about him is, every word counts towards the story.
Secondly, Chesterton strikes the happy medium of being a thoroughly British wit and a thoroughly Christian author at the same time. One moment you'll be laughing over the dry humor that characterizes his works, found both in description and the characters' conversations with each other. Then next you'll be very carefully reading a paragraph over again to soak in the entire meaning he intended you to get from it.
I love the whole premise of the novel: each man taking a famous proverb and trying to prove it true, when it is generally believed to be false. That's a clever plot, and made for a fun time, because Chesterton would give you the story before giving the proverb at the end, so you had plenty of time to guess which one each story is about. Also, the way he weaves one story into another, so that you can't completely understand each one until you read the next one, makes for a book that keeps you reading. You have to finish if you want to make any sense of it, and when you finish, it makes perfect sense.
Actually, the only thing I didn't like, believe it or not, was the last chapter.
Up to that point in the book, I was under the impression the story was set in a time contemporary to G.K. Chesterton, sometime World War One, perhaps after World War Two. It wasn't until the last chapter that I realized he was writing a novel set somewhere in the future, though he still placed it in the 1900s. I started to get this inkling in the chapter before the last, when the men were doing some things that were decidedly unrealistic. I would have preferred a little more clarity on the time period before I got to the last 30 pages, as it's hard to turn around and re-set by then. In the last chapter everything got just a little bizarre, and while the previous parts of the book were definitely a little stretch of the imagination, there was a huge jump from the slightly wacky to the unreal.
Chesterton not only incorporates moral musings into his stories, but also societal campaigns as well. He was a distributist, and believed that property ownership was an individual right, and industry should be as individually pursued as possible, instead of being under control of the government or a big business owner. This, of course, was an outcry against Socialism, and while it's an interesting theory, Distributism should not be confused with Capitalism. Chesterton often uses the term "Three acres and a cow" as a slogan that everyone should have a little patch of land to earn their livelihood. On first read, I don't see distributism as a principle taught in the Bible, though Chesterton did give it a Christian twist, but it would bear more research to see how it compares with Capitalism.
The whole thrust of Tales of the Long Bow teaches two things; a group of men fighting for distributism, as mentioned above, and a group of men fighting for constancy in the face of a changing society:
"In all our little adventures," went on the other, "we have all of us taken up some definite position and stuck to it, however difficult it might be; that was the whole fun of it. But our critics did not stick to their own position--not even to their own conventional or conservative position. In each one of the stories it was they who were fickle, and we who were fixed....Don't you see that's the moral of the whole thing? The modern world is materialistic, but it isn't solid. It isn't hard or stern or ruthless in pursuit of its purpose, or all the things that the newspapers and novels say it is; and sometimes actually praise it for being."
Tales of the Long Bow is a story of seven men who were willing to be fools to society, in order to keep their word. Though the points they chose to stick to are amusing in themselves, the whole premise gives rise to some serious thought. If we, as Christians, are willing to be fools in the eyes of the world, how long will we hold out to prove that we believe what we say?
When we hold fast in a changing culture, then people begin to look at us, and they begin to say, "I wonder if what those people have is the truth."
Truth doesn't change. And since the law of God is written on the hearts of men, even the non-Christians know that what lasts eternally is the truth. And they yearn for stability and surety. We need to mirror that truth to them by our commitment, our confidence, and our unwavering daring to prove that what we are doing is absolutely true and right.
Check out Tales of the Long Bow for a funny and thought-provoking read. It's not a long book, but it's definitely worth your time. I can't believe I've never read him before. He's fantastic, and an absolutely solid writer. If you've never looked him up, by all means hurry and do so. You won't regret it, and you'll find tons of entertainment and food for thought in a fascinating story.