Tag Archives: G. K. Chesterton

Called and Chosen: Fr. Vincent Capodanno – A Documentary

“A true warrior does not fight because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.” (G.K. Chesterton)

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Twentieth century Westerns were not my only film fare growing up, readers. I saw a lot of World War II movies as well. The Longest Day, Sands of Iwo Jima, and many others played across my parents’ television screen when I was young. The films taught me to love and respect America and the Americans that make up our military better than any speech or essay could have.

I loved watching these World War II films. The sense of unity, of purpose, the will to fight and defeat evil, thrilled me. But after 9/11, I learned that the modern world was nothing like the one I saw in those movies about the “Greatest Generation.” It has taken me long years of study to learn how the “Greatest Generation” turned into the generation which protested the Vietnam War, but I am no longer confused about the gap and the change in the way that I once was.

By this circuitous route, we come to the subject of today’s post, the EWTN documentary Called and Chosen: Fr. Vincent Capodanno. Fr. Capodanno was a Catholic priest and Navy chaplain during Vietnam. He did not begin his ministry in the Navy; in fact, joining the military was the furthest thing from his mind when he entered the Maryknoll seminary in New York at the age of twenty.

Inspired as a boy by the stories of martyred missionaries who had left Maryknoll to preach to the Chinese, Fr. Capodanno entered the seminary and was ordained a priest. He was sent to Taiwan for some years, returning home to visit his family after that missionary stint. To his dismay, he learned his next assignment would not be back in his beloved Taiwan but in Hong Kong, which was not then part of Red China.

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Desperate to return to Taiwan, Fr. Capodanno wrote letters to his superiors asking to be transferred there or to be sent home for another assignment somewhere else. He continued to do this even after his requests were rejected. So it was with some surprise that his superiors received an abrupt, new request from the priest: he suddenly wanted to become a Navy chaplain, and he wanted to be assigned to the Marines serving in the jungles of Vietnam.

Well, any request to go to Vietnam would be surprising back in the ‘60s, when the War was being manhandled by politicians and protested vigorously by the academics, the media, and their unfortunate cohorts of young believers across U.S. campuses. Nevertheless, Fr. Capodanno’s new request was granted and he underwent a year of chaplain’s training before being assigned to the Marines. He died in combat September 4, 1967, giving the Last Rites to the Marines who died when his division was ambushed by the Viet Cong.

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I will not spoil any more of the documentary for you, readers. You can find it on DVD through EWTN, Amazon, or Ignatius Press. Toward the end of the film, I had to sniff a lot to keep from crying. Fr. Capodanno’s story of love and sacrifice is moving on its own, but that is only part of the reason why this blogger had to hold back tears.

You see, even when I did not understand the stories about Vietnam completely, I did realize that the men who had served in that war were different than the “Greatest Generation.” Slowly, by degrees, I began to comprehend how they were abused by the public after they came home.

What really stymied me, however, was why they were treated like this. Referring back to the top of this article, you will recall my mention of movies about World War II. Several of these were made before the War had even ended, yet our soldiers who were fighting overseas were being cheered to the echo nonetheless. We didn’t know for a while there whether or not we would win, but the movies of that era never wavered in their morale-boosting narrative that victory was within our grasp.

The incongruence between the lionization of the “Greatest Generation” and the attacks on the Vietnam generation made so little sense to me that I did not pay very much attention to it for quite some time. Learning more about Vietnam over the years, though, I cannot convey in words the profundity of my ire for the academic/journalistic complex who mistreated our men when they came home, nor for the politicians who seized on their narrative in order to remain in power.

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Now, of course, some of you will start yelling about the politics and the reasons why the Vietnam War was wrong. The politicians and people in charge of fighting the Viet Cong did not run the war effort well, I grant you; I believe a number of them actually wanted us to lose it. Their “mistakes” also gave the academics and journalists ample opportunity to attack and demoralize our military, making matters even worse. But none of this means the War itself was wrong.

More to the point, to borrow Fr. Capodanno’s answer to those who challenged him about the War’s politics, the affairs of state were no excuse to abuse our returning veterans. Our men were fighting, bleeding, and dying in Vietnam’s jungles. They were far from home, in a place they didn’t want to be, fighting for a cause no one clearly explained (the defeat of the Communists in Vietnam to preserve freedom there and in the rest of the world).

Yet the populace who should have respected them for their sacrifice was encouraged – nay, goaded – into treating them like trash when they came back. Our men returning from the Hell that was Vietnam were subsequently hounded and derided as cowards, monsters, and demons when they came home.

They were told they were more hideous than the enemy that tortured, maimed, and killed their brothers. They were told that they were worse than the Communists who used women and children as human shields, that they were as evil and cruel as the beasts who used children as suicide bombers, spies, and soldiers. They were treated as ticking time bombs that might go postal on innocent bystanders at any moment because they had been to Vietnam, where you could not tell who was friend and who was foe. They returned from hell to face a new hell; a hell where their families, friends, neighbors, and total strangers tortured them with words, actions, or petulant, suspicious silence.

Never again. I never want to see this happen to our armed forces again. For the rest of my life I will read these stories, hear these tales, and watch these documentaries with tears in my eyes. Those tears will not just be for the suffering of our men and the South Vietnamese during the war. No, they will be for the treatment our men received when they came home, and for the retribution wrought by the Viet Cong on the South Vietnamese after we left them to the Communists.

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Vietnam was not a lost war. It was a war that was thrown away, the one war where we snatched defeat from the jaws of victory – we, who had saved the world in World War II, threw away a war we had won! “When I went under, the world was at war,” Cap said in The Avengers. “I wake up, they say we won. They didn’t say what we lost.”

We lost a lot. We lost a whole hell of a lot, readers. And we lost it because we threw it away.

The sense of shame I feel for what we did to our military and the South Vietnamese becomes so intense at times that it almost makes me physically sick. They did not deserve this abuse – not a one of them earned it. We went from a nation of heroes – a nation with “the Greatest Generation” – to a nation of indecisive cowards in the space of twenty years.

Never again, readers. We cannot – we must not – let this happen ever again.

When you watch the documentary, you will see that Fr. Capodanno understood what I am telling you right now. The Grunt Padre, as his Marines affectionately dubbed him, died making sure his men were safe. In a time when the American people largely regarded them as no less evil than the Communists they fought, one Navy chaplain made a difference by treating the Marines under his care as the human beings they were. You cannot listen to a description of his life in Vietnam and not consider him a hero, readers. Hero is too small a word to encapsulate what Fr. Capodanno did for these men – far too small.

I hope you get the chance to watch this documentary. At some point, I also hope to read and review the book about Fr. Capodanno, called The Grunt Padre, so I can learn more about this chaplain I admire so much. Knowing how much Fr. Capodanno did for those Marines lifts some of the guilt from my shoulders. It is good to know that not everyone in the U.S. hated the military during Vietnam; that there were those who treated our men with the honor, respect, and the love they deserved even when doing so was not popular.

It also firms my determination never to fall into the trap so many others landed in during the ‘60s and ‘70s. Attack the U.S. military at your own peril here at Thoughts on the Edge of Forever, readers. You will find that I do not accept such assaults. Period.

In closing I leave you with this video of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Hymn –

And with the prayer that God will bless you, the United States military, and the United States of America for many more years to come.

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Book Review: Voices by Ursula K. Le Guin

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Miss Le Guin’s works are myriad. She has written A Wrinkle in Time and its sequels, The Earthsea trilogy, and The Lathe of Heaven. The one series which I know best, and that is not saying much, is her Catwings books. It is not saying much because I am missing one of the novels, perhaps two, and so I have lost part of the story.

Voices is the first Le Guin novel I have read in years. It is also the longest Le Guin story I have ever read. What inspired me to pick it up?

That’s a tale in the telling.

Voices takes place in the city of Ansul. From what a reader gathers, Ansul was once rather like Ancient Athens. The capital city of a small nation which was democratic and full of learning, Ansul kept no standing army. They had a merchant fleet but the ships were armed mostly for fighting pirates. Though they had good equipment, Ansul only has the one coast.

So when the Alds from Asudar came storming over Ansul’s land-locked border, the resistance to their invasion was scattered and haphazard. A country which relies on only words and learning to defend itself is not going to do well. This is a fact. Still, Ansul has an extra excuse for their dismal defense. The Alds’ assault was a complete surprise. They had had no forewarning of an attack, let alone an invasion.

The city of Ansul, which was home to the most libraries and their great university, held out against the Alds for a whole year. When it fell, red ruin played out in the streets. The Alds considered any woman walking alone in the streets to be free fodder for rape. As a result, many “siege brats” populate the city in the intervening years. Only old women and children, along with men, can safely go to the market. Any girl over a certain age who goes out alone and undisguised is at risk of being raped.

This would be bad enough for the people of Ansul to bear, but there is more. Their religion is believed by their conquerors to be unholy, and so practice of it is outlawed. Even the mildest gestures can be punished with death. Also the Alds, at the behest of their priests, have invaded Ansul looking for the gateway to their version of Hell. They call this the Night Mouth. And they believe the Night Mouth is somewhere within the city of Ansul.

So after they had control of the city, the Alds wrecked all the libraries. They destroyed the university. Then they went from home to home, building to building, searching for every book they could discover. Considering books to be demonic and full of witchcraft, the Alds would not touch them, so that they would not be defiled by them. Instead they had the citizens of Ansul pile the volumes into carts, then throw these tomes, weighted with stones, into the river and the harbor to drown. They do this because they consider fire sacred, so burning books is the same as elevating them to the sacred.

For seventeen years the Alds have ruled Ansul in this manner. Memer Galva, the Ansul “siege brat” daughter of Decalo Galva, has lived in her grandfather’s house for all those years. A Waylord – that is, a taxman – Memer’s grandfather was taken and tortured for information during the siege. The tortures left him crippled, so that he tires after walking around the ruin that is his house for too long without a rest. He cannot stand up straight and his hands are deformed from the torments he endured.

As a child, Memer discovers a secret room within her grandfather’s house. It is filled with books. Here she plays and, although she does not know how to read, she respects the books in the room. Once she finishes playing she puts the volumes back exactly where they came from on the shelf.

One day, in a righteous fury, Memer enters the room to find comfort. Instead she finds the Waylord – reading a book!

At first, they are both frightened. Then the Waylord relaxes and asks Memer how she got in. Memer describes the method she used to enter. He begins to ask how she could know it, then remembers her dead mother, and the answer becomes obvious.

After a few minutes of silence, the Waylord asks Memer if she wants to learn how to read. From then on, Memer makes nightly trips to the secret room, where the Waylord meets her. Over the years he educates her in history, geography, writing and reading. During these years Memer observes others from the city come to the house, many at night and in secret, with books hidden in their clothes or accessories. These are smuggled to the house in the dead of night, lest those who carry them be drowned or buried alive in the mudflats outside the city. Memer and the Waylord hide these volumes in the secret room.

Eventually, things change dramatically for both Memer and Ansul through the story of Voices. But this is not why yours truly chose to read the novel.

No, what intrigued me right from the start was the blurb on the back of the book. The blurb states that, in conquered Ansul, reading and writing are considered “acts punishable by death” according to the law of the conquering Alds.

I was immediately put in mind of history itself. The barbarians of the past who invaded the Roman Empire, Spain, and other countries always destroyed everything the civilized societies they found there had built. From churches to libraries down to the meanest peasant’s house, all the knowledge, culture, and wonders which the conquered people had built were subject to ruin. Why?

As G.K. Chesterton points out in The Ballad of the White Horse, it is because barbarians of most stripes think that destruction is the greatest power on Earth. The barbarian’s life is marked by futility, selfishness, and despair. For will he not be struck down someday by death as well, the ultimate annihilation?

In the epic poem, Chesterton has King Alfred explain that destruction is far from extraordinary. The very Earth wastes away beneath us at this moment: deserts encroach on arable territories, river banks crumble, rocks are eroded, trees die, and mountains and hills are worn away, whilst others are raised through formerly flat plains. Destruction is part of nature itself. It is nothing special – not in the way the barbarian thinks it is.

What, then, is more powerful than destruction? If annihilation is natural, what can be more powerful than it?

The answer, in the words of “a nameless man” and “A rhymester without home” is this:

“Ere the sad gods that made your gods

Saw their sad sunrise pass,

The White Horse of the White Horse Vale,

That you have left to darken and fail,

Was cut out of the grass.

– 

“Therefore your end is on you,

Is on you and your kings,

Not for a fire in Ely fen,

Not that your gods are nine or ten,

But because it is only Christian men

Guard even heathen things.”

 

How did the West survive the Dark Ages? How did science progress to the age of “Enlightenment” and beyond? How do we know with such certainty what happened so long ago in Ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Athens, Sparta, Rome, Carthage, and lands beyond?

All this is here because “it is only Christian men/Guard even heathen things.” A culture which does not build, which does not learn, which revels only in death, dismemberment, and devastation, is doomed to ruin itself. Though time will one day end, whatever survives to the day when the last man on Earth makes his choice will be there because “it is only Christian men/Guard even heathen things.”

Preservation, not annihilation. Life, not death. These are the powers which war for control of the Earth. This is what is meant by the phrase “light and darkness.” There is no question as to which side will eventually win the conflict. No, there is only one question each man must ask himself:

Which side will I choose?

This writer chooses to “guard even heathen things,” rather than to leave “The White Horse of the White Horse Vale/… to darken and fail.” I choose to fight the Long Defeat, and to preserve what I can. To be the hare “who has more heart to run” than the hunter who has “less heart to ride.” I would rather “Go gaily in the dark” and “go singing to [my] shame” than “know what wicked things/Are written on the sky” or “know all evil things/Under the twisted trees.”

That is my choice.

What about you, reader? Which side will you choose? Or, as Mr. Chesterton said:

 

Do you have joy without a cause,

Yea, faith without a hope?

The Mithril Guardian

One More Point in Saving Mr. Banks

You may or may not have seen a post I did a little while ago about the film Saving Mr. Banks, readers. In it, I spoke about a line Walt Disney uttered in the film: “See, that’s what we storytellers do. We bring order to the world. We give people hope, over and over again.”

I wrote then about the way this statement affected me personally. (Among other things, it made me cry quite a bit.) Thinking more about this scene, and the movie in general, another line in the film struck me.

Throughout the movie, which shows Walt Disney doing his utmost to convince Mrs. Travers to allow him to make a film out of her Mary Poppins book, Disney again and again says that he wants to “make something beautiful” out of her story.   And he does not just want her permission to do this. He wants her help to do it.

How many of us use the word “beautiful” in conjunction with a film? Really, how many of us do that? I know I do not use the word “beautiful” to describe a movie. In fact, listening to Disney say it, I was inclined to squirm a little. How can a movie be “beautiful”?

I guess the better question is, “How could it not be beautiful?”

We do not use “beautiful” very much these days, readers, with regard to stories. Whether they are in print, song, or on film, “beautiful” is an adjective rarely attached to a story. Or, if it is applied, it can sometimes be applied to a film for the wrong reason.

A viewer might say that he thinks films such as Pacific Rim, Star Trek (the latest reboot), or Noah are beautiful. By this he could mean that he believes the CGI effects are beautiful. I will not disagree that CGI effects are impressive. I like Avatar simply for the CGI effects, and I would indeed call them “beautiful.”

I cannot say that about the story in Avatar, which is simply cowboys and Indians on another world. And the Indians win. I believe that I have watched Avatar a total of two or three times since a friend sat me down to see it first.

In contrast, I have watched Mary Poppins too many times to count since I was introduced to it as a child. Of late I have not watched it as much, but compared to Avatar, I would say that the story of Mary Poppins is a “beautiful” story. The story in Avatar I would call, politely, “mediocre” – at best.

So why would Disney call a prospective Mary Poppins film “something beautiful”? He would say that because a good story, just like a good photograph, painting, or song, is an expression of beauty. Beauty lifts us up. It reminds us of what is good, true, and permanent. That there is more to life than what we see, and that we rarely experience the “permanence” we can often feel but are rarely allowed to see with our eyes.

Parents often complain – laughingly – that their children almost endlessly watch a particular movie or movies over and over again, until they (the parents) are well and truly fed up with it. Why do children do this? Why do they watch the same film(s) time after time, when they know every line by heart?

I would guess it is probably because children have a sense that attracts them to beauty, which is crushed – or tamed – out of them as they grow up. I remember watching lots of films several times in the same week as a child. I never got tired of them. I enjoyed new stories, but the older stories were my close friends, and I did not want to leave them out of my fun.

Today, however, many storytellers – whether they work in the medium of print or film – are running away from beauty. There are others who embrace it, such as those at Disney, if only because it is their bread and butter. Others continually try to tear it down and destroy it.

Do you want proof of this? Check out the films that have come out recently. Along with the latest Marvel films, Disney’s Maleficent, Cinderella, and Frozen, we have such movies as The Purge, The Purge 2, The Hive, Gallows, and other trash. Yes, I called those films trash, and I will do so again. They are garbage, the vile refuse of small minds that take pleasure in “tearing the old world down,” to quote Alexander Pierce of Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

These “storytellers” are not telling stories. They are not making films. They are propagating nihilism. They are worshipping destruction, death, and horror. And they have the temerity, the unmitigated gall, to call it “art.” “Art doesn’t have to mean anything except to its maker,” they howl hoarsely. “We’re giving people what they want. We’re giving them reality!”

Pardon me a moment, readers, but this is nonsense. No, actually, it is worse than nonsense. It is lies.

Art is not a collection of carpet fluff glued together to resemble a poodle. Art is not a bed covered in empty vodka bottles or a canvas someone spilled thirty cans of paint onto, and art is NOT anything like The Purge or The Hive.

Art is a manifestation of beauty. Everyone can see and recognize beauty, and they can either love it or hate it. Everyone who loves beauty is gifted with expressing it in some way, from a waitress smiling at a customer to a director doing his utmost to turn a great book into a remarkable film.

And everyone who hates beauty will try to destroy it. They will try to destroy those who use their talents to express beauty. One of the first targets, therefore, will be the painters, songwriters, storytellers, and others who make beauty visible for all to see.

These haters of beauty try first to shout and beat these great artists into submission. Finding that shouting does not work on all, they instead whisper and sneer, making themselves look reasonable and more real than the beauty these artists portray.

Everyone says they can make art. And someone who makes a good movie, writes a good book or a song, or paints a beautiful picture, has proved their worth. But those who paint death, horror, destruction, and malfeasance of every kind yet call it “art” are liars, cads. They are the Wormtongues of our age, the useful puppets of the Sarumans that feed them the falsehoods and monstrosities they then display for all to see.

No longer is a storyteller believed to bring order to a chaotic, brutal world and give people a taste of what true reality looks like. No longer is a storyteller expected to bring hope to the people again and again, to give them characters that will live forever, safely cherished in the viewers/readers hearts.

No. Instead, the Sarumans say storytellers are supposed to revel in the transient. They are expected to give form to passing feelings, fleeting fads, and to lift up the slime at the bottom of the gutter and proclaim it art. This is now the anticipated path of an artist.

G. K. Chesterton said on his deathbed that there was only the light and the dark, and every man had to choose which he would serve, for which he would live and die.

What do these sides, the light and the dark, look like? Look to your heart, readers. Who rides there? Captain America? Aragorn? Luke Skywalker? They are the emblems of the light, the ideals of those who choose goodness, right, and truth. They are what these people truly strive to be. All who live according to the light, who love the day and the stars at night, they fight for the light. They are the true Avengers, the real Fellowship of the Ring, and the living Jedi Knights. To believe in beauty, to fight to keep it present in the world – that, readers, is choosing and fighting for the light.

What do those who serve the darkness look like? Whom do they carry in their hearts? Loki, Saruman, Hannibal Lecter, Thanos – these are examples of the outriders of evil. It is these who are carried in the hearts of those who serve the darkness. They, like these characters, have rejected the light. For them it is better to rule in the dark than to serve in the light. Non serviam, they say. Those who are minions of evil resemble these wicked characters in some manner.

It may not be an obvious resemblance, of course. Does not Crossbones wear a mask? Do not Saruman and Thanos hide behind useful puppets like Gríma Wormtongue, Loki, and Nebula? Does not Hannibal Lecter do his work where none can see and stop him? And was it not Loki who was told by Coulson, “You’re going to lose.”

“Am I?”

“It’s in your nature.”

“Your heroes are scattered,” Loki answered, “Your floating fortress falls from the sky… Where is my disadvantage?”

“You lack conviction,” was Coulson’s prompt, true answer.

Why would evil wear a mask if it were so utterly convinced that it had nothing to fear? Evil wears a mask because it does have something to fear, something far greater than itself. The Light is what it fears, and for that reason true storytellers serve the Light.

This is why I blog about stories which I know are beautiful. This is why I blog about characters and songs I know to be beautiful. This is why I write. There is no other reason for this blog. If there ever was another reason, it has long since passed away. Writing about beauty is one way of making beauty visible to the world again and again. Of bringing order, if only for a few paragraphs, to a chaotic society. Of giving hope, however small, where it is needed most.

Excelsior, readers!

The Mithril Guardian

Book Review: The Ballad of the White Horse

Here again I speak of a favorite author just lately mentioned, readers. G. K. Chesterton’s Ballad of the White Horse was recommended to me a long time ago, but only recently did I download a copy of the Ballad to read it.

I enjoyed it immensely but found that my Gutenberg.org edition lacked footnotes to clarify some of Chesterton’s poetry. So I hunted up a hard copy of the book (I usually prefer hardcopies of books or papers anyway) and bought it, determined to better understand what I found to be such joyful reading.

The Ballad of the White Horse, by G. K. Chesterton, tells the story of King Alfred’s battle against the Danes who had invaded England. Alfred was a king dispossessed and in hiding; should the Danes find him, England’s only hope of driving the enemy from her soil would vanish.

It is unimportant how historically accurate The Ballad is to both the author and to me; suffice it to say that Alfred was a king of England and he did drive the Danes from his kingdom – quite heroically, too. Chesterton shows us Alfred hiding from the Danes on the island of Athelney, feeling despair creep over him. His people are scattered or under the yoke of the Danes, his armies destroyed, and his remaining chieftains hold their own territory free of the Danes – but that is all they can do. His situation is looking grimmer by the day.

Then he sees a vision of the Virgin Mary who tells him, “I tell you naught for your comfort/Yea, naught for your desire/Save that the sky grows darker yet/ And the sea rises higher.” Mary adds to her warning: “Do you have faith without a cause/ Yea, faith without a hope?” In other words, Alfred is not told whether he will fail or win, only that he must try to defeat the Danes.

Thus inspired, Alfred heads out to find and rally his chieftains: Mark the Roman, Eldred the Franklin, and Colan the Gael.

On a personal note, of the three chieftains I like Colan best – primarily for the reason Chesterton states here:

“For the great Gaels of Ireland

Are the men that God made mad,

For all their wars are merry,

And all their songs are sad.”

I myself have Irish lineage, though I will say no more of that. But I will take this verse – and others in The Ballad – as compliments high and fair to that race of which I claim a small part.

The final battle against the Danes goes hard; all three chieftains are lost but Alfred does gain the day, and becomes king of England once again. I would recommend to anyone who desires to read the poem to buy a book with footnotes – reliable footnotes – so that they can better understand the Ballad. Apart from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, the Ballad is one of the few works of fiction I will not part with.

A last word, readers. The white horse geoglyph, which does exist and lies carved into a mound in England, is mentioned throughout the Ballad as a recurring theme for the story. During the course of the Ballad, the white horse is used to suggest the transcendent.

As Alfred points out to the king of the invading Danes, Guthrum, destruction is not as wonderful as the Danes make it out to be. Things naturally rot away or crumble back into the earth. Even the White Horse geoglyph disappears under weeds and thorns every year. And it would stay there, lost to history, if it were not scoured annually. Therefore, which is the greater power? he asks. Destruction or preservation?

The answer is pretty obvious; with decay a part of nature, the fact that anything can be preserved through millennia is astounding.

But preservation is no easy task. As Alfred says near the end of the poem:

“Will ye part with the weeds for ever?

Or show daisies to the door?

Or will you bid the bold grass

Go, and return no more?

“And though the skies alter and empires melt,

This word shall still be true:

If we would have the horse of old,

Scour ye the horse anew.”

So, readers, if we would have the good of old, the good we know and love today, in order to keep it tomorrow and into ever after – “If we would have the horse of old” – then we must “scour the White Horse anew.” Time after weary time, battle after exhausting battle, we must fight the “Long Defeat” as Tolkien named it, if we wish to see the victory.

I have a scouring brush. Feel free to join me and the others fighting the “Long Defeat” whenever you wish. 😉

Later,

The Mithril Guardian

Book Review: The Innocence of Father Brown

Father Brown's Innocence

Due in part to sullysgirl’s comment on one of my posts many moons ago, I picked up and began reading several Father Brown stories. Written by G. K. Chesterton, the stories focus on the crime-solving adventures of the intrepid Father Brown. Unlike “high-functioning sociopath” Mr. Holmes, Father Brown is approachable and friendly – but he has steel in his bones and a keen mind to match, or perhaps even outmatch, Mr. Holmes.

The volume of Father Brown material that I first read was, naturally, The Innocence of Father Brown. I enjoyed several stories more than the others and, though it has been some time since I last clapped eyes on a Father Brown tale, I think I can remember my favorites well enough to sketch an outline of them for you, readers.

The first Father Brown mystery I fell in love with is the first story G. K. Chesterton ever wrote for the daring little priest: The Blue Cross. Throughout the tale a French investigator tracks a famous French art thief named Flambeau through London since he received a tip that he will be there to steal a valuable artifact. A series of strange accidents – salt in the sugar containers at a restaurant, an upset cart of fruit, a broken window at a post office – lead him to two clerics walking through a park.

Other stories I enjoyed in the volume were The Queer Feet and The Flying Stars. In The Queer Feet, Father Brown must stop at the club of the Twelve Fisherman, a gentlemen’s association with some bizarre (to me, at least) dining habits. For instance, the group eats with gold utensils that have a pearl set in each piece of cutlery’s handle. These are stolen and subsequently rescued by Father Brown.

In The Flying Stars, at Christmas Father Brown visits a well-to-do family. The patriarch happens to be hosting a relative from Canada at the same time he (the patriarch) is holding in his possession three very valuable diamonds. The diamonds are called the Flying Stars because they have been stolen so often. The merrymaking for Christmas Day begins when the visitor from Canada suggests a pantomime – then disappears, as do the Flying Stars!

More stories in the volume which I enjoyed were The Invisible Man and The Hammer of God. I cannot recall much about why I enjoyed these, since The Invisible Man was about a postman who committed some crime (it may have been murder, I cannot recall now) while The Hammer of God was about a Minister who, while praying in the loft of his church, saw his brother of ill repute preparing to meet a married lady.

The final two stories in The Innocence of Father Brown which I found enjoyable are The Eye of Apollo and The Three Tools of Death. In The Eye of Apollo a man claiming to be a priest of the sun god Apollo takes up residence in an office building in London. Flambeau, now an honest tradesman, happens to be working in the building as a private investigator. Ever a gallant fellow, he has made the acquaintance of two young women who work in the building as well. The two are sisters.

But what sisters! The older woman is beautiful, forceful, and a follower/paramour of Apollo’s new priest, while the younger sister wears glasses and hunches over her work at her desk, bullied by her older sister. Flambeau likes the older sister very much, and is stunned when she falls to her death in an elevator shaft at the same moment Apollo’s priest has gone out on the balcony to publicly worship the sun.

In The Three Tools of Death a famous philanthropist and eternal optimist is found dead. His daughter’s fiancé is accused of murdering him, as he was found apparently trying to kill him with a knife, a pistol, and a noose. Who can read such a riddle? Father Brown sits down with the young fiancé, surrounded by the police, and finds the truth.

Some stories, readers, like good wine, get better with age. G. K. Chesterton’s Father Brown mysteries are such stories. I greatly enjoyed them, and I would hereby like to take the time to publicly and heartily thank sullysgirl for setting me on the road to reading them!

Until next time, readers!

The Mithril Guardian