Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton (Book Review) ~ BitterSweetLife

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton (Book Review)

Flash Review: A Fusion of Theology and Hilarity

Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton
Orthodoxy, by G.K. Chesterton, A+

Orthodoxy should perhaps be known as the masterpiece with a title that has deterred readers ever since publication. But any concern over the book's forbidding tonality melts away somewhere after the third paragraph. G.K. Chesterton is not so much concerned in weaving a dense wall of theology as in vividly illustrating the startling way that faith overshadows every dimension of life.

"Orthodoxy makes us jump by the sudden brink of hell; it is only afterwards that we realize that jumping was an athletic exercise highly beneficial to our health. It is only afterwards that we realize that this danger is the root of all drama and romance."

I finally dipped into Gilbert Keith's classic after a period of anticipation (or possibly nervousness) spanning several years. I’d read The Man Who Was Thursday and the Father Brown Mysteries, but was still unprepared for Orthodoxy's ingenuity. If the mind is a think-tank, then some authors merely ruffle the surface. Chesterton thrashes up the depths. He’s an original thinker, mixing doses of hilarity with measures of sheer brilliance. He leaps from theme to theme and metaphor to metaphor with such speed and exuberance it’s sometimes hard to keep up.
"Man must have just enough faith in himself to have adventures, and just enough doubt of himself to enjoy them."

I did my best to track with Chesterton, however, and the book proved to be formative. G.K.'s visions of God’s mirth, of the earth as salvaged from a wreck, of the imaginative soul, of the dead endings of mere systems of thought—and the high-spirited mode in which he expresses them—are unique to him. Moreover, the images and truths have stuck with me (as evidenced by how often I quote G.K. on this blog).
"Life (according to the faith) is very like a serial story in a magazine: life ends with the promise (or menace) “to be continued in our next.” Also, with a noble vulgarity, life imitates the serial and leaves off at the exciting moment. For death is distinctly an exciting moment."

In terms of naming Chesterton's "type," the closest I can come is C.S. Lewis, who readily admitted the influence of Chesterton in his own philosophy (as have many other notable thinkers). In light of this, maybe it would be more accurate to put Lewis in the "Chesterton genre?" At any rate, Chesterton cannot really be pigeon-holed, and it's hard to do justice to his writing in a short review.

Looking for a final word? All right: Buy this book immediately; when the package arrives, cancel your engagements for the evening, set a large British tankard at your elbow, and immerse yourself in G.K. Chesterton's wildly imaginative mind, pencil in hand. You won't regret it.

Yes, of course this book is listed on the Master Book List.

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gymbrall said...

And in case anyone is interested, the book can also be read online or downloaded from either here or here

Maverick said...

I happened upon your blog by the most unlikely of circumstances, i.e. I was searching for an image of sufjan stevens on Google and seeing instead a picture of my very own Maryland Terrapins playing your Kansas Jayhawks which sparked my interest enough to visit your blog. Nonetheless, I appreciate your point of view and will hopefully continue to read the blog. Until then I will enjoy some G.K. Chesterton. Thanks!

K Anne said...

Thanks for your review of Orthodoxy. I have read Heretics, which lead me to Orthodoxy. I am about 2/3 of the way through. The Everlasting Man is waiting in the wings. GKC is hard to read (for this very untalented reader) but so worth it! Either I laugh out loud, my eyes boggle and I have to reread the paragraph again, or I am left with a warm feeling and lots left to think about.


Culture. Photos. Life's nagging questions. - BitterSweetLife