Getting to Know Chesterton

I’ve been working steadily on a course I will be teaching at my church this fall; I call it “Writers C. S. Lewis Admired.” It has been challenging, but in a good and profitable way, as I am becoming better acquainted with those writers.

George MacDonald provided Lewis with a baptized imagination in his youth. I was already familiar with the Lewis-Tolkien relationship (although I am picking up even more information now) and I have studied and read Dorothy L. Sayers’s works over the years and will be able to offer a strong presentation on her writing virtues.

G. K. Chesterton, though, of all those Lewis admired, remained somewhat of a mystery to me. I certainly love all the Chesterton quotes people share, but my knowledge of him as a person was less than with the other writers. So it has been particularly gratifying to delve deeper into who he was and how his mind worked.

His major works were known to me. I had read Orthodoxy years ago, but when I reread it recently, it was like a new book. It was as if I had never read it before–nothing really stuck with me from the previous reading. Similarly, I had read The Everlasting Man a couple of years ago, and even marked it up. Yet when I went back to reread it, I had the same experience: I didn’t really recall what I had read.

A new reading for me, and possibly one that many Chesterton readers have left untouched, was his autobiography. I found it rather fascinating, as it revealed more of the inner man, especially his self-deprecating humor. Take, for instance, the opening words of the autobiography.

That’s a rather unique way to introduce oneself. His tongue-in-cheek mode continued throughout his opening paragraphs.

The autobiography is hardly a “dull summary of the facts” of his life. Again, in his inimitable style, he “apologizes” for not having a horrid family and nurturing experience upon which to base a really fine autobiography.

The humorous self-deprecation of the last line is one I’ll always remember. I’m discovering that Chesterton was a man who never succumbed to the temptation to blame others for any and all of the hard times everyone faces in life. He believed in personal accountability.

Whereas I began this study thinking that Chesterton might be the one person I would spend the least time on in class, I’m now realizing there is so much substance in his writings that he will easily help me fill the allotted number of weeks for this course.

And I now know better why Lewis was so attracted to him even before his conversion, and why he credited Chesterton with opening his eyes to a Christian view of history.