Tag Archives: G. K. Chesterton

god is Dead

I have a theory, maybe I found it in a book somewhere, maybe I just agglomerated it from a series of books I’ve read, I certainly don’t know. So in the style of the old school writers, I will just write out the idea and not bother with citation; and if any of my readers can place the idea in its whole form, I will amend the post to give credit where it is due. Very likely this has been discussed before since there is really no such thing as a new idea. The idea is that all gods of all beliefs, other than the True belief, follow a predictable course. The gods have a birth, a life and a death, and to these events the human worshipers, the believers follow a sad and broken path, the same path every time: whether the god is Oden or whether it is a more abstract idea of social utopia in communism. The reaction of the believers is the same in each stage of the god’s ‘life’.

At birth the god is new: and the human culture that made him is vigorous and strong. They burst upon the world with power and the might of high birth rates and a society that does not question its purpose or leadership. Its sort of like the Assyrians, who as far as anyone can tell started out farmers in a mountainous region of the middle east. Then one day (from a long historical point a view –it was perhaps a generation or two.) They broke upon the world, conquering and slaughtering and ruling. Take another example: before the time of Muhammad, the Arabian peninsula and the Arabs were considered of no real threat or importance, then within a few generations, they ruled the southern half of what had been the Roman world. Or one final example: global communism. With Russia, China, Korea, Vietnam, half of Europe (with the other half nearly going as well) the ideology was young, the god was new: and its people credited their successes to their god.

And here, of course, I bring up the Ballad of the White Horse again. That poem is a fundamentally philosophical document. In the book where Alfred is singing to Gunthram, the earls of the northmen and Gunthram all sing, and they sing in the order of the cycle of life of false gods. First sings Young Harold:

‘For Rome was given to rule the world,
And gat of it little joy—
But we, but we shall enjoy the world,
The whole huge world a toy.

Great wine like blood from Burgundy,
Cloaks like the clouds from Tyre,
And marble like solid moonlight,
And gold like frozen fire.

Smells that a man might swill in a cup,
Stones that a man might eat,
And the great smooth women like ivory
That the Turks sell in the street.’

He sang the song of the thief of the world,
And the gods that love the thief;
And he yelled aloud at the cloister-yards,
Where men go gathering grief.

The next stage is perhaps ‘adulthood’ This is where none of the people in charge really believe anymore, but the system is working in their favor and they use it. They doubt their gods. This is the time I suppose I have least to say, so here is what Elf the minstrel sings about in the Ballad, singing about Baldir:

“There is always a thing forgotten
When all the world goes well;
A thing forgotten, as long ago,
When the gods forgot the mistletoe,
And soundless as an arrow of snow
The arrow of anguish fell.

“The thing on the blind side of the heart,
On the wrong side of the door,
The green plant groweth, menacing
Almighty lovers in the spring;
There is always a forgotten thing,
And love is not secure.”

And finally, the gods die. This, I think is the sign. When people actually believe their god is alive, they work hard, they conquer, they bear children. When the god dies, when the idol smashes, people become obsessed with death: they pour out the blood of human sacrifices upon the idol to try and bring their god back to life. Because anything and everything is more bearable than to be alone, to have no purpose, no god, no belief: to be nothing more than an accident. And so, children are slaughtered on alters, people do their best to kill and slaughter, because as the old earl says in the Ballad:

“There lives one moment for a man
When the door at his shoulder shakes,
When the taut rope parts under the pull,
And the barest branch is beautiful
One moment, while it breaks.
….
“And you that sit by the fire are young,
And true love waits for you;
But the king and I grow old, grow old,
And hate alone is true.”

God is dead: and hate and death is all that remains. This is the world around us today. Everyone has awoken and realized inside their soul that their god is dead. They currently are trying to bring their respective gods back to life with slaughter and death. Every false belief, every false god, ends in nihilism. The suicide bomber and abortion are both ultimate expressions of nihilism, both are sacrifices upon the alter of a god who has died. Abortion is nothing more than infant sacrifice to the gods of the secular west. The god is nameless and elusive, but it is a mixture of humanism, of hedonism. Perhaps it is really the worship of Ashtoreth, the goddess of sex and war. And on her alter are sacrificed millions of unborn and born children. Witness Gosnell, and read this about the birth control pill (I know I linked it before, but go read it again anyway, it is good to be reminded of these things.) I would write more about Gosnell, but his actions are so horrific I’d rather not, and the worst part is, that every single thing he did is legal (and by many evil people encouraged) as long as it is done inside a woman rather than outside. That distinction is actually meaningless of course, either abortion is evil or Gosnell should go free. This is the result of the culture of suicide and death that comes of the god dying. What happens next? Well, the people who’s God has died and then risen again answer with Arthur.

“When God put man in a garden
He girt him with a sword,
And sent him forth a free knight
That might betray his lord;

“He brake Him and betrayed Him,
And fast and far he fell,
Till you and I may stretch our necks
And burn our beards in hell.

“But though I lie on the floor of the world,
With the seven sins for rods,
I would rather fall with Adam
Than rise with all your gods.

“What have the strong gods given?
Where have the glad gods led?
When Guthrum sits on a hero’s throne
And asks if he is dead?
……
“That on you is fallen the shadow,
And not upon the Name;
That though we scatter and though we fly,
And you hang over us like the sky,
You are more tired of victory,
Than we are tired of shame.
……
“Nor shall all iron dooms make dumb
Men wondering ceaselessly,
If it be not better to fast for joy
Than feast for misery.
……
“For our God hath blessed creation,
Calling it good. I know
What spirit with whom you blindly band
Hath blessed destruction with his hand;
Yet by God’s death the stars shall stand
And the small apples grow.”

Grimm: Season 2

Well, Grimm season two has started that that means that I get to write about the show again. Besides being a fun 45 minutes  per episode of adventure and fighting, there are at least three major good reasons Grimm is a good show.

The show manages the almost impossible distinction between morally complicated good guy/ bad guy dichotomy and the morally ambiguous version of the same thing. Basically, any story can have one of three categories of characters; sometimes it can have some of each too. The first category is the morally straightforward characters, whether good or evil. Iago is morally unambiguous and evil, and also very realistic, Captain America from the recent Avengers is unambiguously good. The second category is the morally ambiguous character. This character is ambiguous not because you do not understand his motivations but the character is ambiguous because the writer/director has swallowed the whole fishing apparatus of moral relativism and does not even realize it. I am a little rust on characters like this, since moral relativistic movies tend to be almost unbearable to watch, but whenever the film or book wants you to ‘understand’ the evil rather than condemn it, it falls into this category. However, Grimm falls into neither of these categories. It rather falls into what I would call the ‘real world’ category. Since the reader can be kept unknowledgeable about enough of what is really going on to make it difficult to tell if a character is trying to do something good or bad, that makes it messy, complicated, and realistic.

About the main character, Detective Burkhardt, we know his motivations and his methods, and he is clearly trying to do good. About the mysterious rulers of the Wesen world we know that they are trying to rule everything to their own evil pleasures. However, about the police captain, we simply do not know. We know he is working against the ‘bad guys’ but we also know his methods seem to indicate him as another bad guy. This messiness also extends to the Grimms who can see and fight the Wesen. Some of them (apparently, we only meet a few) hunt Wesen almost for sport, whether or not they are evil. So, full marks to Grimm for making a complicated messy, but not morally relativistic world.

Another impressive quality of Grimm that it avoids much of the repetitiveness that many TV shows have. For instance, Monk’s murder investigations become wrote and tedious. But for Grimm, which frequently introduces yet another Wesen every episode, it does not get tedious. I credit this to its adherence to the feeling of the Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and to the fact that the seasons have more than incidental season long plots. I don’t think I can really emphasize enough that in Grimm, we find the real psychological message of fairy tales. As Chesterton says: “Fairy Tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”

Also strong in Grimm is the soul of this other quote from Chesterton: (The Dragon’s Grandmother, in Tremendous Trifles h/t Jotter Notes)

“Can you not see,” I said, “that fairy tales in their essence are quite solid and straightforward; but that this everlasting fiction about modern life is in its nature essentially incredible? Folk-lore means that the soul is sane, but that the universe is wild and full of marvels. Realism means that the world is dull and full of routine, but that the soul is sick and screaming. The problem of the fairy tale is — what will a healthy man do with a fantastic world? The problem of the modern novel is — what will a madman do with a dull world? In the fairy tales the cosmos goes mad; but the hero does not go mad. In the modern novels the hero is mad before the book begins, and suffers from the harsh steadiness and cruel sanity of the cosmos.

With that I leave you with a recommendation to watch Grimm: good times, good plots, and a sane man in a world gone mad.

Ghost Story

So the other night I watched The Woman in Black and that started me thinking about ghost stories in general. For instance, I cannot figure out why people in ghost stories always run behind doors and lock them, they aren’t keeping out zombies. Ghosts can obviously appear behind you anywhere, they are haunting a location, that location is their playground, so beating a traditional ghost is simple… LEAVE! However, I am not actually hear to snark on the genre, it is too convention filled to mock. I like conventions in stories, like the grand sagas and ballads all had plot conventions. No, I found some parts of the film interesting from an altogether different viewpoint.

The Woman in Black is set in the late 1800’s and it set me thinking about this era, the Lunatic laws, the loss of faith in Europe, Matthew Arnold, and then back to the ghost story. The ghost in question was the mother of a little boy who was proclaimed a lunatic and had her son taken away. (See G. K. Chesterton’s Eugenics and Other Evils)The film makes fairly clear that before her son was taken she was mostly normal, if a little obsessive. But as she is further and further removed from their son, she goes crazier and crazier until her son is lost in the marsh and his adoptive parents (her sister and brother-in-law) escape the car but desert the boy to the quicksand. So she hangs herself and becomes the ghost of the story, who is a ghost of horrible vengeance, who drives the children of the neighboring town to kill themselves.
Enter the hero, with his Victorian sentimentality. Once convinced his own son is in danger, he dredges up the body of the boy, and lays it in the tomb with his mothers body… which has no effect on the ghost at all. And thus we see the people of an industrial age, having lost their faith, and willing to believe in anything. The hero talks in vague terms about his dead wife waiting for him, and others toss about half-believed platitudes about souls going up to heaven, but no body believes anything, and everybody is grasping for something to believe.

Enter Matthew Arnold and Dover Beach.

The sea is calm tonight.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast, the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,

Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Aegean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

So what interested me most about The Woman in Black was the final score. Ghost: at least 12, Sentimentality: 0. So I thought of another, this time American ghost story rather than a Victorian one. Bag Of Bones by Stephen King. (If you read it, it is pretty good just be ready to skip some pages when King gets horrible describing in minute detail the origin of the ghost.) In this case, the ghost takes a few children from each generation, all with names starting with ‘K’ as revenge for her child. However our hero is an impractical enough person to realize that a ghost seeking more and more vengeance cannot be satisfied. (A sentimental mistake of the Victorian lawyer who was the hero of The Woman in Black.) Our hero in this case, once he realizes that there is indeed a ghost, and a particular, very sweet little girl is the target (name starts with ‘K’ and descended from original villain from a century ago.) he comes up with a practical American plan, find the body of the ghost woman and pour lye on the bones… which works for the story. Ghost: Several every generation, Practical hero: 1. A much better score, for a different culture.
However, I leave you with a great very short ghost story. This one is quite good. (The ghost doesn’t do any killing… so there isn’t much scoring I can do…)
Andrew Klavan’s The Advent Reunion. Here is video one of about 6. Do listen, it is well done.

Book List

I generally eschew genre labels, since they mislead and prejudice the reader’s mind. So here is a list of good books to read in the best order I can think of… as they come to mind.

Lisey’s Story, Stephen King
War in Heaven, Charles Williams
All Hallows Eve, Charles Williams
The Sands of Mars, Arthur C. Clarke
Childhood’s End, Arthur C. Clarke
Youth, Isaac Asimov
Phantasties, George MacDonald
Lilith, George MacDonald
Perelandra, C. S. Lewis
That Hideous Strength, C. S. Lewis
Out of the Silent Planet, C. S. Lewis
Desperation, Stephen King
The Worthing Saga, Orson Scott Card
Salem’s Lot, Steven King
A Good Man is Hard to Find, Flannery O’Connor
A Sense of Reality, Grahame Greene
In Freedom’s Cause, G. A. Henty
Roverandum, J. R. R. Tolkien
The Smith of Wootton Major, J. R. R. Tolkien
Lord of the Flies, William Golding
Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The Master of Ballantrae: A Winter’s Tale, Robert Lewis Stevenson
Kidnapped, R. L. Stevenson
The Lady of the Lake, Sir Walter Scott
The Ballad of the White Horse, G. K. Chesterton
The Napoleon of Notting Hill, G. K. Chesterton
The Man Who Was Thursday, G. K. Chesterton
The Flying Inn, G. K. Chesterton
Till We Have Faces, C. S. Lewis
The Red Rover, James Fenimore Cooper
The Pilot, James Fenimore Cooper
The Deerslayer, James Fenimore Cooper
The Winter of Our Discontent, John Steinbeck
If I Forget Thee, O Earth, Arthur C. Clarke
The Green Mile, Stephen King

Of course, this list is not exhaustive at all, I just felt the need for some list making…