Caught in the Nightmare

Well, that sounds rather grim. Actually, I’m caught up once again in the plot of a very well-written, mind-blowing book.

You need to know that somebody was writing stuff like this back in 1908:
 

That’s from The Man Who Was Thursday, by G. K. Chesterton, the book I spoke of last week.

Chesterton – ordinarily a very logical if expressionistic writer – called it a nightmare and took offense at some reviewers who found this or that meaning in it.

I think the nightmare he referred to may have been the confusion that accompanied his struggles with faith in his younger years – a journey he documented very well in Orthodoxy.

He didn’t use the term “moral equivalency” or coin it (as far as I know), but that does sum up part of what The Man Who Was Thursday is about.

The challenge this "stone Buddha" represented to Chesterton's idea of Christianity and the Enlightment gave GKC a real big nightmare.  (Image:  pinkcigarette)

The challenge this “stone Buddha” (it’s actually made of metal) represented to Chesterton’s idea of Christianity and the Enlightment gave GKC a nightmare. (Image: pinkcigarette)

Fair is fair

I promised to do The Man Who Was Thursday last week (after reviewing a book that lightheartedly romps into some very Christian territory) because GKC goes after a flavor of my own faith: Northern Buddism (I’m actually a Southern, or Theravadan, Buddhist).

Fair is fair.

Back at the turn of the 20th century, it seems, some of the influential elite in Britain took a superficial liking to parts of Buddhism, and Chesterton just found this to be awful.

In Thursday, his physical description of the ultimate good/ultimate bad character fits that of the Great Buddha of Kamakura.

800px-G._K._Chesterton_at_work

This person ultimately ends up leading his disciples/arresting officers (they’re the same people) on a hansom chase through London, throwing “koans” at them before he escapes in a hot air balloon (GKC doesn’t call them koans – he calls them crumpled pieces of paper with nonsense written on them).

Did I mention this story is mind-blowing? That’s actually one of the saner parts and is actually rather “Zen” in its own right.

Gaiman and Pratchett were right: Chesterton did know what was going on.

Chesterton’s understanding of Northern Buddhism is woven into the very structure of this tale. As usual, he’s merciless: on Buddhism, his society, himself, and his confusion.

It’s also a wonderfully entertaining action adventure, believe it or not, though not as lighthearted as last week’s Good Omens was.

Wikipedia takes a stab at describing its plot (and falls short).

Though I’ve read it many times before, I decided to run through it again before writing a post. This time through, it’s easy to substitute “anarchist” with “terrorist” (the 21st century equivalent), and if you do that, well…!

I’m still in the merry-go-round, and will try to say something intelligent about it next Thursday.



Categories: Thursday Lit

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