19 thoughts on “The Complete Father Brown Stories – G.K. Chesterton

    “The most incredible thing about miracles is that they happen. A few clouds in heaven do come together into the staring shape of one human eye. A tree does stand up in the landscape of a doubtful journey in the exact and elaborate shape of a note of interrogation. I have seen both these things myself within the last few days. Nelson does die in the instant of victory; and a man named Williams does quite accidentally murder a man named Williamson; it sounds like a sort of infanticide. In short, there is in life an element of elfin coincidence which people reckoning on the prosaic may perpetually miss. As it has been well expressed in the paradox of Poe, wisdom should reckon on the unforeseen.”
    A famous French detective and his sought criminal both bow to the priest when the apparent absurdisms become meaningful. The criminal is the creative artist, the detective the critic. But what of the man between, more creative than both?
    Salt is sugar, tangerines nuts, and broken windows and a smashed bowl of soup. All started in Harwich, near here.
    I am the critic detective of this book, and the book leads the way for me to plod behind, I guess.
    “It was an old house, with high walls and tall poplars almost overhanging the Seine; but the oddity and perhaps the police value of its architecture was this: that there was no ultimate exit at all except through this front door, which was guarded by Ivan and the armoury. The garden was large and elaborate, and there were many exits from the house into the garden. But there was no exit from the garden into the world outside; all round it ran a tall, smooth, unscalable wall with special spikes at the top; no bad garden, perhaps, for a man to reflect in whom some hundred criminals had sworn to kill.”
    An absolutely brilliant whodunnit or Murder Dinner with various guests in such an ambiance, with that French Detective from the previous story, plus Father Brown again still assuming full charge even though he can only see HALF.
    Various permutations of beheadings. And a wonderful denouement.
    Why haven’t I read these stories before?
    Well, I wouldn’t have done if they hadn’t been recommended to me by someone – but whodunnit, that recommendation?
    That other party said to me yesterday as a PM on Facebook:
    “Des – have you read any Father Brown? I have just discovered him and have been completely blown over. They might be some of the most beautiful and strangest things I have ever encountered. They’re free on Kindle, too. I have read nothing like them.”
    ME: Is that GK Chesterton? i don’t think I have read any but perhaps I will now!
    smile emoticon
    HIM: Yes, it is. They are the most rule breaking things. I think they’re surrealism.
  3. I am again so thrilled that you’ve chosen to read something i recommended. These stories are new to me, and indeed as you read them they become MORE new – the rules of the previous one go right out of the window. It’s no surprise they haven’t been filmed – they elude you, they defy pigeonhole.
    This is so utterly perfectly delightful as a whoabsurdit, a whodeservedit, a whatfor, a whynot, and a pleasegivememoreofit.
    A story that for the first time in my experience truly utilises what I have long called ‘the synchronised shards of random truth and fiction’, where FB (is it a coincidence many people these days use FB to denote Facebook) solves another ‘closed system’ (a sort of Masonic fishdish gathering with strict rules and standards of dress and behaviour in a strictly suitable hotel venue with a correct known number of waiters) and he solves, too, where there is a crime, the fish silver stolen, all by manner and means of footsteps, leaning against walls, and by creatively surreptitious garb. A work of genius. Where have you been all my life? Another crime as art form, but an even greater art in solving.
    I do remember reading ‘The Man Who Was Thursday’ by GKC in my youth and loving it, so why haven’t I gone back to GKC since then? Perhaps my feet couldn’t stop playing footsie with lesser authors instead.
    Some choice quotes from this story:
    “You did not have to be anything in order to be one of the Twelve Fishers; unless you were already a certain sort of person, you never even heard of them.”
    “The story which Father Brown was writing down was very likely a much better story than this one, only it will never be known. I can merely state that it was very nearly as long, and that the last two or three paragraphs of it were the least exciting and absorbing.”
    “But these footsteps were so odd that one could not decide to call them regular or irregular. Father Brown followed them with his finger on the edge of the table, like a man trying to learn a tune on the piano.”
    “The sacred fish course consisted (to the eyes of the vulgar) in a sort of monstrous pudding, about the size and shape of a wedding cake, in which some considerable number of interesting fishes had finally lost the shapes which God had given to them. The Twelve True Fishermen took up their celebrated fish knives and fish forks, and approached it as gravely as if every inch of the pudding cost as much as the silver fork it was eaten with. So it did, for all I know. This course was dealt with in eager and devouring silence; and it was only when his plate was nearly empty that the young duke made the ritual remark: “They can’t do this anywhere but here.””
    “As an artist I had always attempted to provide crimes suitable to the special season or landscapes in which I found myself,…”
    A pantomime in a country house at Christmas and FB talking into a tree to appeal to the better nature of its denizen to drop the stolen swag that he had got away with by a theatrical mix up with the props near a pole-axed policeman …
    “Men may keep a sort of level of good, but no man has ever been able to keep on one level of evil.”
    “It is he who has half driven me mad. Indeed, I think he has driven me mad; for I have felt him where he could not have been, and I have heard his voice when he could not have spoken.”
    This is amazing stuff, modernistic as well as old-fashioned, as I think Tony has said already on this thread.
    A modern theatre of absurdity and deadly serious machinations of two men wooing the same woman, mechanical devices like robots, prestidigitation, invisible postmen that are not invisible, clearing shop windows of their contents – I even suspected at one stage that the main protagonist Angus was in fact one of the characters he was seeking. Freakishness and squinting. FB and Fb even join forces to solve the conundrum of an invisible murderer and an invisible murdered body.
    ““That is curious, too,” he said. “Twenty-five candles, and not a trace of a candlestick.””
    “I only suggested that because you said one could not plausibly connect snuff with clockwork or candles with bright stones. Ten false philosophies will fit the universe; ten false theories will fit Glengyle Castle. But we want the real explanation of the castle and the universe.”
    “It’s like the dream of an atheist. Pine-trees and more pine-trees and millions more pine-trees…”
    A story that – with many inexplicable objects or leitmotifs – is its own real-time review!
    FB shows Fb how to gather the synchronised shards of random fiction and truth from the gestalt of things without their own things. All the contained without their containers. Payment potentially with its change given with greater ultimate value than the payment itself. Sleep as a demonstration of faith. And the honesty of a manservant as meticulous and slavish as a belief in nonsense as the way towards sense. Dental artefacts, notwithstanding.
    There is something about the humour in these stories, a comfortable absurdity edged with sublime horror, an edge which the reader finds hard to keep this side of, knowing, though, that if he did topple over it, all its humour as well as its sense of necessary horror would be paid out, and no change given.
    “…tales of tropical heavens of burning gold or blood-red copper; of eastern heroes who rode with twelve-turbaned mitres upon elephants painted purple or peacock green; of gigantic jewels that a hundred negroes could not carry,…”
    “It’s the wrong shape in the abstract. Don’t you ever feel that about Eastern art? The colours are intoxicatingly lovely; but the shapes are mean and bad deliberately mean and bad.”
    ‘I want nothing’ but to want something, and that is to fathom this story where the ultimate motive is to express one’s madness through the wrong shape. It has incorrectly political or wrongly shaped references to racial matters, but in those days and in that milieu they were of the right shape for those saying them. All very strange. Another closed system, that FB, with Fb in tow, penetrate by two forms of miracle, one marvellous the other mysterious.
    Reminds me of my own story ‘Perforated Edges‘, where it is proposed that there is no such thing, because by becoming edges they are now unperforated.
    FB and Fb visit an area that reminded me of Dunsany with this exquisite paragraph:
    “They had moored their boat one night under a bank veiled in high grasses and short pollarded trees. Sleep, after heavy sculling, had come to them early, and by a corresponding accident they awoke before it was light. To speak more strictly, they awoke before it was daylight; for a large lemon moon was only just setting in the forest of high grass above their heads, and the sky was of a vivid violet-blue, nocturnal but bright. Both men had simultaneously a reminiscence of childhood, of the elfin and adventurous time when tall weeds close over us like woods. Standing up thus against the large low moon, the daisies really seemed to be giant daisies, the dandelions to be giant dandelions. Somehow it reminded them of the dado of a nursery wall-paper. The drop of the river-bed sufficed to sink them under the roots of all shrubs and flowers and make them gaze upwards at the grass. “By Jove!” said Flambeau, “it’s like being in fairyland.”
    And this…
    “Pretty and unique as it was, the place had about it a curious luminous sadness. Hours passed in it like days. The long, well-windowed rooms were full of daylight, but it seemed a dead daylight.”
    In contrast, there ensues a rumbustious duel after more talk to match that in a previous story of a money-sponger, one of two brothers. And a pallid glimpse of a servant called Paul. The Saradine brothers to match the Paravine brothers that I reviewed yesterday HERE with pallid figures that appear and vanish in that same kindred book I am concurrently reviewing!
    Here in the GKC there is the prestidigitation of mirrors and the conceit of it being better to have two enemies than one.
    With a nice denouement with the homely truth talk of FB and Fb.
    “He went up to a pew in the gallery, which brought him under a coloured window which he loved and always quieted his spirit; a blue window with an angel carrying lilies. There he began to think less about the half-wit, with his livid face and mouth like a fish. He began to think less of his evil brother, pacing like a lean lion in his horrible hunger. He sank deeper and deeper into those cold and sweet colours of silver blossoms and sapphire sky.”
    One brother a pious man through more Gothicism than God. The other brother the taunter of nitwits.
    A knotty morality tale where FB elicits a confession not through threat of God’s punishment but through his own leniency as an ad hoc confessional of gravitas.
    Much delightful tussling, too, about the nature of murder by use of hammer, with various permutations of intention in picking a small hammer or a heavy one whether be it a smithy or a woman, and of God’s thunderbolt from on high.
    A light touch of a tale with a heavy punch for each nitwit of a reader.
  11. imageTHE EYE OF APOLLO
    “It is well known to all students of the higher truths that certain adepts and illuminati have in history attained the power of levitation…”
    It is amazing to me that I should read this today after reading a similarly contexted levitation theme in Salman Rushdie’s new novel that I am concurrently reviewing HERE.
    Directly I started this story, I thought of the Illuminati with a capital I, then GKC later comes forward with this more general word above with a small i. I and eye.
    This story tells of the Priest of Apollo, shockingly confident, staring the sun in the eye without flinching, this theosophical Priest living in a flat above Fb (Flambeau) who also seems to symbolise such stellar confidence, starting this book as a criminal and now almost a Facebook friend of FB (Father Brown), the first Fb fiery, the second FB giving considered solutions – as a different Priest, as a laidback Sherlock Holmes – to the most mysterious mild or murky murders.
    Living in a flat below Fb is a feisty feminist woman who also stares into the sun as part of her worship of the Priest of Apollo, and I am sure, from this, that GKC didn’t like feminists. Notwithstanding that, this is a mighty clever story and also echoes the variable gravity factor of things falling as in the previous story, God’s thunderbolt, too.
    “Flambeau felt truth all round him as an atmosphere, but not as an idea.”
    “Anyhow, there is this about such evil, that it opens door after door in hell, and always into smaller and smaller chambers.”
    The most difficult so far of the stories, but probably the most rewarding as a rite of passage into a metaphorical Dantean Hell, FB (Virgil) leading Fb (Dante), real as well as metaphorical, with a mighty opening passage of sublime forest where the journey into truth or lie begins, by solving a historic crime through the construing and parsing of FB’s dialogue with Fb, about a war hero, whose monuments abound, monuments that show him with a broken sword, but he is really the villain who left the broken part of his sword in the man he killed rather than bravely fighting his enemies with the broken sword, all ending with FB’s allowing the man’s heroism to stand, maintaining the illusion for the masses so that they can continue their hero worship, because it hurts nothing thus to allow it to continue.
    Hurts nothing, except Truth, I ask?
    “Where does a wise man hide a pebble?”
    And the tall man answered in a low voice: “On the beach.”
    The small man nodded, and after a short silence said: “Where does a wise man hide a leaf?”
    And the other answered: “In the forest.”
    There was another stillness, and then the tall man resumed: “Do you mean that when a wise man has to hide a real diamond he has been known to hide it among sham ones?”
    This story has a Spartacus thread, too.
    Where do you hide the word of truth? Among the lies of fiction.
    Broke his word as well as his sword.
    A dead monument to once ancient hope.