Friday, June 13, 2008

Elfland Explained

A cerain elfish young woman by the name of Jennifer Overkamp tackled the big chapter "The Ethics of Elfland" after lunch. She did a marvellous job, though she had to stand on a box so everyone could see and hear her over the podium. Honest.

She avoided the implications of Chesterton's scientific worldview latent in the chapter, and instead focused on Chesterton's concept of the Fairy Tale and how some of his own fairy stories spell that concept out. Her analysis of this central theme in Chesterton was quite admirable.

Jennifer pointed out that in GKC WONDER leads to GRATITUDE which leads to OBEDIENCE which leads to GOD. She explained how Chesterton saw in all of life four fairy tale characters, THE DRAGON which is evil, ST. GEORGE, who is the active response to evil, THE CAPTIVE PRINCESS, who is the passive suffering of evil, and the FATHER who stands for the permission of evil. "Life is a fight, not a conversation," as Chesterton said, showing that the quest is the story at the heart of all healthy life and literature. Jennifer also pointed to the connection for Chesterton of Wonder and the Ordinary, which brings us to his love for ordinary and common men and his regard for democracy.

She said that in all of GKC's fairy tales we have ordinary people in surprising situations which are in fact parts of the ordinary world viewed in a new and surprising way; and that if the ordinary world is viewed with wonder, the heroes of these stories begin to respond to the quest as they ought. The best example of this is Manalive, in which the worldview of wonder brought about by Innocent Smith transforms the gray boarding house to a microcosm of the universe, and changes its dull and suicidal inhabitants into living and grateful men and women.

Jennifer looked at Manalive, "A Crazy Tale" and "The Trees of Pride" in illustrating her analysis of Chesterton's fairy tale philosophy, though a friend and I both thought that she would have done even better had she included The Surprise in her evidence. Still, as I have said before, her presentation was very well done, and you can never include enough Chesterton anyhow.

Thus GKC in "The Ethics of Elfland" turns the tide in "Orthodoxy" and his writing begins to function as the antidote to the suicide of thought.

But the sacramental mentality that springs from "wonder at the ordinary" (and by that I meant the notion that this created world is not only good but good as a gift, good in a way we could never have deserved) - this is a concept that is crucial to both Chesterton and to Catholic teaching. And sacramentalism is a point that came up in the Q&A to the next speech, "The Paradoxes of Christianity" by Ross Arnold. And while Arnold's presentation was excellent and right on target, his less-than-Catholic non-sacramental answer to this questioner was telling.

But more on that later ... it's time to eat.


Nancy C. Brown said...

Sounds like another great talk, thanks for writing about it so elephantinely.

Mick said...

I guess this means that St. George is more elephantine than that elephantine Dragon!