G.K. Chesterton

Introduction

Photograph of author G.K. Chesterton

"How can it be a large career to tell other people's children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one's own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone? No; a woman's function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute. I will pity Mrs. Jones for the hugeness of her task; I will never pity her for its smallness."
-- G.K. Chesterton in What's Wrong with the World

"The Shop of Ghosts"

Book cover: '"The Shop of Ghosts"'
Author(s): 
G.K. Chesterton
Copyright: 
1906
Review: 

Found on pages 82-86 of G.K. Chesterton Collected Works Volume XIV, 1993, Ignatius Press, 802 pages, softcover, Catholic perspective

This is a charming and humorous story about the spirit of Christmas through the ages. Good for a chuckle and a little perspective.

The volume in which this story can be found is available from Ignatius Press
You can also read this story online by clicking here

Review Date: 
12-5-05
Reviewed by: 

G.K. Chesterton's The Blue Cross, Study Edition

Book cover: 'G.K. Chesterton's The Blue Cross, Study Edition'
Author(s): 
Nancy Carpentier Brown
Copyright: 
2006
Publisher: 
Hillside Education
Binding: 
Spiralbound
Number of pages: 
95 pages
Grade / Age level: 
Review: 

First, let me say that I'm a "study guide, unit study" kind of homeschooling mom. I love it when someone else has found all the links and critical vocabulary words within a book or subject to be studied. I do however almost always "tweak" the study guide to ensure that my kids are getting everything they can from the resource.

With this study guide I don't have to tweak much. Mrs. Brown has given her reader everything they need for a study of the short story "The Blue Cross" - even the story - in this 90-page study guide.

The study guide includes biographical information about Chesterton - a British Catholic convert well-known for his wit and deep, symbolic writings. Mrs. Brown is somewhat of a Chesterton scholar, so her write-up is not only accurate, it's extensive. She includes references to the Catechism of the Catholic Church to ensure the student understands the Church's teachings on reason; teachings that always play a big part in Chesterton's writings.

Mrs. Brown includes a suggested schedule which takes about 10 days to complete - you of course could make the study of this exceptional short story either longer or shorter. There are essay topics and short-answer questions to help the student delve into the meaning of the story. There are vocabulary words, literary terms (for example, alliterations and similes), understanding through contextual reading, and other activities to enliven the reader's experience of this first of the Father Brown stories. An answer key is included at the end of the study guide.

The study guide itself is a useful size - a 6"x 8" spiral bound volume with a great silhouetted graphic on the laminated cover. This study guide just begs to be opened and used -- always a bonus when spending money from usually quite limited homeschool budgets.

Perspective: 
Catholic
Review Date: 
1-20-06
Reviewed by: 

Saint Francis of Assisi

Author(s): 
G.K. Chesterton
Binding: 
Softcover
Subject(s): 
Setting: 
Grade / Age level: 
Review: 

This is a truly amazing and beautiful "sketch" of St. Francis of Assisi - not so much a story (though a number of stories are included) as an appreciation and elucidation of who Saint Francis was and, quite simply, the impact he had on the world.

The book is substantial and very rich. I found that I had to put it aside at the end of each chapter to "digest" it for awhile rather than read it too quickly straight through. In addition to providing deep insights into the life of St. Francis, Chesterton provides wonderful tools for the study of history and explanations of some of his own philosophy about life (which was significantly inspired by St. Francis). Chesterton keenly explains St. Francis' heartfelt courtesy towards everyone he met, his devotion to poverty (and even to the freedom of poverty - what a remarkable concept!) and other aspects of his life, all illuminated by his desire to imitate Christ.

I really like how Chesterton helps us to understand Francis by examining a few particular stories - paradigms that exemplify his life and his philosophy - in depth, rather than a typical biography which attempts to tell the entire story brought to life through many details. It is certainly worthwhile to read detailed biographies (and it would be helpful to read one of these - even if it's a children's version - before studying Chesterton's book), but this detailed exposition will add a great deal to your understanding of Saint Francis. It seems a very wise way to study a subject - or at least to begin to study a subject - because we are often so overwhelmed with numerous details that we are unable to grasp a sense of the whole.

Perspective: 
Catholic
Additional notes: 

This book is available in numerous editions - including one from Ignatius Press which also includes Chesterton's book on St. Thomas Aquinas.

Review Date: 
3-1-2007
Reviewed by: 

The Annotated Innocence of Father Brown

Book cover: 'The Annotated Innocence of Father Brown'
Author(s): 
G.K. Chesterton
Martin Gardner (notes)
Copyright: 
1998
Publisher: 
Dover Publications
Binding: 
Softcover
Number of pages: 
320 pages
Grade / Age level: 
Review: 

As an avid Chestertonian, I am frequently asked which G.K. Chesterton title I recommend for young people to read. The best and by far the most understandable "first" book of Chesterton's would be The Annotated Innocence of Father Brown.In this book of the first twelve Father Brown mystery stories, editor Martin Gardner has looked up all the obscure references, which Chesterton frequently threw into his stories - mentions of people popular at the time whom we're no longer familiar with, use of obscure of obsolete English words from 100 years ago, slang expressions from 100 years ago - these are explained to the reader's satisfaction in the numerous footnotes by the helpful Mr. Gardner.By reading the annotated version of the story, the Father Brown mysteries come alive for young people. And I must note that since several mysteries in the series refer to murders, even a decapitation, I would recommend this book for ages 13 and up.The Father Brown mysteries are some of Chesterton's most enduring work. In general, people may not remember that Chesterton wrote such classics as Orthodoxy and The Everlasting Man. However, they may recall him as the author of the Father Brown Mysteries, and so it is appropriate to start reading these mysteries first. These mysteries first appeared serialized in various magazines of the times in England. This in part explains the obscure references to people of that day. The other part of the explanation is that Chesterton considered himself a journalist, mainly writing words for newspapers, which would be thrown away shortly after reading. Never did Chesterton imagine that his work would be known and loved 100 years later.If you are interested in introducing your teenager to the works of G.K. Chesterton; or if youare looking for some good fiction for your teen; or if you wanted to start reading Chesterton yourself and didn't know where to begin, I recommend this book.

Additional notes: 

originally appeared in Heart and Mind Magazine, Spring 2005 - used with permission

Review Date: 
1999

The Ballad of the White Horse

Book cover: 'The Ballad of the White Horse'
Author(s): 
G.K. Chesterton
Copyright: 
1911
Publisher: 
Ignatius Press
Binding: 
Sewn Hardcover
Number of pages: 
231 pages
Grade / Age level: 
Review: 

Includes copious synopses and notes (pages 175-231)

This is a very interesting and famous work of historical literature. It is an epic poem - the sort of story that would have been performed aloud to an audience in days gone by. The style is beautiful and moving. It is the story of King Alfred the Great, the 9th century Christian king of Wessex who re-conquered England from the Danes (Vikings). It's an interesting mix (by Chesterton's own admission) of history, legend and allegory - always understanding what is essential to the story for many reasons. This is a beautiful text with an ancient-looking typeface and wood-cut style illustrations, appropriate to its lofty and epic nature.

The first time reading this, I was especially struck by its beautiful language and nuggets of wisdom. Here are a few favorite samples:

"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." (Book 3, 305-310)

"Our monks go robed in rain and snow,
But the heart of flame therein,
But you go clothed in feasts and flames,
When all is ice within;

Nor shall all iron dooms make dumb
Men wondering ceaselessly,
If it be not better to fast for joy
Than feast for misery." (Book 3, 350-355)

Even some of my fairly young children (grades three and six) really enjoyed listening to the beauty of the language and picking up bits of truth - like the contrast between fasting for joy and feasting for misery - that rings of truth about the shallow and temporary happiness of the pleasures of this world.

It is an amazing story of the development of virtue in this Christian king, with many glimpses into core Christian beliefs (with a lovely Marian theme). It is heroic, patriotic and a classic in every way. What a great thing it would be if every high schooler studied it and learned to appreciate it on some level. And as a note - it might be very helpful to read this aloud - to any age or even to yourself!

My commentary seems terribly insufficient as I'm just beginning to appreciate this great work. Here are some online sources for further reading.

The entire text is available online at either http://www.fullbooks.com/The-Ballad-of-the-White-Horse.html or http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/1719
Lecture on the Ballad of the White Horse by Dale Alquist (American Chesterton Society)

Perspective: 
Catholic
Review Date: 
5-24-05
Reviewed by: 

The Father Brown Reader

Stories from Chesterton
Author(s): 
G.K. Chesterton
Nancy Brown (adapted by)
Illustrator(s): 
Ted Schluenderfritz
Copyright: 
2007
Publisher: 
Hillside Education
Binding: 
Softcover
Number of pages: 
141 pages
Grade / Age level: 
Review: 

Nancy Carpentier Brown’s newest book, The Father Brown Reader: Stories from Chesterton, is an adaptation of four of G.K Chesterton’s Father Brown mysteries. It’s a delightful and captivating read-aloud, as well as a perfect book to hand to a young child to read on his own. The four stories – The Blue Cross, The Strange Feet, The Flying Stars, and The Absence of Mr. Glass – are all easy reads, short enough to read in just one sitting. And be prepared to do so, because at the end of each chapter I always heard “just one more, please!” I bought the book intending to read it aloud to my 8-year old daughter and 10-year old son, but soon found that my 15-year old daughter always wanted to be within earshot as well.

Mrs. Brown has pared Chesterton’s already short stories down to the bone, and then broken them up into very short chapters of 2-3 pages each, in order to make them accessible to young readers.

However, she has in no way “dumbed them down”. She’s used Chesterton’s own words, including his unique phrasings. One such phrase was “elderly young woman”, which led to an interesting discussion of his use of those adjectives and what exactly Chesterton meant by them.

Mrs. Brown has also kept all the essential details so that even one who has never read the Father Brown mysteries previously can easily follow the clues and enjoy the fun of the surprise endings. She’s also included Chesterton’s subtle but powerful points of theology, including a discussion of the union of reason and faith.

These adaptations do not involve murder or any other truly unsavory situations, though petty theft, a mild chloroforming, and an apparent -- though not actual -- murder do figure into these innocent plots, adding just enough spice to keep the interest of readers (or listeners) of all ages.

There are a few helpful footnotes after each story. In some cases they are simply vocabulary definitions, in other cases pertinent comments on Chesterton’s fictional devices or historical elements of the story.

The black and white illustrations by Ted Schluenderfritz are delightfully charming. They add just the right touch to enhance, and never detract or distract from, the storyline.

This little book is a great way to get children started on lifelong enjoyment of the writing of G.K Chesterton.

Perspective: 
Catholic
Review Date: 
11-6-2007
Reviewed by: 

The Father Brown Reader II

More Stories from Chesterton
Author(s): 
G.K. Chesterton
adapted by Nancy Carpentier Brown
with Rose Decaen
Copyright: 
2010
Publisher: 
Hillside Education
Binding: 
Softcover
Number of pages: 
165 pages
Grade / Age level: 
Review: 

Nancy Brown and Hillside Education have teamed up for a second volume of kid-friendly mysteries adapted from G.K. Chesterton's Fr. Brown mysteries. It's a little difficult to say what age these are appropriate for since, unlike the first volume, these are all based on murder-mystery stories, and sensitivities vary from child-to-child. My rough-and-tumble seven year old son loved them as a read-aloud, but the general subject matter is off-putting for my very sensitive thirteen year old daughter.

There are four stories in this volume:

"The Invisible Man" is about a murderer who took advantage of the fact that many people are taken for granted because we see them all of the time.

"The Mirror of the Magistrate" involves a murder with some mysterious clues that could easily be interpreted in the wrong direction.

"The Eye of Apollo" tells of a prophet of a "new religion" who is up to no good.

In "The Perishing of the Pendragons", a disgruntled murderer uses superstition to cover up his crimes.

The stories emphasize the solving of each mystery and the thinking involved in the solution - which includes some very interesting insights into human nature and its foibles and limitations.

Perspective: 
Catholic
Review Date: 
4-16-2011
Reviewed by: 

The Man Who Was Thursday

A Nightmare
Author(s): 
G.K. Chesterton
Copyright: 
1908
Publisher: 
Ignatius Press
Binding: 
Softcover
Number of pages: 
289 pages
Subject(s): 
Grade / Age level: 
Review: 

The Man Who Was Thursday is a great classic, beloved by many, and not easy to do justice to in a review (even after reading it twice, leading a teen discussion on the book and attending a Chesterton conference which particularly highlighted this book!), but I'll give it my best shot.

This is a quirky enigmatic detective story (or at least, a story about detectives) that is great fun as a read-aloud. I first read it aloud to my children almost two years ago and it captured the attention and the imagination of the 8, 10 and 13 year olds. It's incredibly well-crafted, funny and deep all at the same time; you'll find loads of interesting symbolism and a strong religious undertone. It sometimes frustrates adults who want to understand it all at once and yet delights the younger set. What a curious book!

We own this book on audio as well, so my children have listened to it over and over again. We've all found wonderful tidbits that are applicable to things we're doing or thinking about. It just comes to mind over and over again.

I love the themes of anarchy and the poetry of order. Here's a lovely sample:

"I tell you," went on Syme with passion, "that every time a train comes in I feel that it has broken past batteries of besiegers, and that man has won a battle against chaos. You say contemptuously that when one has left Sloane Square one must come to Victoria. I say that one might do a thousand things instead, and that whenever I really come there I have the sense of hair-breadth escape. And when I hear the guard shout out the word 'Victoria,' it is not an unmeaning word. It is to me the cry of a herald announcing conquest. It is to me indeed 'Victoria'; it is the victory of Adam."

This book is a light read in many ways (for teens and up or as a read-aloud to younger children) and yet will keep you thinking and discussing for a long time! I very much enjoyed this title in our teen literature discussion group - we didn't necessarily agree on the ways we looked at various parts of the book, but everyone loved the book (certainly not always the case in our group!) and it was one of the most lively and interesting discussions we've ever had!

Perspective: 
Catholic
Review Date: 
1-21-2008
Reviewed by: