Tuesday, August 16, 2005

G.K. Chesterton and Columbo?

I went on a G.K. Chesterton tear a few years back and thought I'd seen his best stuff.

I hadn't.

Please take my recommendation seriously. If you like G.K. Chesterton and you haven't read any of his Father Brown detective stories, you must partake. I picked up a collection on a whim recently and have been richly rewarded.

In Father Brown, I think I see some of the original source material for Columbo. He's underestimated by everyone, but is, in fact, hugely gifted. A lot of it has to do with his underwhelming appearance, but the bigger issue is the poor esteem in which the reason of clergy is held. The simple priest blows that bugbear out the window. He is mighty in the art of detection and much of it has to do with his theologically informed knowledge of man.

19 comments:

S. T. Karnick said...

So true, Hunter. Many thanks for sending along this observation.

Kathy Hutchins said...

Hunter, you are far from the first to be very strongly influenced by Chesterton's Jesuit detective. In 1954, while Alec Guinness was filming Father Brown, an interaction he had with a young boy who thought he really was a priest so affected him that he eventually became a Roman Catholic:

I heard scampering footsteps and a piping voice calling, `Mon pere!' My hand was seized by a boy of seven or eight, who clutched it tightly, swung it and kept up a nonstop prattle. He was full of excitement, hop, skips, and jumps, but he never let go of me. ... Suddenly with a `Bonsoir, mon pere'... he disappeared through a hole in the hedge ... and I was left with an odd calm sense of elation. ... I reflected that a church which could inspire such confidence in a child, making its priests, even when unknown, so easily approachable, could not be as scheming ... as so often made out. I began to shake off my long-taught, long-absorbed prejudices.

(The account is from Guinness's first memoir, Blessings in Disguise, which, lamentably, is out of print. It is available from the usual suspects.)

Hunter Baker said...

Just want to quickly add that Chesterton is brilliant in the way he offers the French super-skeptic Valentin as a counterpoint to Brown. Works quite well.

Kathy, I'm up on the whole famous folk who converted to Catholicism thing. I nearly swam the Tiber a couple of years back.

S. T. Karnick said...

It's true, Kathy. I pulled Hunter back just in time, as he was about to grasp the gnarled hand of the Whore of Babylon.

Kathy Hutchins said...

And after all those years of Mariolotrous Christmas cards we sent you. What an ingrate.

Hunter Baker said...

Hey Kathy, I've even been to Mother Anjelica's place in Alabama. Smells and bells galore. I attended mass where I felt my usual indignation at not being able to participate in the holy meal despite being a very orthodox Christian. Nevertheless, I heard singing by the cloistered nuns that was the most beautiful sound I have ever heard. Nothing else even comes close. Not anywhere close.

Burwell said...

I am currently working my way through "The Innocence of Father Brown," and have been doing so for about a week. I am enjoying it immensely.

I recently read an interview with Frederick Buechner. One of the questions posed to him was why the best Christian novelists (fiction) were/are Catholic. Buechner responded that he felt it was due to the scramental view of life; a sacramental view is necessary to be able to craft excellent fiction.

Hunter Baker said...

I really enjoy Buechner's work. For all I know he could be a raging theo-liberal, but I don't think so and I adore his work regardless.

Tom Van Dyke said...

My wife is a convert, but I must disclose our private joke about what we call "Protestant movies." They're mysteries along the line of this happens then this happens, but that happened, so now this happens, The End.

(Presumed Innocent, for example.)

"Protestant" is admittedly unfair; "secular humanist" just takes too long to say.

Hunter Baker said...

Hey, I loved Presumed Innocent!

Tom Van Dyke said...

Then I suppose "Protestant" wasn't unfair after all. ;-)

Jay D. Homnick said...

I loved Presumed Innocent, too, the book and then the movie, but perhaps I was blinded by infauation for Bonnie Bedelia.

As for Father Brown, like Perry Mason and Nero Wolfe he was a big part of my teenage years.

My favorite one is where the postman is guilty, even though no one saw him enter the house, because, as the good Father points out, the postman is invisible.

I once wrote a humorous short story where the detective invites all the suspects into the drawing room of the mansion and lays out his deductions. He explains that the murderer has to be the one person in the house who is completely invisible.

After everyone ponders who this might be, the detective leaps to his feet, points his finger and shouts: "The butler did it."

Everyone's eyes follow the finger but, alas, it is pointing into empty air. No one had noticed that the butler had slipped out.

Jay D. Homnick said...

And don't worry, Kathy, I won't tell anyone where you REALLY got the Guinness quote from...

You naughty girl, reading that bad boy long after he has been discredited. (Okay, I confess, I did, too. Dammit, I used to love that guy.)

Kathy Hutchins said...

I won't tell anyone where you REALLY got the Guinness quote from...

You've passed me doing ninety, Jay, and left me in the dust. I remembered the quote from Blessings in Disguise, but being too lazy to go find it in my unkempt excuse for a library, lifted it from an online obituary of Guinness by Eugene Kennedy. Now, I don't agree with Kennedy's political stance on the Church, but I was unaware that scandal had personally touched Kennedy himself, and I don't think that's who you're talking about. From the few clues in your cryptic message, I would guess you are talking about Deal Hudson, but I have never read anything by Hudson on Guinness.

Hunter Baker said...

I think Kathy is right about the Guinness quote. I think I read it in one of the Catholic convert books.

Jay D. Homnick said...

No, it's in Joseph Sobran's latest column, so I assumed you lifted it from there. My apologies.

Hunter Baker said...

Uh oh, you keep up with Sobran and Savage. I'm beginning to think we have a Paleo-con on board! Why aren't you writing for The American Conservative?!!!

Kathy Hutchins said...

I thought Jay meant Sobran had been discredited because he's a Shakespeare denier. I used to hang out with people who eventually became paleolibertarians, and these people are the scariest paleos on the planet. Sobran doesn't come close.

Hunter Baker said...

The impression I had from asking around was that Sobran got involved in the Holocaust-denial crowd. Heard something to the contrary about him? I figured that was why he lost his NR gig and probably the majority of his readership.