The Leaden Rule

#11 in the series, following ‘Campbell’s Cream of Fantasy’. This is the last piece in the series as originally written; an earlier version appeared on LiveJournal in June, 2006.


The process that replaces winged Pegasus with plodding Dobbin, and Tolkien’s ‘Soup’ of myth and legend with ‘Campbell’s Cream of Fantasy’, does not stop with debasing settings and motifs. It debases themes as well. The old folktales, among many other things, were wisdom literature, a thing that does not exist in any thoroughly modern society. We have a number of authors nowadays who want to create a substitute for wisdom literature; what they actually do is write books with titles like ‘The Rules of X’ or ‘Chicken Soup for the Y’. Not having much in the way of wisdom themselves, they substitute pop psychology and bumper-sticker slogans.

This is bad enough in the modern world; it is doubly bad in fantasy, for it is false to the whole atmosphere of Faërie. [Read more…]

‘On Turnpikes and Mediaevalism’, by G. K. Chesterton

Collected in All I Survey (1933).


 

Opening my newspaper the other day, I saw a short but emphatic leaderette entitled ‘A Relic of Mediaevalism’. It expressed a profound indignation upon the fact that somewhere or other, in some fairly remote corner of this country, there is a turnpike-gate, with a toll. It insisted that this antiquated tyranny is insupportable, because it is supremely important that our road traffic should go very fast; presumably a little faster than it does. So it described the momentary delay in this place as a relic of mediaevalism. I fear the future will look at that sentence, somewhat sadly and a little contemptuously, as a very typical relic of modernism. I mean it will be a melancholy relic of the only period in all human history when people were proud of being modern. For though today is always today and the moment is always modern, we are the only men in all history who fell back upon bragging about the mere fact that today is not yesterday. I fear that some in the future will explain it by saying that we had precious little else to brag about. For, whatever the mediaeval faults, they went with one merit. Mediaeval people never worried about being mediaeval; and modern people do worry horribly about being modern. [Read more…]

‘Fairy Tales’, by G. K. Chesterton

Collected in All Things Considered (1908).


 

Some solemn and superficial people (for nearly all very superficial people are solemn) have declared that the fairy tales are immoral; they base this upon some accidental circumstances or regrettable incidents in the war between giants and boys, some cases in which the latter indulged in unsympathetic deceptions or even in practical jokes. The objection, however, is not only false, but very much the reverse of the facts. The fairy tales are at root not only moral in the sense of being innocent, but moral in the sense of being didactic, moral in the sense of being moralising. [Read more…]

Conservatives, progressives, and educational methods

First the text, from the immortal Chesterton:

The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of Conservatives is to prevent mistakes from being corrected. Even when the revolutionist might himself repent of his revolution, the traditionalist is already defending it as part of his tradition. Thus we have two great types — the advanced person who rushes us into ruin, and the retrospective person who admires the ruins. He admires them especially by moonlight, not to say moonshine.

And now the sermon. This is from ‘docargent’, a commenter on Sarah A. Hoyt’s blog. I offer it with the caveat that the teacher cited cannot be reached to confirm the story:

I worked as support staff in a middle school once and, having been left almost innumerate due to the New Math, asked a teacher nearing retirement if anything done since the New Math had worked as well as the methods used before it. When she said no, I asked why public schools never went back to the pre- New Math method.

“There’s no money in it,” she said.

According to her, school districts receive federal grants to use new and experimental teaching plans. If these fail, and they usually do, no effort is made to correct the damage done to the education of the students used as guinea pigs; they’ll have to pick the subject up themselves later on. The school districts need the grants to pay for various unfunded mandates.

I thought this over and asked her if this meant that if an experimental teaching method did actually work, the district would still abandon it in a few years for something totally untried in order to get a new grant.

“Yes,” she said.

G. K. C. on the paradox of reform

In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, ‘I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.’ To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: ‘If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.’ [Read more…]

G. K. C. on being modern

All works must become thus old and insipid which have ever tried to be ‘modern’, which have consented to smell of time rather than of eternity. Only those who have stooped to be in advance of their time will ever find themselves behind it.

—G. K. Chesterton, George Bernard Shaw

G. K. C. on resentment

It is strange that we should resent people differing from ourselves; we should resent much more violently their resembling ourselves. This principle has made a sufficient hash of literary criticism, in which it is always the custom to complain of the lack of sound logic in a fairy tale, and the entire absence of true oratorical power in a three-act farce. But to call another man’s face ugly because it powerfully expresses another man’s soul is like complaining that a cabbage has not two legs. If we did so, the only course for the cabbage would be to point out with severity, but with some show of truth, that we were not a beautiful green all over.

—G. K. Chesterton, ‘A Defence of Ugly Things’

G. K. C. on ugliness

Man may behold what ugliness he likes if he is sure that he will not worship it; but there are some so weak that they will worship a thing only because it is ugly. These must be chained to the beautiful. It is not always wrong even to go, like Dante, to the brink of the lowest promontory and look down at hell. It is when you look up at hell that a serious miscalculation has probably been made.

—G. K. Chesterton, ‘The Nightmare’

G. K. C. on characters in Romance

In every pure romance there are three living and moving characters. For the sake of argument they may be called St. George and the Dragon and the Princess. In every romance there must be the twin elements of loving and fighting. In every romance there must be the three characters: there must be the Princess, who is a thing to be loved; there must be the Dragon, who is a thing to be fought; and there must be St. George, who is a thing that both loves and fights.

There have been many symptoms of cynicism and decay in our modern civilization. But of all the signs of modern feebleness, of lack of grasp on morals as they actually must be, there has been none quite so silly or so dangerous as this: that the philosophers of today have started to divide loving from fighting and to put them into opposite camps. [But] the two things imply each other; they implied each other in the old romance and in the old religion, which were the two permanent things of humanity. You cannot love a thing without wanting to fight for it. You cannot fight without something to fight for. To love a thing without wishing to fight for it is not love at all; it is lust. It may be an airy, philosophical, and disinterested lust; it may be, so to speak, a virgin lust; but it is lust, because it is wholly self-indulgent and invites no attack. On the other hand, fighting for a thing without loving it is not even fighting; it can only be called a kind of horse-play that is occasionally fatal.

Wherever human nature is human and unspoilt by any special sophistry, there exists this natural kinship between war and wooing, and that natural kinship is called romance. It comes upon a man especially in the great hour of youth; and every man who has ever been young at all has felt, if only for a moment, this ultimate and poetic paradox. He knows that loving the world is the same thing as fighting the world.

G. K. Chesterton

[Paragraph breaks added. —T. S.]

G. K. C. on words

Why shouldn’t we quarrel about a word? What is the good of words if they aren’t important enough to quarrel over? Why do we choose one word more than another if there isn’t any difference between them? If you called a woman a chimpanzee instead of an angel, wouldn’t there be a quarrel about a word? If you’re not going to argue about words, what are you going to argue about?

—G. K. Chesterton, The Ball and the Cross