My buddy G. K. Chesterton recently got a nice write-up from The Atlantic. This isn’t the first time, either. That illustrious magazine has commented on the fellow before. The current article, by James Parker, is a delight to read dribbles out quotes from the man himself, mainly from well-known works but also from a few obscure ones. It offers an introduction and celebration of the enormous variety of Chesterton’s work, and tries to communicate the unique way that Chesterton pulls our spirits up into the heavens with succinct but magical wordsmithing.
That said, Parker does stumble at one point by describing Chesterton with the phrase “live wire”, and that brings us to today’s quote from St. Thomas Aquinas:
St. Francis was the son of a shopkeeper, or middle class trader; and while his whole life was a revolt against the mercantile life of his father, he retained none the less, something of the quickness and social adaptability which makes the market hum like a hive. In the common phrase, fond as he was of green fields, he did not let the grass grow under his feet. He was what American millionaires and gangsters call a live wire. It is typical of the mechanistic moderns that, even when they try to imagine a live thing, they can only think of a mechanical metaphor from a dead thing. There is such a thing as a live worm; but there is no such thing as a live wire. St. Francis would have heartily agreed that he was a worm; but he was a very live worm. Greatest of all foes to the go-getting ideal, he had certainly abandoned getting, but he was still going.
(No, I did not make a mistake here. That’s a comment about St. Francis of Assisi from Chesterton’s book about St. Thomas.)
When I first began this blog, oh so many years ago, I wrote two sarcastic posts about two authors that I don’t admire all that much: How Ayn Rand Changed My Life and How George R. R. Martin Did not Change My Life. Since that time I’ve written about many authors, Chesterton the most prominent among them. There are authors besides Chesterton who changed my life. One of them died today. His name was Terry Pratchett.
Pratchett’s books have sold somewhere around fifty million copies. His fan following is enormous. Yet there are many avid readers, especially among the serious set, who have never cracked open a Pratchett book. What they would find inside is very difficult to explain or describe. If you haven’t read any Pratchett you should start doing so now, rather than reading my humble attempt at explanation.
Pratchett is most famous for the Discworld books, a series of more than thirty fantasy novels set on a flat world that rests on the back of four elephants which stand on a turtle. (No word on what the turtle stands on.) In the earlier Discworld novels, the elephants and the turtles were mentioned a lot, as were magic and dragons and other fantasy elements. It was a straight-up parody of formulaic writing in the genre. As time went on, things changed. The magical elements gradually vanished and the Discworld novels became social satires, poking fun at all kinds of things. Pratchett trained his satirical sight on government, business, academia, religion, the press, sports, Hollywood, and much more.
He also wrote many other books that aren’t set in/on Discworld; these are much lesser known, even among his fans. Yet works such as Strata and the Bromeliad Trilogy offer rich rewards to anyone who takes time to buy a copy.