G.K. Chesterton: An Overlooked Giant

by Allen Cates

“The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man.” – G.K. Chesterton

Like many, I somehow plowed through my years of high school and university studies without ever coming into contact with the (literally) gigantic literary genius of Englishman G.K. Chesterton (1874 – 1936). Somehow the infamously girthy “Prince of Paradox”—acknowledged even by his contemporaries as one of the great men of English letters—was omitted from my literature, philosophy and religion classes. Despite having produced a vast canon of diverse creative work celebrated widely during his lifetime, I have never heard him discussed in school or popular culture. Despite his influence on Christian apologetics (as a result of a profound conversion experience), I have never heard him referenced in a church service. In fact, if it hadn’t been for a reference to the influence of G.K. Chesterton upon C.S. Lewis’ own conversion to Christianity in the book A Severe Mercy, I still might not know of the man.

But who exactly was G.K. Chesterton, and why should we care?

Biographer Dale Ahlquist draws a portrait of Chesterton as an “absent-minded, overgrown elf of a man, who laughed at his own jokes … [standing] 6’4″ and weigh[ing] about 300 pounds, usually … a cigar in his mouth, and walk[ing] around wearing a cape and a crumpled hat, tiny glasses pinched to the end of his nose, sword stick in hand, laughter blowing through his mustache.” Chesterton was whimsical, a larger-than-life character who could have easily stumbled right out of one of his own fantastic stories onto the real streets of London. A brilliant orator, a master of mystery writing and well known for championing both common sense and childlike wonder, Chesterton’s literary works have influenced people as diverse as the Irish revolutionary Michael Collins, Mahatma Gandhi, filmmakers Ingmar Bergman (The Seventh Seal), Alfred Hitchcock (who admired Chesterton’s Father Brown mysteries) and Orson Welles (Citizen Kane), as well as authors Neil Gaiman (Coraline and The Sandman graphic novels), Ernest Hemingway, Ian Fleming (creator and author of the James Bond books) and Harry Potter creator JK Rowling. Needless to say, Chesterton’s is a long and thriving shadow of influence stretching well into the 21st century…

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