Saturday, August 19, 2006

The Man Who Was Thursday - Round-up

General Comments on the Book

J.R.R. Tolkien had a distaste for allegory because, among other reasons, it is difficult to maintain consistancy due to the limits of metaphor. Yet, despite himself, he has not prevented many literary scholars interpreting his opus Lord of the Rings as being largely allegorical. But has not been to the detriment of the work's overall appreciation. If anything it has enhanced it.

We love allegories. From the earliest literature, through Aesop's fables and the tales of the Brother's Grimm, we see the basic human desire to learn without knowing it. In reading Thursday, I'll admit that I was worried the allegory might reach critical mass and just unravel at some points. Somehow, though, Chesterton has achieved a brilliant allegorical tale without losing any of the entertainment and intrigue of a spy novel. Of course, a lighthearted approach was necessary - the book didn't take itself too seriously, and that what enabled it to get accross such a serious message. Some of the plot twists seemed almost childish - yet, this too, was all part of the allegory, when we found out the complex identity of Sunday.

A final note on that. Lest some poor unsuspecting bloke wander onto my blog years down the line, and I'm dead and unable to account for myself, I should make it clear here that I don't believe Sunday represents God, per se. Rather, Sunday represents an aspect of God in the Universe. He really represents, in a way, the Sabbath - and also the eighth day of creation. He personifies, if you will, God's actions, but not the mysterious being Himself. This, I think, is an important subtlety which allows the metaphor room to stretch its legs.

My final assessment of the work is that it is a fun read, masterfully written, and an easy way to get unsuspecting people thinking about God. I also found it to be rather moving, and very insightful into the human condition - something for which Chesterton is always dependable.

Book Club Roundup

We've had some fairly decent discussion.

I think the best threads have centered around the problem of evil and the question of theodicy. How do we justify God's ways to man? The Book of Job was referenced by one of the interlocuters, and I think it a good book to keep in mind when analyzing Thursday. It is certainly one archetypal pattern upon which many of the discussions are based.

Another rather striking theme that came up is this notion of God's seeming "mischieviousness." The mirth of God, which Chesterton says is the one trait that seems too terrible for Him to show us, really is a heavy subject to contemplate. We read in the psalms about God "laughing His enemies to scorn" in His high heavens. We know somewhere in His eternal being there is a sense of joy. And to contemplate it through the lens of time is to understand all the more poignantly the sacrifice of the cross. God humbled himself, yes; He "did not disdain" to become one of us, certainly. But, I think there's more than that. "God so loved the world" that He redeemed us out of that same eternal joy which seems impertinent to us in the face of evil and the challenges of human life. God justifies His laughing His enemies to scorn (like Sunday's playing games with the six cops when they give chase) by sending His Son to us in the same eternal joy. I think sometimes we shortchange God's gift of love, like seeing it as a "last resort" or something like that. We look at the crucifixion separate from the resurrection, or we see it too much through human eyes and we forget that God wrought our great redemption willingly - but more than willingly, with joy in His heart. Anyone who has sacrificed something for the sake of love knows the bitterness of the sacrifice belies something sweet at the center of it all. The strange, warm smile on Sunday's face at the end of the book which seems to eclipse everything else is, I think, the embodiment of this profound mystery - God's joyful love of man, joyful even in giving His only Son for our sake.

Something we have not touched on much throughout the novel, but a definite theme that comes through, is Chesterton's dealing with other philosophical or theological systems. He touches on things like nihilism, absurdism, ethicism, existentialism, and especially materialism. If anybody wants to take up this thread, please feel free. But I do think it worthy to point out as a major theme in the book, because one can easily look to it for some good one-liners of apologetics.

My final thought on the novel goes back to that very first discussion. We teased this out a little bit, but I don't know that we've ever drawn out the full implications of the original question of "anarchy vs. order." My thought here, again, centers on the person of Sunday and on that idea of there being an "eigth day" of creation. Sunday, in the Genesis counting, is the final day - the seventh day. Christianity looks to the same day and puts it at the beginning of the week, because it is the day on which the new creation takes life. Sunday, then, is the beginning and the end in a sense. Somehow, these realities coexist in a harmony. And I think that this is the answer Chesterton proposes to the riddle about order and anarchy. I had thought all along that Chesterton's use of the tree as a symbol of anarchy versus a lightpole as a symbol of order was a bit weak. And I think he meant it to be. The tree is anarchic in a way, but also teliologically ordered. It has a purpose of "treeing." The universe paradoxically embodies order and disorder in some strange sort of harmony as creation groans in labor pains. Chesterton seems fascinated with this in many of his works. He seems fascinating with the work of the Son in the Father's creation. And I think the two sides of Sunday - the dark, incomprehensible back and the strange, terribly warm and goodnatured face - are Chestertons attempt to illustrate a bit of this mystery to us.

The End... almost

Well, these are my final thoughts on the novel. Discussion will continue (hopefully) below in the combox. The SCS crew of the book club are all invited to participate in a group discussion of the work coinciding with a presentation of Orson Welles' radio version of Thursday. Details to follow.

To all who participated, thank you. To all who at least read along, thank you. I hope that the discussion that has taken place here has been of some use to people who have stumbled onto the blog through search engines and the like. The body of criticism on this novel seems small enough that I think our humble contributions here might at least count as a drop in the bucket. If we encouraged one person to pick up the book (or any book for that matter, particularly a Chesterton one), I consider it to have been a worthwhile endeavor. I know I've learned something. Thanks, again.

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Blogger Theocoid said...

I was too busy with coursework to join in on this read. However, I'm looking forward to the next.

9/1/06, 3:27 PM  

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