Friday, June 22, 2012

The Dragon's Grandmother by G. K. Chesterton (Part Two)

Continued from last post:

        I listened to what he said about society politely enough, I hope; but when he incidentally mentioned that he did not believe in fairy tales, I broke out beyond control. . . .  “Look at these plain, homely, practical words, ‘The Dragon’s Grandmother,’ that is all right; that is rational almost to the verge of rationalism.  If there was a dragon, he had a grandmother.  But you – you had no grandmother!  If you had known one, she would have taught you to love fairy tales.  You had no father, you had no mother; no natural causes can explain you.  You cannot be.”. . .

        It seemed to me that he did not follow me with sufficient delicacy, so I moderated my tone.  “Can you not see,” I said, “that fairy tales in their essence are quite solid and straightforward; but that this everlasting fiction about modern life is in its nature essentially incredible?  Folk-lore means that the soul is sane, but that the universe is wild and full of marvels.  Realism means that the world is dull and full of routine, but that the soul is sick and screaming.  The problem in the fairy tale is – what will a healthy man do with a fantastic world?  In the fairy tales the cosmos goes mad, but the hero does not go mad.  In the modern novels the hero is mad before the book begins, and suffers from the harsh steadiness and cruel sanity of the cosmos.

        In the excellent tale of ‘The Dragon’s Grandmother,’ and in all the other tales of Grimm, it is assumed that the young man setting out on his travels will have all substantial truths in him; that he will be brave, full of faith, reasonable, that he will respect his parents, keep his word, rescue one kind of people, defy another kind, etc.  Then, having assumed this center of sanity, the writer entertains himself by fancying what would happen if the whole world went mad all around it, if the sun turned green and the moon blue, if the horses had six legs and giants had two heads. 

        But your modern literature takes insanity as its center.  Therefore, it loses the interest even of sanity.  A lunatic is not startling to himself, because he is quite serious; that is what makes him a lunatic. . . .  A man who thinks he is a chicken is to himself as common as a chicken.  It is only sanity that can see even a wild poetry in insanity.”

        I saw him still gazing at me fixedly.  Some nerve snapped in me under that hypnotic stare.  I leapt to my feet and cried, “In the name of God and Democracy and the Dragon’s grandmother – in the name of all good things – I charge you to avaunt and haunt this house no more.” Whether or no it was the result of exorcism, there is no doubt that he definitely went away.

(End of chapter 16 of Tremendous Trifles)

1 comment:

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