Friday, June 22, 2012

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

 I wrote an earlier post on Chesterton's view of fairy tales as metaphors for the supernatural. This chapter (slightly edited) from Tremendous Trifles highlights his thinking on that subject.

 I met a man the other day who did not believe in fairy tales… he did not believe that a pumpkin could turn into a coach… And, he was wholly unable to give me an intelligent reason for it.  He tried the laws of nature, but he soon dropped that.  Then he said that pumpkins were unalterable in ordinary experience, and that we all reckoned on their infinitely protracted pumpkinity.  But I pointed out to him that this was not an attitude we adopt specially towards impossible marvels, but simply the attitude we adopt towards all unusual occurrences.  If we were certain of miracles we should count on them.  Things that happen very seldom we all leave out of our calculations, whether they are miraculous or not. 

        I do not expect a glass of water to be turned into wine; but neither do I expect a glass of water to be poisoned with prussic acid.  I do not in ordinary business relations act on the assumption that the editor is a fairy; but neither do I act on the assumption that he is a Russian spy, or the lost heir of the Holy Roman Empire.  What we assume in action is not that the natural order is unalterable, but simply that it is much safer to bet on common incidents than on uncommon ones.  This does not touch the credibility of any attested tale about a Russian spy or a pumpkin turned into a coach.  If I had seen a pumpkin turned into a Panhard motor-car with my own eyes, that would not make me any more inclined to assume that the same thing would happen again.  I should not invest largely in pumpkins with an eye to the motor trade.  Cinderella got a ball dress from the fairy; but I do not suppose that she looked after her own clothes any less after that...

                The man had come to see me in connection with some silly society of which I am an enthusiastic member; he was a fresh-colored, short-sighted young man, like a stray curate who was too helpless even to find his way to the Church of England.  He had a curious green necktie and a very long neck; I am always meeting idealists with very long necks.  Perhaps it is that their eternal aspiration slowly lifts their heads nearer and nearer to the stars.  Or perhaps it has something to do with the fact that so many of them are vegetarians; perhaps they are slowly evolving the neck of the giraffe so that they can eat all the tops of the trees in Kensington Gardens.  These things are in every sense above me.  Such, anyhow, was the young man who did not believe in fairy tales; and by a curious coincidence he entered the room when I had just finished looking through a pile of contemporary fiction, and had begun to read “Grimm’s Fairy Tales” as a natural consequence.

        The modern novels stood before me, however, in a stack; and you can imagine their titles for yourself.  There was “Suburban Sue:  A Tale of Psychology,” and also “Psychological Sue: A Tale of Suburbia”; there was “Trixy: A Temperament,” and “Man-Hate: A Monochrome,” and all those nice things.  I read them with real interest, but, curiously enough, I grew tired of them at last, and when I saw “Grimm’s Fairy Tales” lying accidentally on the table, I gave a cry of indecent joy.  Here at least, here at last, one could find a little common sense.  I opened the book, and my eyes fell on these splendid and satisfying words, “The Dragon’s Grandmother.” That at least was reasonable; that at least was comprehensible; that at least was true.  “The Dragon’s Grandmother!” While I was rolling this first touch of ordinary human reality upon my tongue, I looked up suddenly and saw this monster with a green tie standing in the doorway. 

(to be continued in next post)

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