Dover Book

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    If it is written by G.K. Chesterton, then one can expect the bizarre. Though his later writings toned down a bit, and his "Father Brown" detective novels are almost "normal," this is one of his earliest. In fact he was broke at the time he wrote it.
    I have read a great many of his books, and I like them but I always admit, I am not a big fan. My impression with most of his writings is that if you're not British, you feel left out. Chesterton's books are truly about England and English people, especially politics and social issues, and especially during his lifetime, (1874-1936). But that's just my opinion, and in fact, he has a great following in the U.S.. I found an interesting article about this particular novel online from the American Chesterton Society, "Lecture 6," by Dale Ahlquist.
    Up to this point, he had published poetry, but this was his first novel. Written in 1904, it is set eighty years into the future, in—yep—1984! But the even funnier thing is that, twenty years later, when Chesterton was successfully established, he gave a break to another young writer by publishing his first essay in G.K.'s Weekly. That man's name was Eric Blair. But we know him as—George Orwell!, best known for his futuristic novel—yep, again—Nineteen-Eighty-Four. Interesting, huh?
    In any case, the two novels have NOTHING in common. While Orwell's is the epitome of dystopian horror, much of which has and is happening, Chesterton's novel is funny, in that odd and bizarre style which makes his novels certainly unique. And yet, it contains elements that I can relate to here in 2017, though they are decidedly not funny now.
    Even though Chesterton set his novel eighty years into the future, nothing has changed much in England. London looks like it did in 1904, and nothing has advanced in technology. In fact, everything has come to a standstill and people are drowning in dullness. The monarchy, as we know it has been abandoned. Now, a king is chosen by lottery, and the method of governing is despotism. Nobody cares, and no one wants to get involved, so it is easier just to let one person take responsibility for ruling the country.
    Ah, now that sounds familiar. To quote from Dale Ahlquist, linked above:

His most accurate prediction is about what would not happen. People would not change. Democracy would still be a challenge that most people would not face up to. The most capable people would refuse to take the responsibility of governing, and most people in general would regard government not so much with resentment as with indifference.

    Well, the position of King falls to one Auberon Quin, a man who is only interested in a joke. In fact he takes his whole kingship as a joke. And so does everyone else. Except for one person, a little boy with whom he crosses paths as he is out for a stroll in the neighborhood of Notting Hill. This little boy stabs him with a wooden sword. He humors the child, then begins speaking of making the London suburbs into Medieval cities, with the banners and guards, heralds and walls. He gives the boy, whose name is Adam Wayne, half a crown "for the war chest of Notting Hill."
    And so, Quin does just that. He researches the neighborhoods and their "neglected traditions," then speaks at the Society of the Recovery of London Antiquities, of which he is a member. He wishes to create a new patriotism. (Remember, it is all a joke.)

His majesty then went on to explain that, now old age was creeping upon him, he proposed to devote his remaining strength to bringing about a keener sense of local patriotism in the various municipalities of London. How few of them knew the legends of their own boroughs. How many there were who had never heard of the true origin of the Wink of Wandsworth! What a large proportion of the younger generation in Chelsea neglected to perform the old Chelsea Chuff! Pimlico no longer pumped the Pimlies. Battersea had forgotten the name of Blick.

    He then proceeds to supply little bits of trivia about the different boroughs, and ends his speech by stating that he will issue a proclamation at 10:25 a.m. the next morning. Each borough will build a city wall which will be closed at sunset; each shall have a city guard; "armed to the teeth;" a banner, a coat-of-arms, and a gathering cry. The members of the Society are stunned:

The members of the Society for the Recovery of London Antiquities rose in an indescribable state of vagueness. Some were purple with indignation; an intellectual few were purple with laughter; the great majority found their minds a blank. There remains a tradition that one pale face with burning blue eyes remained fixed upon the lecturer, and after the lecture a red-haired boy ran out of the room.

    The next morning, the King orders his highest officials of the palace to go buy him paints and cardboard. He spends the morning designing uniforms and coats-of-arms for each municipality. It is all a joke, remember, but still, the King has issued the orders, so now each Provost must travel around with their guards in full uniform.

The Lord High Provost of the Good and Valiant City of West Kensington wrote a respectful letter to the King, explaining that upon State occasions it would, of course, be his duty to observe what formalities the King thought proper, but that it was really awkward for a decent householder not to be allowed to go out and put a post-card in a pillar-box without being escorted by five heralds, who announced, with formal cries and blasts of a trumpet, that the Lord High Provost desired to catch the post.

    Ten years pass and the nonsense continues. A business deal has been in negotiation for years by an enterprising group of men (and there is not one woman character in this novel, by the way), to build a highway through three boroughs, which includes Notting Hill, particularly Pump Street. The old Notting Hill Provost has died, and the new Provost is none other than the little red-haired boy, Adam Wayne, now age seventeen, who took the King's idea of Patriotism seriously. Now everyone has a serious problem to what began as the King's whim.
    Chesterton's silliness is not for everyone, especially those who are really out of touch with British history and politics. Still, this one is good for a laugh, and some deeper, more serious thoughts.


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