Sunday, 10 August 2008

A Nightmare

About two weeks ago I read for the second time The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare by G.K. Chersterton. I think it is one of the best fictional stories I have read. Apparently since it was first published in 1908 the book hasn't been out of print. That's a pretty good effort.

The book is about Gabriel Syme who is a poet and also a detective who ends up been elected on the Central Council of Anarchists which he is trying to bring down. Each member on the council is named after a day of the week and their leader is Sunday, a great big mysterious man who everyone is afraid of. As Syme uncovers more information about each member of the Council the story gets more intriguing and also more fantastic and in the end it may still leave you wondering what it was all about.

Some people say that it is based on the book of Job and there are some parts that do seem like it. There are lots of imagery and biblical references and it also has lots of witty situations such as the anarchist meeting been an ordered affair where motions are put forward and seconded.

At the back of my book it has an article by Chersterton that was written the day before he died. In it he mentions how some people liked what he had written about the God figure in this book but Chersterton says they missed the sub-title of the book. The book was A nightmare. Chersterton says this about his book:

It was intended to describe the world of wild doubt and despair which the pessimists were generally describing at that date; with just a gleam of hope in some double meaning of the doubt, which even the pessimists felt in some fitful fashion.

The book is a wild and fantastic adventure with a hint of mystery, filled with witty and poetic lines. Below are two of my favorite quotes.

This is where Syme vows to bring down the Anarchist President Sunday

“Professor,” he cried, “it is intolerable. Are you afraid of this man?”

The Professor lifted his heavy lids, and gazed at Syme with large, wide‑open, blue eyes of an almost ethereal honesty.

“Yes, I am,” he said mildly. “So are you.”

Syme was dumb for an instant. Then he rose to his feet erect, like an insulted man, and thrust the chair away from him.

“Yes,” he said in a voice indescribable, “you are right. I am afraid of him. Therefore I swear by God that I will seek out this man whom I fear until I find him, and strike him on the mouth. If heaven were his throne and the earth his footstool, I swear that I would pull him down.”

“How?” asked the staring Professor. “Why?”

“Because I am afraid of him,” said Syme; “and no man should leave in the universe anything of which he is afraid.”

Here Syme and his friends are out numbered from a mob that has been chasing them. They end up on a pier so they can not be surrounded, but they also have no where to go as behind them is the ocean. Syme charges the anarchists with a lantern in his hands:

“Do you see this lantern?” cried Syme in a terrible voice. “Do you see the cross carved on it, and the flame inside? You did not make it. You did not light it, Better men than you, men who could believe and obey, twisted the entrails of iron and preserved the legend of fire. There is not a street you walk on, there is not a thread you wear, that was not made as this lantern was, by denying your philosophy of dirt and rats. You can make nothing. You can only destroy. You will destroy mankind; you will destroy the world. Let that suffice you. Yet this one old Christian lantern you shall not destroy. It shall go where your empire of apes will never have the wit to find it.”
He struck the Secretary once with the lantern so that he staggered; and then, whirling it twice round his head, sent it flying far out to sea, where it flared like a roaring rocket and fell.
“Swords!” shouted Syme, turning his flaming face ; to the three behind him. “Let us charge these dogs, for our time has come to die.”

You can read this book online.

There is also an old (September 5, 1938) radio play of this book that you can download (26.3 MB). They did a good job, but like most adaptations, there are things left out.


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