Just finished reading G.K. Chesterton’s novel Manalive, a story about the pursuit of joy.
Innocent Smith is a man with two legs, who discovered in college the truth behind the pessimistic philosphies of pre-World War I England: that the professors could talk gloom and despair all they wanted, but if bullet whizzed past their heads, they would be happy to be alive.
Building on that discovery, Smith goes to the ends of the earth (well, to the other side and back) to “find” his home and elopes with his wife again and again to keep the magic in the relationship.
It’s classic Chesterton, with lines that make you laugh, scratch your head and then laugh again, with characters who talk deep philosophy in a way that actually works as fiction. Set in the context of a “trial” of the criminal Mr. Smith, the story carries echoes of the trial of Christ, then the holy fools, then a simple man who is searching for joy in his own life. The progression from Great Mystery to struggling person maintains the believablity of the character in a context that begs for unbelievability.
I had the story recommended to me by someone who had read my story, “The Fool.” It’s not the only “fool” story I’ve run across recently. Another friend gave me a paperback mystery about an accused arsonist similar to Max. Chesterton’s fool is similar to the way I’d envisioned mine–they even share a wind–but Chesterton’s work is longer. I didn’t even dare to try to maintain mine for that length of work. His is funnier, bigger, wilder and more extravagant. I was trying to make mine something one might see any day and not realize. No one could see Innocent Smith without taking notice.
If I were in grad school, I’d think about a thesis on the fool in literature. It could be a big topic.