The Many Wonders of the World

sword-of-king-arthurOne of G. K. Chesterton’s most enduring themes is that of wonder. I have noted this before, but it seems to me that Chesterton’s articulation of wonder is one of his greatest gifts to us of a more modern and mechanical age. Along with fairy-tales, Chesterton often uses children as examples of what true wonder looks like. Of course, in the end, fairy-tales and children go hand in hand, for fairy-tales are written for the amusement of children; but this is precisely what Chesterton takes issue with. Fairy-tales ought not to astonish and amuse only children. They ought to astonish and amuse us all. Our world is a very strange place, if we only have the eyes to see. The only reason we think our world is mundane is because we are so used to it. Just think of the many wonders in creation: the eternal procession of Orion through the winter night sky, the fire lilies blooming in triumphant praise during late summer, the hordes of prison striped zebras escaping into the freedom of the African plains, the wild haired cat lurking about in my living room; all of which could come out of any fairytale if they were not the stuff of the “real world”.

Chesterton writes about this childlike wonder in Heretics (The Collected Works of GKC, Vol 1, Ignatius, 1986):

The child is, indeed, in these, and many other matters, the best guide. And in nothing is the child so righteously childlike, in nothing does he exhibit more accurately the sounder order of simplicity, than in the fact that he sees everything with a simple pleasure, even the complex things. The false type of naturalness harps always on the distinction between the natural and the artificial. The higher kind of naturalness ignores that distinction. To the child the tree and the lamp-post are as natural and as artificial as each other; or rather, neither of them are natural but both supernatural. For both are splendid and unexplained. The flower with which God crowns the one, and the flame with which Sam the lamplighter crowns the other, are equally of the gold of fairy-tales. In the middle of the wildest fields the most rustic child is, ten to one, playing at steam-engines. And the only spiritual or philosophical objection to steam-engines is not that men pay for them or work at them, or make them very ugly, or even that men are killed by them; but merely that men do not play at them. The evil is that the childish poetry of clock-work does not remain. The wrong is not that engines are too much admired, but that they are not admired enough. The sin is not that engines are mechanical, but that men are mechanical.

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