"What is this babbler trying to say?" Acts 17:18

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Notting Hill and Other Mountains I Have Climbed

The main reason I reread G.K.Chesterton’s Napoleon of Notting Hill was because I needed a lightweight paperback to take backpacking. Weighing in at a mere 3.75 ounces (110g), it was the perfect choice for a week in the wilderness. Looking at my shelves, I realized hefty tomes cover most of them. The few that are not an inordinate burden I have already read so my choices were severely limited.

But Chesterton is an excellent author to read or reread so I was not sorry as I stuffed him into my pack next to a jumble of spare socks, sunscreen, and sierra cup. As Auberon Quin (aptly named after the King of the Fairies) walked up Pump Street, I walked up an unnamed logging road. When Auberon was standing on his head in the middle of the road, I was lying on my back in the middle of the camp. When Auberon pored over a map of the suburbs of London, I pored over a map of the Russian Wilderness. When Adam Wayne entered the shop of the grocer, I opened the sack of the gourp. When the men of Notting Hill were attacked, the mosquitoes and nighttime chill attacked. When Wayne climbed onto a wall and looked down on his foe, I climbed onto a rock and looked down on the bear (yeah, the bear, we have pictures to prove it. They must like me because I rode my mountain bike around a blind curve last Saturday and surprised another one 25 feet down the trail).

This post is really about bears. Chesterton, I am sorry to say is only a pretext. Out of a sense of duty, however, I’ll say this much: The Napoleon of Notting Hill is primarily political. Patriotism and individual sovereignty is lost in the future world that Chesterton envisions: a world prophetically similar to that of the U.N and European Union. James Barker explains the mentality of that future age in one paragraph:
we are, in a sense, the purest democracy. We have become a despotism. Have you not noticed how continually in history democracy becomes despotism? People call it the decay of democracy. It is simply its fulfillment (25).
Chesterton, G.K. The Napoleon of Notting Hill. Penguin Books. Penguin Modern Classics, Great Britain, 1982.


Aaron said...

Do you really think Notting Hill is political? Perhaps it's splitting hairs, but I think it's more patriotic. It's about colors, symbols, heraldry, identity. It's about having something solid to stand on, and stand for.

On this good earth
I bid you stand,
men of the West!

Chesterton excels at portraying the romantic in the ordinary. That's one of the major reasons his books are so fun to read.

Brian Carpentier said...

I see what you mean. Patriotic probably is a better word, also perhaps society or culture would have worked. I still think it is political, although not necessarily in the limited sense of "party politics," but rather in how people govern themselves and what sort of culture they develop ("colors, symbols, heraldry, identity" as you so neatly put it).

David Haddon said...

"Individual sovereignty"? What is that? Sounds a bit like the "Mystery Clause" in the constitution that Kennedy of our ruling aristocracy on the Court discovered and declared as the individual's right to define the meaning (mystery) of life for himself or herself. That way, of course, lies madness (anarchy). Perhaps it would be better to say "individual liberty" of conscience, a right recently rejected by the California Supreme Court when it declared that a doctor must inseminate a lesbian even if he believes the procedure to be sinful.

Brian Carpentier said...

I begin to think this post is an utter failure. perhaps my words were so widely interpreted because I really didn't know what I wanted to say. An author should write clearly and precisely so as to be understood, something I evidently failed to do. I meant "Individual sovereignty" of nations or states (or towns even, as in Chesterton's story)not of individual human beings. I meant That a local people should be able to enjoy life, liberty, and property on their own terms and not be imposed upon by a world dictator, be it aristocracy or democracy. For example, as you know, here in America, the Constitution originally arraigned for the individual states to retain their sovereignty in all but a few areas of policy that were surrendered to the national government.