Chesterton’s Voice

Back during a time when the word kindle was a verb you would use to describe starting a fire, people would read actual hard-cover or paperback books.  Today, its a device you can use for reading books.   I don’t have a kindle.  I have an iPod, and I’ve got into buying audio books that I can download to my iPod and listen to while I drive, or while I’m puttering around at home, or even if I’m on a break at work.

The first time I read Orthodoxy I actually read it.  I bought a paperback copy of the book and read it.  It was the first book I’d ever read by G.K. Chesterton.  I don’t think I fully grasped what I was reading.  I was reading it because I heard it recommended and talked about by a Priest (now a Bishop) of the Catholic Church, Robert Barron.   I assumed from the title “Orthodoxy” that it would be a little more scholarly in structure and style than what I found, but I read through it anyway, and found it at least enjoyable even if I didn’t understand everything I read.

Today I have an audio book version narrated by John Franklyn-Robbins.  I was listening to it earlier and appreciating the work much more than I did the first time I saw the words on paper.  You don’t really realize it right away, though it seems obvious once you think about it, but the voice of the narrator is quite important to the enjoyment of the book.

John Franklyn-Robbins is the voice of G.K. Chesterton.  I can’t read Chesterton without hearing his voice.  I’ve listened to audio book versions of “Heretics”, and “What’s Wrong With the World”, both weren’t narrated by Mr. Robbins.  I thought both were good, but if I read a hard copy of a Chesterton book, like his biographical sketch of St. Francis of Assisi, I hear the voice of John Franklyn-Robbins.  It has a distinctiveness and character that just seems to scream “Chesterton!”.

Its almost like listening to a baseball game on the radio that’s being called by one of the great announcers, Harry Caray, Vin Scully, Ernie Harwell, etc.  You can see and feel what’s being described through the spoken word of the narrator, even though you can’t literally see it or feel it.   You hear the voice and you just relax and nearly slip into a stupor while you imbibe the action being described as if you were there watching it yourself.

The kindle you might use to read a book today won’t start a real fire, but when you read G.K. Chesterton and you hear the voice of John Franklyn-Robbins, it could start a fire in your heart.

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Becoming a Chestertonian.

I just finished reading “Heretics” by G.K. Chesterton.  Well, actually I just finished listening to it since I purchased it as an audio book.  Leaving aside for now the importance of the narrator, it was a fabulous read (or, listen).

The way that Chesterton articulates his objections to ideas by responding to individual persons is intriguing, whether it was Mr. H.G. Wells or Mr. Rudyard Kipling, or any one of the persons that he chose to quarrel with over their perceived heterodoxy, he did so in a manner that I found uplifting, that didn’t demean or put down his opponents.  I found myself often quoting lengthy passages of the book and posting them on Facebook for everyone else to see.

Obviously, Mr. G.K. Chesterton is from a different age than we live in today, but I found his style so refreshing that I purchased a couple more of his books (in audio format).  I have no doubt that “What’s Wrong With the World” and “The Everlasting Man” will be just as good, if not better than the two books I’ve read so far – Heretics and Orthodoxy.

I’ll end this short little ode to Mr. Chesterton with a brilliant paragraph from the final chapter of his book “Heretics”:

A common hesitation in our day touching the use of extreme convictions is a sort of notion that extreme convictions specially upon cosmic matters, have been responsible in the past for the thing which is called bigotry. But a very small amount of direct experience will dissipate this view. In real life the people who are most bigoted are the people who have no convictions at all. The economists of the Manchester school who disagree with Socialism take Socialism seriously. It is the young man in Bond Street, who does not know what socialism means much less whether he agrees with it, who is quite certain that these socialist fellows are making a fuss about nothing. The man who understands the Calvinist philosophy enough to agree with it must understand the Catholic philosophy in order to disagree with it. It is the vague modern who is not at all certain what is right who is most certain that Dante was wrong. The serious opponent of the Latin Church in history, even in the act of showing that it produced great infamies, must know that it produced great saints. It is the hard-headed stockbroker, who knows no history and believes no religion, who is, nevertheless, perfectly convinced that all these priests are knaves. The Salvationist at the Marble Arch may be bigoted, but he is not too bigoted to yearn from a common human kinship after the dandy on church parade. But the dandy on church parade is so bigoted that he does not in the least yearn after the Salvationist at the Marble Arch. Bigotry may be roughly defined as the anger of men who have no opinions. It is the resistance offered to definite ideas by that vague bulk of people whose ideas are indefinite to excess. Bigotry may be called the appalling frenzy of the indifferent. This frenzy of the indifferent is in truth a terrible thing; it has made all monstrous and widely pervading persecutions. In this degree it was not the people who cared who ever persecuted; the people who cared were not sufficiently numerous. It was the people who did not care who filled the world with fire and oppression. It was the hands of the indifferent that lit the faggots; it was the hands of the indifferent that turned the rack. There have come some persecutions out of the pain of a passionate certainty; but these produced, not bigotry, but fanaticism—a very different and a somewhat admirable thing. Bigotry in the main has always been the pervading omnipotence of those who do not care crushing out those who care in darkness and blood.