Chesterton would have loved “Snow White”…

Chesterton would have loved “Snow White”… May 5, 2017

sez Steve Greydanus.  I suspect he’s right.  Chesterton had an immense capacity for enjoying pretty much everything.

Chesterton was a great defender of popular and even “vulgar” culture — the very change leveled by Lewis and Tolkien against Snow White. Take the following utterly typically Chestertonian sentiment, from All Things Considered:

I believe firmly in the value of all vulgar notions, especially of vulgar jokes. When once you have got hold of a vulgar joke, you may be certain that you have got hold of a subtle and spiritual idea.

For a more sustained Chestertonian defense of vulgar culture, consider “A Defense of ‘Penny Dreadfuls’”. Early in that essay he writes:

In former centuries the educated class ignored the ruck of vulgar literature. They ignored, and therefore did not, properly speaking, despise it. Simple ignorance and indifference does not inflate the character with pride. A man does not walk down the street giving a haughty twirl to his moustaches at the thought of his superiority to some variety of deep-sea fishes. The old scholars left the whole under-world of popular compositions in a similar darkness.

The interesting thing is that Lewis understood and appreciated this point. In fact, in this regard Lewis was somewhere between Tolkien and Chesterton. He was an elite academic, producing acclaimed and valuable works of literary scholarship like The Allegory of Love, A Preface to ‘Paradise Lost’ and The Discarded Image. Yet he could also defend the patently unliterary pulp writings of Rider Haggard. (Lewis mentions in a letter that he was once “persuaded into going to King Kong because it sounded the sort of Rider Haggardish thing that has always exercised a spell over me.” What he thought of it I don’t know.)

I know exactly what Lewis means about the charm of Haggardish stories and it is why I have always loved the original King Kong.  Even more, I love Merian C. Cooper, who lived an epic and romantic life that is the basis for Carl Denham, the swaggering hero of Kong.  Somebody should make a biopic about Cooper, who epitomizes some of the best (and sometimes the worst) of gee whiz American boyhood and manhood in the early to mid 20th century.


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