The Classic

I discovered the book The Man Who Was Thursday on a list of the top ten classic detective novels.  The setting and the concept hooked me, so I cracked open the public domain text online.  This is something I’ve done many times for many books, and usually never get very far into the text.  This book, however, instantly captured me and didn’t let me go until I had finished it in a day or two.

G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936) was an author and theologian in Britain.  Some say that C.S. Lewis got all his ideas from Chesterton.  A contemporary of other notable authors such as H.G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde, he would often debate them openly in his books.

The Man Who Was Thursday is Chesterton’s most popular work of fiction.  To describe it properly is to not do it proper justice, so I’ll quote from an expert on the subject, this is from Dale Ahlquist (No relation to my last name Wahlquist), who is President of The American Chesterton Society:

At first glance this is a detective story filled with poetry and politics.  But it is a mystery that grows more mysterious, until it is nothing less than the mystery of creation itself.  This is Chesterton’s most famous novel.  Never out of print since it was first published in 1908, critics immediately hailed it as “amazingly clever,” “a remarkable acrobatic performance,” and “a scurrying, door-slamming farce that ends like a chapter in the Apocalypse.”  One reviewer described how he had read it in one sitting and put it down, “completely dazed.”  Thirty years later, Orson Welles called it “shamelessly beautiful prose” and made a radio dramatization of it with his Mercury Radio Theater of the Air.  This story of anarchists and policemen first reveals that civilization is a fragile thing.  Our world is under attack not by mere terrorists and their bombs, but by ideas and philosophies that are far more destructive.  There are revelations beyond that, as we discover the true identity not of the Man who was Thursday, but the Man who is Sunday.

Read the book free online at Project Gutenberg.

Comments (4) »

  • Troy Fullwood says:

    I found out about this book in a rather different manner; after discovering Orson Well’s radio show (the mercury theater on the air), I found that this book was NOT ONLY won of their episodes, but that it ALSO was one of Mr. Well’s FAVORITE books.

  • There are a lot of cool things about the Welles radio play, and certainly one of the reasons why doing another radio play adaptation sounded like a good idea to me. When I read the book I immediately saw it as a film, and I only found out later that Welles had done this radio adaptation of it. Exciting and daunting!

  • Troy Fullwood says:

    Interesting story; apparently, Mr. Welles loved the book so much, he actually decided to write the script for that episode. (of course, he took credit for all scripts) And, also of course, when the day came for the final rehearsal & broadcast (live, back then), he had almost nothing of a script.

    So he and the regular writer managed to scramble together a “script” using their memories and various scraps of paper.

    They did a rehearsal.

    They were 20 minutes short.

    So, half-way through (it was towards the end of the season), Orson did something where he would read an excerpt of a book he liked, say “that’s the kind of thing we’ll have on next year. NEXT!” and read another excerpt.

    And they did this for 20 minutes.

    And it worked.

    Neat story, huh?

  • That’s a great story– where did you read that? I recently watched “F for Fake” which gave a lot of insight into Welles’ view of his own work. It put a new perspective on things for me.

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