Saturday, February 06, 2010

The Father Brown Stories (G.K. Chesterton)

This entry was originally composed back in May of 2009, but inexplicably never posted.

I have spent the past few weeks re-discovering the Father Brown mysteries by G.K. Chesterton. I am quite sure that I was in 8th grade the first time I read a collection of these and I'm fairly sure that I wasn't able to appreciate them at that age. This time it was a combination of some old British television episodes on sale and a paperback Modern Library edition that intrigued me. Borders had a sale on boxed DVD sets and I picked up two seasons of the Father Brown series, starring Kenneth More, circa 1972, for half off. As it happened, the following weekend at Borders, there was a copy of Father Brown: The Essential Tales on the shelf. Between that and the full text of all of the stories available here, I read some dozen stories or more over the course of the last month. Chesterton's stories run approximately 9,000 words (or 15 pages printed out on normal 8-1/2 x 11 paper) so they are just the right length for a thoughtful read on a 20-25 minute commute. Specifically, I printed out:

and one still to be read is “The Vampire of the Village”.

In The Essential Father Brown, I read:

Two of the stories particularly caught me in watching them on DVD (see asterisked items above). Neither was adapted slavishly but both captured the essential drama of the individual tales. In Curse of the Golden Cross, the linear narrative on the DVD picks up with a guide explaining the significance of the Byzantine gold cross and then jumps to the archaeologist in Crete who forms the focus of the story, a Professor Smaill who receives anonymous threats because someone resents his discovery of the cross. . The narrative then shifts to shipboard where we see the doctor in conversation with Father Brown. The story as written flips that order, opening on shipboard and the story of the cross emerging in the first few pages as Father Brown and Professor Smaill form an alliance to uncover the threat to his life. Written in the mid-nineteen-twenties, the story plays on the public interest in archaeological excavations at that time, excited by the discovery in 1921 of the tomb of King Tutankhamun. Father Brown is entirely pragmatic in the stories, not particularly impressed or taken in by superstition or folklore. He solves problems, based on his keen professional grasp of human frailty and behavior.

In Curse, the party visits an old church, (having a catacomb relating to Smaill's discoveries) to dine with the old vicar and view his excavation. The small set of suspects (met on shipboard and gathered again on shore at the church) and the limited set of locales in the tale make the attempt on Smaill's life an ideal candidate for a television episode.

The Oracle of the Dog was similar in approach (small set of suspects, limited setting), featuring someone who attributes a pre-turnatural awareness to the howling of a dog, included with Cross in the collection, The Incredulity of Father Brown.