The Ball and the Cross (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading) [NOOK Book]

Overview



When Evan MacIan, a fervent Catholic, becomes enraged by an atheist newspaper, he challenges the editor, James Turnbull, to a duel. Turnbull, just as passionate in his atheism as MacIan is in his Catholicism, eagerly accepts.  Their sword fight interrupted wherever they go, MacIan and Turnbull duel with words.  The more MacIan and Turnbull debate, the more they realize that they have more in common than they thought. They come to understand that their enemy is not each other, but a world that has ...
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The Ball and the Cross (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading)

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Overview



When Evan MacIan, a fervent Catholic, becomes enraged by an atheist newspaper, he challenges the editor, James Turnbull, to a duel. Turnbull, just as passionate in his atheism as MacIan is in his Catholicism, eagerly accepts.  Their sword fight interrupted wherever they go, MacIan and Turnbull duel with words.  The more MacIan and Turnbull debate, the more they realize that they have more in common than they thought. They come to understand that their enemy is not each other, but a world that has grown too cold to tolerate men who not only believe in something, but believe in it enough to fight for it. MacIan and Turnbull gradually cease debating each other and begin to engage the people who interrupt their duel. Here we see G. K. Chesterton’s great genius in his fiction: his ability to bring philosophical and theological ideas to life through his characters and stories. In The Ball and the Cross  he accomplishes this with some of the wittiest and most engaging writing to be found in any of his novels.
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Meet the Author


G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936) was a larger-than-life writer who fascinates and perplexes us to this day.  An art student who became a poet, and then by turns a journalist, playwright, biographer, novelist, storyteller, philosopher, and “Christian apologist,” his fame rested on an uncanny ability to produce vast quantities of crystalline prose quickly and without apparent effort.  His fiction--particularly the Father Brown stories and the delirious suspense novel The Man Who Was Thursday--remains his most widely read and entertaining works.

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Introduction

The Ball and the Cross by G. K. Chesterton is a novel for our time, as fresh and invigorating now as when it was first published nearly a century ago. Maybe even more so, for it is a novel about religious conflict or, more specifically, why some men—whether they are believers or non-believers—think religion is something worth fighting about. In The Ball and the Cross, Chesterton gives us Evan MacIan, a fervent Catholic who, enraged over what he considers to be blasphemies against the Virgin Mary in an atheist newspaper, throws a rock through the window of the newspaper's office and challenges the editor, James Turnbull, to a duel. Turnbull, just as passionate in his atheism as MacIan is in his Catholicism, eagerly accepts. However, dueling is illegal, and thus begins a wild romp across England as the pair, one step ahead of the police, tries time and again to fight their duel only to be interrupted at each attempt. Now, this is where the real fun begins. Although prevented from dueling with swords time and again, MacIan and Turnbull are freed up to duel with words. In the England of the novel, to be either an atheist or a Catholic is to be guilty of bad taste. But MacIan and Turnbull have committed in the minds of their interlopers an even worse crime: that of having passionate convictions. The more MacIan and Turnbull debate, the more they realize that they have more in common than they thought, and with each interruption, they come to understand that their enemy is not each other, but a world that has grown too cold to tolerate men who not only believe in something, but believe in it enough to fight for it. MacIan and Turnbull gradually cease debating each other andbegin to engage the people who interrupt them. And here we see Chesterton's great genius in his fiction: his ability to bring great philosophical and theological ideas to life through his characters and stories. In The Ball and the Cross he accomplishes this with some of the wittiest and most engaging writing to be found in any of his novels.

Though many of Chesterton's books remain in print, he has all but disappeared from the literary scene. When The Ball and the Cross was published in 1910 though, he was unquestionably a literary sensation. The Ball and the Cross was Chesterton's third novel, following The Napoleon of Notting Hill (1904) and The Man Who Was Thursday (1908). But it was not his third book. By 1910, Chesterton had become well established as an original and insightful thinker in a variety of fields. With books on Robert Browning (1903), Charles Dickens (1906), and George Bernard Shaw (1909), he had shown himself to be a literary critic to be reckoned with (Shaw called Chesterton's biography of him "the best work of literary art I have yet provoked"). With Heretics (1905) and especially Orthodoxy (1908), Chesterton had established himself as a Christian apologist of considerable wit and vigor. In addition, his weekly columns in various London newspapers revealed him to be an astute commentator on topics that ran the gamut from current events, politics, and religion, to feminism, prohibition (he was firmly against it), and any subject under the sun.

Born on May 29, 1874, in the London neighborhood of Kensington, Gilbert Keith Chesterton was educated at St. Paul's School. His teachers at St. Paul's convinced Chesterton he was not college material, so he instead went to art school. In 1900, he was asked to contribute some articles on art criticism to a magazine, thus beginning one of the most productive careers in literary history. By the time of his death in 1936, Chesterton had written one hundred books, contributed to two hundred more, and composed hundreds of poems and short stories. He was just as comfortable writing sublime books on theology and Christian apologetics as he was writing detective fiction. With his popular priest-detective, Father Brown, Chesterton revolutionized the detective short story, while Orthodoxy is still recognized as one of the best defenses of Christianity written in the twentieth century.

Yet despite all this, Chesterton always considered himself to be primarily a journalist, and here his output was tremendous. He wrote more than four thousand essays for such newspapers as the Illustrated London News, the Daily News, and his own newspaper, G. K. 's Weekly. "To put this in perspective," says American Chesterton Society president Dale Ahlquist, "four thousand essays is the equivalent of writing an essay a day, every day, for eleven years. For those who think that his newspaper columns might represent the inconsequential part of Chesterton's writing, consider this: one of his columns in the Illustrated London News inspired a young, unknown London lawyer named Mahatmas Gandhi to return home to India and lead the movement for India's independence from the British Empire.

Standing six and a half feet tall and weighing more than three hundred pounds, Chesterton cut a giant swath as he walked down Fleet Street, the epicenter of London's publishing world. Wrapped in a great cloak, with a crumpled hat on the top of his head and a cigar clenched between his teeth, he carried a swordstick and in a cloak pocket, a small pistol that he had bought on his wedding day (he once wrote that he fancied the idea of having the privilege of defending his wife with it, should the occasion ever arise). The pistol gives a key to Chesterton's character. His contemporary and friend Hilaire Belloc, himself a prolific writer and ardent defender of Christianity, is sometimes likened to a howitzer, smashing an opposing argument (and the person who made it) to smithereens with his muscular prose. Chesterton, by contrast, was more like a gallant knight on horseback, riding into an enemy camp and throwing down a gauntlet, all the while laughing uproariously.

But as a man who spent his life defending the rights and dignity of the common man, Chesterton also took delight in simple, earthy pleasures. He preferred the inside of an inn to the outside and could hardly get through any of his novels without at least one stop at one. So it comes as no surprise that when The Ball and the Cross's MacIan and Turnbull reach an impasse, Turnbull declares, "This is a case for beer," and the two men repair to an inn. "Do not by any means let us drop our intentions of settling our differences with two steel swords," Turnbull says as they quench their thirst. But do you not think that with two pewter pots we might do what we have never thought of doing yet—discover what our difference is?"

For Chesterton, two bitter opponents developing a friendship over a glass of beer was a hallmark of sound Christian living. He himself loved to argue and he never backed down from a dispute. And he had a great time doing it. Maisie Ward, in her biography Gilbert Keith Chesterton, tells of how Chesterton and another man, Charles Masterman, once went canvassing door to door for the liberal party during an election year. Both started at the same end on opposite sides of the road. Masterman completed his side and came back on the other to find Chesterton still earnestly arguing at the first house.

A professional controversialist and satirist, Chesterton infused this joy at verbal combat into The Ball and the Cross. And it is a mark of the vast charity for which he was known, particularly by such philosophical opposites as Shaw and H. G. Wells, that the atheist Turnbull gets the better of MacIan as often as MacIan gets the better of him. Anyone familiar with Jesus' admonition in the Gospels against swearing oaths will appreciate the joke of MacIan swearing to fight Turnbull "by the God you have denied, by the Blessed Lady you have blasphemed; I swear it by the seven swords in her heart. I swear it by the Holy Island where my fathers are, by the honor of my mother, by the secret of my people, and by the chalice of the Blood of God. To which Turnbull answers simply, "And I give you my word. This exchange illustrates a central theme in The Ball and the Cross, one which recurs in all of Chesterton's writing: the conflict between faith and reason, which Chesterton saw as a false conflict. To put one at odds with the other, or to try to have one without the other, diminishes each. Reason without faith devolves into mere rationalism, while faith without reason degenerates into Puritanism. MacIan and Turnbull in their own way represent this false separation and its detrimental effects on the human capacity for clear thinking. MacIan, "brought up in some loneliness and seclusion as a strict Roman Catholic" had never "realized that there were in the world any people who were not Roman Catholics. Turnbull, for his part, avoids the big issues in his ongoing denial of God's existence in favor of cheap parlor tricks against organized religion: "It was in vain that he cried with an accusing energy that the bishop of London was paid ?12,000 a year for pretending to believe that the whale swallowed Jonah.

The harm caused by divorcing faith from reason manifests itself in practically every aspect of modern thought and popular culture. For example, we see it in the ongoing debate between Darwinists and Creationists, and in the argument over whether Harry Potter is healthy literature or diabolical occultism. In the debate over Darwinism, neither side stops to consider one radical possibility: that evolution has nothing whatsoever to say regarding the validity of Christianity. Similarly, the possibility that Harry Potter may actually be rooted in Christian theology occurs to neither side.

Chesterton hints at this conflict even in the book's title, which refers to the ball and cross atop London's St. Paul's Cathedral. Chesterton puts the reader there with an episode at the book's opening that is nearly lost in subsequent events, in which a monk named Michael is kidnapped by a Professor Lucifer and spirited away in the professor's flying machine. In their discussion, Professor Lucifer mocks Christianity as an unreasonable contradiction, as demonstrated by its own symbol, while Michael counters that the contradiction is Christianity's greatest glory. "What could possibly express your philosophy and my philosophy better than the shape of that cross and the shape of this ball?" the professor asks. The globe, he says, is "reasonable," "inevitable," "at unity with itself. The cross, however, is "unreasonable," "arbitrary," and "at enmity with itself. It is "the conflict of two hostile lines, of irreconcilable direction. To this the monk serenely replies, "What you say is perfectly true. But we like contradictions in terms. Man is a contradiction in terms. He is the beast whose superiority to other beasts consists in having fallen.

When Professor Lucifer sees the cross perched on top of the ball, he says that the two symbols are in the wrong order; the ball, being superior, should be on top. But such an inversion, Michael replies, "Would produce a most singular effect. The ball would fall down. Soon after, Michael is hauled off to a lunatic asylum where MacIan and Turnbull also are incarcerated, and he does not reappear until near the end of the novel. In the asylum, the question of which should rein supreme, the ball or the cross, is revisited. Or rather, each man is treated to a nightmarish vision of what the world might be like if either were abolished: "I had a dream," Turnbull says, "in which I saw the cross stuck crooked and the ball secure. MacIan in turn reveals, "I had a dream in which I saw the cross erect and the ball invisible. They were both dreams from hell.

To discover just how hellish the dreams were, one must read the book. Chesterton's novels tend to be both apocalyptic and prophetic. In The Ball and the Cross, Chesterton is eerily prophetic in saying that people with religious convictions would one day be not merely dismissed, but hauled away and locked up. True, imprisonment for religious belief was not novel to the twentieth century. What was novel was the scale by which it was done: the Spanish Inquisition and the Tudor persecution of Catholics were mere hiccups compared to the Jewish Holocaust and communism's systematic persecution of all religion. But nothing can stop a religious debate, except perhaps one thing: If the debate is allowed it is possible that one side may actually win. But this does not mean the other side is defeated, but that the two opponents may finally be on the same side.

Sean P. Dailey is editor-in-chief of Gilbert Magazine, a literary journal devoted to the writings and thought of G. K. Chesterton.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 7, 2012

    Wonderful classic story

    A lovely christian classic.

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  • Posted July 27, 2010

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    Propaganda

    Its starts out as a nice funny story that could have a good point or two but it soon has the ring of Christian propaganda all around up and down. This may work for some ... But not for me.

    1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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