Thursday, November 16, 2017

Going back to the hidden depths of the Paradoxes of Mr. Pond

When I first decided to start reading Gilbert K. Chesterton in college, the first book I found in the college library was the Paradoxes of Mr. Pond. Ironically, that was also the last mystery book he wrote. And, while not it’s one of Chesterton’s greats, it is still a fun, enjoyable read.

(Although, to be fair, Chesterton’s fiction seems to be break down to the Father Brown stories, the Man Who Was Thursday, and then everything else. I have no idea how to rank his writing past those two works. Frankly, if you like his quaint and quirky style, you will like any given book.)

The Paradoxes of Mr. Pond is a collection of mystery stories about a bureaucrat who is able to figure out what’s really going on in seemingly nonsensical situations. Sometimes, he actually solves the crime and other times he just explains it. 

I recently reread the collection because I wanted to reread just one of the stories, the Ring of Lovers. The title is a pun because the story has both a ring sent by a lover and a group of men gathered together because a husband knows one of them is having an affair with his wife.

Rereading the story after I was older made much more of an impression on me when I had a better idea of what it was really about. The point of the story isn’t about the crime, it’s the realization of Mr Pond’s friend Captain Gahagan that getting invited to this party meant people thought he was that kind of guy and that didn’t sit well with him. 

Having read a lot of Chesterton since I first read the Paradoxes of Mr Pond, it’s not hard to see parallels between the book and his other works. The quiet but vastly observant Mr Pond can’t help but remind me of Father Brown. Captain Galahan feels like a more flawed version of Flambeau.

But the work I really found myself thinking of was The Man Who Knew Too Much. Horne Fisher and Mr Pond are both characters who know quite a bit about the underside of politics and human nature. However, Fisher ends up jaded and fatalistic by his experiences while Mr Pond uses his understanding and knowledge. It feels Chesterton explored the disillusioned idealist with a Fisher and the practical humanitarian with Pond.

I went back to the Paradoxes of Mr Pond because of one story but I knew I would get the most out of it by reading the whole book. While it is a collection of short stories and they were originally published in magazines (Heck, the collection wasn’t published until after Chesterton’s death), there is still an overall larger story in it. Captain Gahagan has a definite character arc. And there is a definitive message about being responsible, even when the world doesn’t seem to encourage it.

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