Olson: 'Interview' with G.K. Chesterton on Dan Brown, author of 'The Da Vinci Code'

Olson: ‘Interview’ with G.K. Chesterton on Dan Brown, author of ‘The Da Vinci Code’

Opinion

I few years ago I sat down with famed British journalist, author, apologist, and wit G.K. Chesterton (in the form of his books, as he was not physically available) and discussed the work of best-selling novelist Dan Brown, whose novels have sold some 200 million copies. Brown’s new novel, titled Origin, has divided critics: some think he is a really poor writer, while others insist he shouldn’t be writing at all. In a rather scathing (and entertaining) review for The Week, Matthew Walther concluded:

Dan Brown is a truly terrible writer. But I would be lying if I said I hated reading Origin. I did not. Few books have ever given me a more vivid impression of the writer or struck me more with the force of their truthfulness. The present volume provides as clear a window into its author’s soul as the Confessions of St. Augustine or Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past.

This echoes some of the comments made by Chesterton in our interview. And while Chesterton doesn’t remark on Brown’s most recent novels, his essential points still hold up well, even after all these years—or decades.

Olson: I was somewhat surprised to learn that you haven’t been entirely negative about Dan Brown’s novels, including The Da Vinci Code.

Chesterton: My taste is for the sensational novel, the detective story, the story about death, robbery and secret societies; a taste which I share in common with the bulk at least of the male population of this world. There was a time in my own melodramatic boyhood when I became quite fastidious in this respect. I would look at the first chapter of any new novel as a final test of its merits. If there was a murdered man under the sofa in the first chapter, I read the story. If there was no murdered man under the sofa in the first chapter, I dismissed the story as tea-table twaddle, which it often really was. But on the whole I think that a tale about one man killing another man is more likely to have something in it than a tale in which, all the characters are talking trivialities without any of that instant and silent presence of death which is one of the strong spiritual bonds of all mankind. I still prefer the novel in which one person does another person to death to the novel in which all the persons are feebly (and vainly) trying to get the others to come to life. [1]

Chesterton: Every now and then, after wading through a hubbub of hundreds of words, we find a word that seems to have gone right by accident. We must not complain; nothing in this mortal life is perfect; not even bad poetry. [2]

In one sense, at any rate, it is more valuable to read bad literature than good literature. Good literature may tell us the mind of one man; but bad literature may tell us the mind of many men. A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.

It does much more than that, it tells us the truth about its readers; and, oddly enough, it tells us this all the more the more cynical and immoral be the motive of its manufacture. The more dishonest a book is as a book the more honest it is as a public document. A sincere novel exhibits the simplicity of one particular man; an insincere novel exhibits the simplicity of mankind. … men’s basic assumptions and everlasting energies are to be found in penny dreadfuls and halfpenny novelettes. [3]

Olson: And yet you went through a time when you were rather disgusted with modern fiction, right?

This article continues at [Catholic World Report] G. K. Chesterton on Dan Brown: The Interview

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