G.K. Chesterton’s The Ball and the Cross – Seeing the world as it really is

[I’m linking up with Anne Bogel today (Modern Mrs. Darcy) in looking at books that aren’t in the mainstream, part of an occasional series she has entitled Best Book You’ve Never Heard Of On … .]

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Best Book You’ve Never Heard Of On … Reality

G.K. Chesterton is one of my favorite writers. He’s not always the easiest person to read, but what he has to say is worth the read none the less.

He wrote the Father Brown mysteries as a fascinating study in detective work, faith and the human condition. It’s not that every one of these short stories have you wondering who did it right up to a big reveal at the end, but rather that you are wondering what insight Chesterton will bring to inform your understanding of what has been going on in the characters’ lives. The fascinating part is then discovering what that means for your life too.

His spiritual memoir Orthodoxy takes the reader along on his journey to become a Christian who embraces the sound doctrines of the faith  – hence the name of the book – all while taking good-natured pokes at himself and others. What else would you expect from a man who dined with George Bernard Shaw? (Plus, this is the book that gave us the quote “Angels can fly because they can take themselves lightly.” Bonus!)

The Man Who Was Thursday is Chesterton’s best known novel. This compelling story follows an undercover police officer (code-named Thursday) who attempts to crack a nefarious ring of conspirators, a criminal enterprise with a reach that extends from England to the European continent and back. One thing to keep in mind, though, is the clue found in the subtitle of the book: “A nightmare”. This is the book that explores what we all know from experience – dreams mean things, but the meaning is usually just beyond our grasp.

Then there’s the book I want to discuss as part of the series on little-known books, The Ball and the Cross, a rather strange tale of one man’s experience with Satan, worldly powers, fellow reality seekers, and those who have found God. Despite its strangeness I enjoyed it immensely. This is the best book you’ve never heard of on seeing the world as it really is.

Reality Through Fantasy

The Ball and the Cross begins with the line “The flying ship of Professor Lucifer sang through the skies like a silver arrow”. This is a line written in 1909, the early years of manned flight when no airship sang through the skies like anything let alone like a silver arrow. Professor Lucifer, of course, is Satan and his ship is a monstrosity of invention that attempts to herd any wayward thinker into line by traveling faster almost that the thinker’s own thoughts.

As the Professor’s passenger, a monk named Michael (a name not chosen by accident), points out, the ship is prone to run into things, and as the story unfolds what it runs into is reality. Michael is the representative of those who see reality as it really is, because he is the representative of God. His role is not unlike that of his namesake, the angel Michael in Daniel 12:1 who stands as the protector of God’s people and whose battle with Satan is always carried out in the name of the Lord

This book is about seeing things as God intends us to see them, but it is presented as a wild flight of fancy where Professor Lucifer ends up hounding a man who is trying to make sense of it all. The conclusion shows that in reality Satan can claim no souls when those souls have been given instead to Christ at the cross.

The title of the book is itself an indication of where the story is going. The cross of the title is of course the Cross of Christ, the place where God saved those he calls to himself. The ball is a bit more obscure but we come to understand that it represents the world without Christ. The conclusion of the book makes no mistake about where reality lies.

True reality is found in the Cross of Christ.

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18 Responses to G.K. Chesterton’s The Ball and the Cross – Seeing the world as it really is

  1. Thanks for bringing a truly great writer to us Tim. Imagine being a fly on the wall when the group called the Inklets got together. A group that comprised Lewis, Elliot, Tolkien aand Chesterton. In fact Tolkien said it was Lewis who inspired him to finish Lord of The Rings. Knowing that one wonders if Lewis and Chesterton influenced each other. Lewis producing Screwtape Letters and Chesterton producing the one you mention here.

    Thanks Tim.

  2. Jeannie says:

    This sounds REALLY good and I will definitely check it out. My book club did The Man Who Was Thursday many years ago and it was great. I have Orthodoxy on my to-read pile too: I took it out of the library a couple of weeks ago & haven’t gotten to it yet, but your post has inspired me to start it today! — and to look for “The Ball & the Cross” at the library as well.

  3. Bronwyn says:

    I had never heard of this book, but you have piqued my interest. And you’ve also made me remember why we named our last-born Michael (his second name. His first name means “man of prayer”) oh how we pray that his names will be true of his character and that he gets true reality RIGHT.

  4. I’ve never read a book by Chesterton, but I’ve read so many of his quotes that resonated with me that I had to check out your post when I saw it linked to in MMD. All of the books you described sound interesting to me.I never knew he wrote mysteries. Fascinating man.

    • Tim says:

      Here’s another Chesterton recommendation for you, Julie. Try The Man Who Knew Too Much (not the same story as Hitchcock’s Doris Day/Jimmy Stewart movie) for a taste of what it’s like to be privy to what really goes on behind the scenes in the halls of power. It follows one man through an alternate history of England, and challenges us all to consider the consequences of pursuing goals by compromising values.

  5. Aimee Byrd says:

    Great idea for a series! I will have to check out Anne’s recommendations as well. I haven’t read this one of Chesterton’s but now it is going on the list. Thanks Tim, sounds like a great read.

    • Tim says:

      I’d love to read your take on it, Aimee. Perhaps as a reading reflection; it’s a short book, and you can even find the text online.

  6. barefoothippiegirl says:

    I must not be well read at all, but I have never read GK Chesterton. Guess what I am going to be reserving at my library? I guess we both had great suggestions for the other.=) Thanks.

    • Tim says:

      If you like odd flights of fancy with real ideas to consider underlying it all, this is the book to read. The Man Who Was Thursday is even better, but most people have heard of that one so I couldn’t recommend it as part of Anne’s carnival of little-known books.

  7. I’ve really enjoyed the Chesterton I’ve read, but I’ve never heard of this one. Thanks, Tim!

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