Heretics marked Chesterton's entrance into the realm of Christian apologetics. It is of course everything that is generally said about the man: always witty, often wise, never wilted. The book is properly paired with Orthodoxy; together they constitute the tour de force of Chesterton's outlandish and irresistible worldview.
Chesterton is a master at calling the cowards on the carpet while at the same time making them feel that it was their own idea. There are no smears or sophistries here, just the merry spirit and sparkle of a man who loves everything - even his enemies.
The way the book mentions so many specific personages by name, as if it were an informal conversation on a Sunday afternoon, takes a bit of getting used to; it seems somewhat out of step with our 21st-century literary sensibilities. Even so, by the end of the book, individuals such as Mr. Shaw are like old friends - almost, anyway.
Chesterton cuts a wide swath through the philosophical jungle in this book, taking on everyone from aesthetes to ascetics. His main plea is that we stop ignoring (or denying) the obvious questions and the obvious answers. As he puts it, near the end of the book, "Religion is exactly the thing which cannot be left out - because it includes everything. The most absent-minded person cannot well pack his Gladstone-bag and leave out the bag."
From Chesterton I am slowly learning never to underestimate the power of understatement (which is, evidently, a trademark of British humor). Few literary devices are nearly as effective in creating instant rapport with one's reader - with this reader, at least.
As a technical note, the particular edition I read (Saint Benedict Press Classics) contained a disproportionate number of typographical errors. There were numerous misplaced, commas and several adjoining words missing thespace in-between. I don't know that this Waking Lion Press paperback would be much better: it appears to have Chesterton's name misspelled on the front cover.
Read as I say, not as I do. This one comes first.
"Wherever you have belief you will have hilarity, wherever you have hilarity you will have some dangers." - Chapter 6, Christmas and the Aesthetes
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