In a chapter titled “The Man with the Golden Key,” perfect in its delicate unwinding of the tension between truth and play in a child’s life, he explains that the transforming event of his early life was watching puppet shows in a toy theatre that his father had made for him. And the truth is that I do not remember that I was in any way deceived or in any way undeceived.
(The man with the golden key was a prince whose purpose he can no longer recall in a play whose plot he can no longer remember; but the purposefulness and romance of the figure stay with him.) Chesterton’s point is that childhood is not a time of illusion but a time when illusion and fact exist (as they should) at the same level of consciousness, when the story and the world are equally numinous: If this were a ruthless realistic modern story, I should of course give a most heart-rending account of how my spirit was broken with disappointment, on discovering that the prince was only a painted figure. The whole point is that I did like the toy theatre even when I knew it was a toy theatre. It seems to me that when I came out of the house and stood on the hill of houses, where the roads sank steeply towards Holland Park, and terraces of new red houses could look out across a vast hollow and see far away the sparkle of the Crystal Palace (and seeing it was juvenile sport in those parts), I was subconsciously certain then, as I am consciously certain now, that there was the white and solid road and the worthy beginning of the life of man; and that it is man who afterwards darkens it with dreams or goes astray from it in self-deception.
Those of us who are used to pressing his writing on friends have the hard job of protecting him from his detractors, who think he was a nasty anti-Semite and medievalizing reactionary, and the still harder one of protecting him from his admirers, who pretend that he was not.
His Catholic devotees are legion and fanatic—the small Ignatius Press has taken on the heroic job of publishing everything he wrote in a uniform edition, and is already up to the thirty-fifth volume—but not always helpful to his non-cult reputation, especially when they insist on treating his gassy Church apologetics as though they were as interesting as his funny and suggestively mystical Christian allegories.
I did like the cardboard figures, even when I found they were of cardboard. It is only the grown man who lives a life of makebelieve and pretending; and it is he who has his head in a cloud. “All my life I have loved edges; and the boundary line that brings one thing sharply against another,” he writes.
The white light of wonder that shone on the whole business was not any sort of trick. “All my life I have loved frames and limits; and I will maintain that the largest wilderness looks larger seen through a window.
“The Man Who Was Thursday” is one of the hidden hinges of twentieth-century writing, the place where, before our eyes, the nonsense-fantastical tradition of Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear pivots and becomes the nightmare-fantastical tradition of Kafka and Borges.
Chesterton’s “The Man Who Was Thursday,” and it has come out in at least two new editions on the occasion.
Also, it is possible for a reader to see a symbol in a word or object that the author had never intended. In "The Donkey," Chesterton describes how the donkey is looked upon by people and when the donkey had been chosen by the greatest Creator of all.
The first stanza begins with the donkey's birth, "When fishes flew and forests walked/….