TO READ G K Chesterton is to step back from our world of political correctness to a forgotten world. Paradoxically, it’s a lot like our own world and equally bedevilled with political correctness. Its similarities are such that when we are tempted to despair of reclaiming the England – or the Western world – we thought we knew, reading a Chesterton novel written more than a century ago might renew hope.
The Flying Inn presents an England in which pubs are being cancelled and an obsessively orientalist Prime Minister is insanely committed to converting the country to Islam.
The principal criticism of The Flying Inn at the time it was published (and ever since) was that its premises were too unrealistic. Imagine our country coming under the spell of Islam! Who will ever believe all our pubs being closed and the drinking of alcohol only allowed to a rich or privileged few?
Chesterton wrote his novel long before lockdowns, emergency legislation ‘for the good of the public’ (a phrase that in a different GKC novel and a different context causes uproarious laughter) or the advent of mass immigration, so its prophetic quality is astounding. Even though the lockdowns have currently subsided and restaurants have reopened, we hear and see daily that pubs are closing at an unprecedented rate due to impossible overhead costs and a taxation system that seems determined to drive them out of existence. Further lockdowns, for instance as ordained by the World Health Organization if England drifts into succumbing to the WHO treaty and the IHR amendments, could destroy innumerable further pubs as well as many other small businesses.
As to the impossibility of an Islamic takeover of England, history records that any country with a Muslim majority irreversibly comes under Sharia law. How far along is England?
The novel is a fantasy that provides a fantastic solution to its fantastic warning. It may not seem a practical solution for 2023, but Chesterton would probably have said that its surreal (faerie) quality actually makes it more practical than the expedients most of our pragmatic politicians provide. It offers a spiritual blueprint towards salvation, national as well as personal.
England’s salvation in The Flying Inn lies in the hands of two eccentrics, the sagacity of a donkey, the health-giving qualities of a barrel of rum and the caprice of a bored society woman. One of the eccentrics is Patrick, a larger-than-life Irishman who declares himself king of an uninhabited Mediterranean island where heads of state secretly meet. In a series of international treaties, these good European and Middle Eastern potentates negotiate a peace that involves such excellent expedients as allowing kidnapped Greek Christian girls, who have been privileged to grace Turkish harems, not to be returned. This is for the highly moral reason that it’s best not to disturb Muslim family unities. Incensed, Patrick declares a vendetta against the English and European zeitgeist. He incidentally becomes a champion of traditional English inn signs.
The impetuous Irishman begins by joining an old friend (Hump) who is ideally unlike himself. (Even GKC could embrace Diversity.) This man is a dour, roadwise rather than streetwise, phlegmatic publican whose inn has just been declared illegal. Patrick declares war on the government by pulling the inn sign out of the ground and rolling out a huge barrel of Hump’s best rum, salvaged from the inn. Together, they embark on a journey along the ‘rolling English roads’. Making use of a loophole in the new anti-pub legislation, they set up the inn-sign to establish an ad-hoc tavern wherever they can serve rum to the deserving and cause the most annoyance to the government.
On their way, the wanderers – Hump wishing merely to return to his inn, Patrick wishing to win back the love of an aristocratic lady – generate several songs including an unconventional defence of vegetarianism by a determined carnivore. Further songs are added when they run into a poet, who converses with a donkey, regains his poetry, composes a poem (The Rolling English Road, see below) destined to be frequently anthologised, and becomes a further thorn in the flesh of the establishment. They encounter a colony of unhappy old folk whose sole ambition is to prolong their own dismal lives (yet even some of these are redeemed by the two eccentrics), their cult-like leader, who in our modern times would undoubtedly be a billionaire philanthropist, and a mongrel destined to become a hero of the Resistance.
Their rambling progress attracts a gradual following that swells into an unofficial army converging on Westminster, vowing to rid England of teetotalism and the Islamic threat. Although their banner is Christian resistance, these who join their cause eventually include many non-Christians who disapprove of what the Prime Minister is trying to foist on the nation. He is so obsessed with his vision of dictatorship through orientalism (meaning Islam) that he unscrupulously rushes an outrageously illegal Bill through parliament.
But this is fantasy. Chicanery of this kind could never happen in real life. Simply unthinkable. No modern English prime minister would ever stoop so low. Within the novel’s context it is this PM’s dishonest tactics that lead to his downfall. Needless to say, such a fate could never overcome a great politician in postmodern England.
Although it is a novel and a fantasy, The Flying Inn has a practical application. What saves England is finally the common sense of its citizens, awoken by the novel’s two irreverent heroes. Perhaps not every reader will be convinced that a barrel of rum and a wandering inn-sign (representing the spiritual self of humanity?), a mongrel and a donkey (clearly symbolic of our inner animal wisdom and latent common sense) and a mad poet to encourage and celebrate the great Resistance will be quite enough to save our land. However, that both heroes are obliged to redeem the world to win the love of their ladies, Chesterton would deem merely the hard realism of romance.
So perhaps it would be enough.
In any event, might not these archetypes, reawakening in the hearts of its citizens and becoming irresistible even by world government organisations, yet become an irresistible force of sanity in 2023 England?
Health and safety warning: Unless they have a sanitised version of The Flying Inn, readers must be prepared to find certain words and ideas that would never pass a modern censor. Even by the standards of his own era, Chesterton was never politically correct. But I can almost guarantee that a new reader will be happily entertained.
The Rolling English Road
G K Chesterton (1874-1936)
Before the Roman came to Rye or out to Severn strode,
The rolling English drunkard made the rolling English road.
A reeling road, a rolling road, that rambles round the shire,
And after him the parson ran, the sexton and the squire;
A merry road, a mazy road, and such as we did tread
The night we went to Birmingham by way of Beachy Head.
I knew no harm of Bonaparte and plenty of the Squire,
And for to fight the Frenchman I did not much desire;
But I did bash their baggonets because they came arrayed
To straighten out the crooked road an English drunkard made,
Where you and I went down the lane with ale-mugs in our hands,
The night we went to Glastonbury by way of Goodwin Sands.
His sins they were forgiven him; or why do flowers run
Behind him; and the hedges all strengthening in the sun?
The wild thing went from left to right and knew not which was which,
But the wild rose was above him when they found him in the ditch.
God pardon us, nor harden us; we did not see so clear
The night we went to Bannockburn by way of Brighton Pier.
My friends, we will not go again or ape an ancient rage,
Or stretch the folly of our youth to be the shame of age,
But walk with clearer eyes and ears this path that wandereth,
And see undrugged in evening light the decent inn of death;
For there is good news yet to hear and fine things to be seen,
Before we go to Paradise by way of Kensal Green.