C. S. Lewis meets Father Brown
We at Marylebone House love it when authors share their thoughts and fiction in between publication! Today we are lucky to have a brilliant reflective piece from Kel Richards, author of our popular 1930's Murder Mysteries...
Can detective fiction deal with the mysteries of faith as well as the mysteries of foul play? Well, there’s no room for doubt now that Father Brown is back in the public eye—thanks to the BBC TV series created by Rachel Flowerday and Tahsin Guner. There have now been four seasons, each of ten episodes. In the series G. K. Chesterton’s priest-detective has been moved from his original time zone (the years surrounding the First World War) into the 1950s. At first, like other Father Brown fans, I was outraged by this liberty—but I’ve since been won over the ingenuity of the writing and by Mark Williams’ engaging performance in the title role.
Chesterton’s original Father Brown stories often used theological insights to unveil clues to the crimes. For instance Father Brown detects that a criminal is masquerading as a minister when the man denounces reason. Through his fictional detective Chesterton makes the point the faith is trust based on sound reasoning and no true Christian would ever denounce rationality. In fact, what such rational Christian theology gives to the sleuth is real insight into human nature—as created by God and as staging a rebellion against God.
G. K. Chesterton was much admired by, and had a great influence on, C. S. Lewis. According to one report Lewis had more books by Chesterton in his personal library than any other author (except for his other favourite, Scottish writer George McDonald). Lewis thought of Chesterton as a great writer and a great man, and referred to him, or quoted him, in many of his own books and many of his letters.
Lewis often recommended to enquirers that they read Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man which he called “the very best popular defence of the full Christian position.” And in praising the novels of Charles Williams Lewis said they belonged to the rare genre of the “theological thriller” which was invented (he wrote) by G. K. Chesterton.
And that “rare genre” of the theological thriller is one in which Lewis himself (and other members of his circle The Inklings) appear in my series of detective novels which began with The Corpse in the Cellar and has now reached Lewis’ home ground of Oxford in the latest entry in the series The Sinister Student.
Would Lewis approve of the latest incarnation of Father Brown in the BBC television series? I think he might very well be amused by the ingenious plots, the occasional flash of theological insight and by Mark Williams’ performance.
But would Father Brown approve of my detective novels that tread in his footsteps as “theological thrillers”? I think he might very well be pleased by the complex puzzles in the plots (which he would probably unravel faster than the average reader) and by the pointed theological insights that turn up in the sharp debates.
Of course, in reality we can’t know what a fictional character would make of a series of fictional murder mysteries. So, why don’t you read The Sinister Student and make up your own mind?