Wednesday, July 9, 2014

"You show signs of levity, and that is the one thing not permitted here. This place is for serious persons only."

"The mere questioner has knocked his head against the limits of human thought; and cracked it."

"So we sit perhaps in a starry chamber of silence, while the laughter of the heavens is too loud for us to hear."

"Angels can fly because they can take themselves lightly."

"Man is more himself, man is more manlike, when joy is the fundamental thing in him, and grief the superficial."

I could keep quoting Chesterton all day long. Lafferty is thoroughly Chestertonian.

Space Chantey is frivolous through and through in the best sense. It is, as Kevin has pointed out, deeply silly. I suppose that I have to quibble a bit, then, with Kevin's father's distinction between "frivolously silly" and "deeply silly" (though this is a minor quibble since I completely grant the point being made.)

"Under the sun," Space Chantey is about as frivolous as things get, completely unnecessary, a new and useless thing with no practical purpose about it, a tall tale stretched to its limits, a perfect joyous creation. As such, it gets to the "fundamental thing" in man. As such, it is one of the things that will last.

Lewis: "Dance and game [and Lafferty novels] are frivolous, unimportant down here; for ‘down here’ is not their natural place. Here, they are a moment’s rest from the life we were placed here to live.

But in this world everything is upside down. That which, if it could be prolonged here, would be a truancy, is likest that which in a better country is the End of ends. Joy is the serious business of Heaven."

This story of a space-faring adventurer reminds us and demonstrates for us what it means to be in love with a full life, to live recklessly with no fear of death, to live exaggeratedly, with confidence that being clubbed by giants and eaten by cannibals are only preludes to greater deaths. With the Great Road-Storm, we have now opened our dull eye, "And the eye came alive and gave a really joyous wink." "We go again!"

Like Chesterton's angels, Lafferty's heroes soar because they take themselves lightly. They "show signs of levity." The chapter in which Roadstrum and his crew escape the hell planet is remarkable for its brevity and lack of action. No stunning feats of derring-do are needed. No epic action. No. Rather, our heroes laugh their way out of hell, they mock hell for its littleness and lack. "Man-a-bleeding, but they broke out of that place! You say it can't be done, but they did it. Their expectations had been too high, and no second-rate Hell could hold them."

Now, I'm going to go poking around the Internet to see what has been written about Space Chantey. I'd like to believe that someone out there has done a thorough job of comparing the book with its inspiration, The Odyssey. It's been 20 years since I read The Odyssey. I remember enough of it to catch many of the echos and allusions in the structure and acts of Space Chantey, but I probably also missed a lot of fun little details.


  1. "Angels can fly because they can take themselves lightly."
    I believe in this one Chesterton quote, you have summed up a lot of Lafferty!

    Given your argument, perhaps I should rename my post "Deeply Frivolous," except that I disagree with Lewis that Joy is unimportant down here. It is one of the Main Things down here--or at least it should be, and we should strive for it. That is why Space Chantey is so important. It is a major injection of joy into our reading lives!

    Thank you!

  2. Agreed. But I don't think that you need to disagree with Lewis because he would agree with you. His autobiography, as you may know, was titled Surprised by Joy and joy is a major presence in his work. The quote above in isolation may give the very wrong impression. I think that Lewis would insist that the "serious business of Heaven" be done in Earth as it is in Heaven.