I had often heard great quotes of the prolific journalist and theologian G.K. Chesterton (GKC) but knew little of his fiction. However, I am a sucker for symbolism and paradox, so my interest was tweaked when I was introduced to Deb Elkink's book. I also noticed that respected scholars were praising Elkink's work (including Dale Ahlquist, president of the American Chesterton Society) and that she is an award-winning author, so I became even more interested...
I had heard that his half-dozen or so novels and collections of short stories could prove perplexing in meaning, but Elkink managed to save me the confusion by untangling this meaning to show the metaphysical connotation beneath. The book opens with the author painting a picture of GKC's life in a concise and interesting bio. In the analysis portion, Elkink focuses on the single image of a tree and takes it from his childhood experiences through his final fiction, showing how his exposure to the classics of English literature and the Bible were foundational for his writing.
And then there was the surprise “Part ll” of Roots & Branches, where she shows how Chesterton told about his own conversion to faith through one character in one chapter of the novel THE FLYING INN—a sort of fictional “conversion narrative.” Has this aspect never been discovered before???
Now that my appetite is whet and I feel more prepared and fascinated, I am beginning to collect GKC's fiction as I continue to watch one of his fictional characters, Father Brown, come to life in the BBC mystery series and will get around to watching "Manalive" on day too (a movie made from his novel of the same name).
CONCLUSION: I found Elkink's book was a great way to be introduced to this literary giant's life and fiction!
Most of the analysis on G. K. Chesterton’s work has focused on his non-fiction books, predominantly Orthodoxy and The Everlasting Man. With Roots & Branches: The Symbol of the Tree in the Imagination of G.K. Chesterton award-winning novelist Deb Elkink wants to broaden that focus to include a look at Chesterton’s fiction.
The last chapter provides an overview of Chesterton’s six themes: home and journey, the person and God, light, the church, the ladder and the cross. Within these themes, Elkink notes: “The tree becomes an allegory for salvation. It acts as Chesterton’s ‘visual aid’ or wholistic model of the spiritual process by picturing the incarnational, redeeming work of Christ and the continuing sacramental presence of God in the world.”
Elkink demonstrates, through careful, thoughtful and thorough research, how the symbolic use of the tree took root in short stories Chesterton wrote as a youth, grew in use in his early novels and matured in his later works.
Roots & Branches: The Symbol of the Tree in the Imagination of G. K. Chesterton provides an insightful and informative look at prolific and often paradoxical writer. Both fans of Chesterton and those who know little about him will be well-served by Elkink’s analysis.
If there were any shortcomings, it would be the book’s style and layout.
Roots & Branches began as and remains an academic thesis. While I’m aware of the reasons behind the choice, I think the average reader would have been better served with a less academic approach.
Don’t let these shortcomings deter you from reading Roots & Branches. While they can make the book tough to get through at times, I’d strongly suggest persevering. Roots & Branches is worth finishing.
For the complete review, go to https://rdaleleslie.wordpress.com/2015/07/07/getting-to-the-root-of-g-k-chestertons-tree-symbolism/