The Flying Inn
Date Published: July 20, 2010
Number of Pages: 156
Print Price: $8.55
eBook Price: $.99
The premise: England has conquered the eastern Muslims, yet still decides to adopt Islamic ideals and practices… namely, prohibition. Military captain Patrick Dalroy teams up with a former innkeeper, Humphrey Pump, to find loopholes in the law and continue serving rum to common folk across the country.
This novel is pure Chesterton—unadulterated criticism of oppression mixed with full-fledged wit and humor. Chesterton has long been a champion for the common man, and has always challenged those who would steal the simple pleasures the common man enjoys—especially when the thief is enjoying those same pleasures under a different name.
In The Flying Inn, the rich use special licenses to enjoy good wine and every other comfort afforded to mankind. They deny such pleasures to the commoner, always under the label of ‘progression.’ Dalroy and Pump use the same sort of loopholes to continue serving rum, always dodging the authorities while upholding individual liberty.
Dalroy is an Irish charismatic idealist who turns his romantic patriotism into a practical solution. He is bold, aggressive, and gives the reader a profound sense of awe. In one of the first scenes, he feels the horror at the atrocities assigned to Britain’s citizens in the name of peace, after having protected their freedom in the name of war.
Realizing his own sword is of no use against the confounding policies, he springs out of his seat and uproots three olive trees, tossing them over a cliff, as his offering and his military resignation. His enthusiastic compulsions continue throughout the book.
Pump is a more practical man from the start, but is quickly swept up in Dalroy’s romantic war against Britain’s submission to Islam. He is immediately loveable, and the reader sympathizes with the loss of his trade in the ‘progression’ sweeping through the country.
Chesterton has always seen Christian (and more specifically, Catholic) life as one filled with allowances rather than one filled with boundaries. In one of his other works, he describes the rules of the Catholic Church as a fence—not around a prison but around a playground. A perimeter set up so that we can play safely.
His attitude is clearly illustrated in The Flying Inn, as he challenges the restrictions on simple pleasures – pleasures which bring the common man together in celebration and comradeship and pleasures which can help turn a harsh life of poverty and grueling work into a jocular life of festivity. The Catholic life, in Chesterton’s view, was something to raise the glass to.
In one of Dalroy’s most memorable speeches (and in the book he makes many), the idealist says,
“I think modern people have somehow got their minds all wrong about human life. They seem to expect what Nature has never promised; and then try to ruin all that Nature has really given. At all those atheist chapels of Ivywood's they're always talking of Peace, Perfect Peace, and Utter Peace, and Universal Joy and souls that beat as one. But they don't look any more cheerful than anyone else; and the next thing they do is to start smashing a thousand good jokes and good stories and good songs and good friendships ...
“Now it seems to me that this is asking for too much and getting too little. I don't know whether God means a man to have happiness in that All in All and Utterly Utter sense of happiness. But God does mean a man to have a little fun; and I mean to go on having it. If I mustn't satisfy my heart, I can gratify my humour.
“The cynical fellows who think themselves so damned clever have a sort of saying, ‘Be good and you will be happy; but you will not have a jolly time.’ The cynical fellows are quite wrong, as they generally are. They have got hold of the exact opposite of the truth. God knows I don't set up to be good; but even a rascal sometimes has to fight the world in the same way as a saint.…
“I can't pretend to Peace and Joy, and all the rest of it, particularly in this original briar-patch. I haven't been happy, Hump, but I have had a jolly time.”
Dalroy is pointing out that Christianity, and his fight to preserve the Christian culture, have been fun for him. His love for the good is more joyful than his hatred of the bad.
The antagonist, Lord Ivywood, is slowly going mad, as he rejects the joys of Christianity and replaces them with what he considers to be the beauty of Islam. He forsakes the Christian playground for the Muslim prison. But his madness becomes more sinister throughout the book.
Chesterton illustrates how quickly evil can manifest itself when a government tries to oppress the common man – especially when the oppression is supposedly for the common man’s “own good.”
While Chesterton was using this satirical plot to confront the problem of modern political correctness, he was probably unaware of how prophetic his book would be concerning the spread of Islam throughout the West. It deserves some attention now in the 21st century, as we see criticism of Islam becoming practically a crime, while criticism of Christianity is still all the rage, as it was in Chesterton’s time.
A word should be spoken about some of the racial slurs used in this book. Mark Twain often used ‘the N word’ in his books. It was excusable for him, because we knew, through his writing, that he had a special place in his heart for the African American. It was apparent throughout his work, and is very much a part of his literary legacy.
Chesterton’s works don’t necessarily show a special love for one race or another. In fact, he almost seems to ignore the color of a man’s skin, except when he uses it to identify the man’s creed. This is the real foundation of his criticism of people of the east – or south or north or west.
Chesterton’s criticism of the Indian is not of the man’s color and not necessarily of his culture. It is of the man’s beliefs, and Chesterton even apologizes for being right while the Indian (or more precisely, the Hindu) is wrong. He apologizes for being able to point it out with such sincere conviction.
If anything, Chesterton is guilty of stereotyping – but not of racism. He does not believe that all Arabs are bad. He would more likely point out that most Arabs are Muslim, and proceed to point out the problem with Muslims.
The Flying Inn is the first Chesterton novel I had ever read. It’s still my favorite… and one I still return to every now and then when I want to remember how to make my problems seem lighter. The Flying Inn teaches us how to scoff at evil, to work around it, and to preserve our Christian right to mirth.
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Original Language: English
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