Author: G. K. Chesterton was a devoutly Catholic journalist, poet and novelist of the early 20th century. His most apt nickname is “The Prince of Paradox.”
Overview: The Trees of Pride is one of Chesterton’s mystery novels, of which he has many. Most are in the Father Brown series; this, however, is a singlet.
The Trees of Pride takes place in Cornwall, in a quaint coastal village in the far southwest reaches of England. Cornwall, though a popular tourist destination, is also associated with occult practices, as well as its history of piracy. This makes it an obvious choice for a murder mystery.
For starters, I have to admit, this was the first mystery novel I have ever read, and Chesterton did not disappoint. All of his books are stimulating and thoughtful. Chesterton skillfully speaks through the narrative as well as through the characters as voiceboxes.
Chesterton creates a fictional saint, St. Securis. Trees are moved by his prayers; a myth of Orpheus leading trees by his music is also referenced. These walking trees are also in Chesterton’s Ballad of the White Horse and are a favorite motif of the Inklings (who, readers should remember, were readers of Chesterton and not his personal acquaintances).
Chesterton sets up these trees as a foil: everyone believes the trees kill. Then the doctor sets up an elaborated faked death in order to ensure the trees will be destroyed.
In the end, the popular myth was in fact correct; although, all the educated people in the story had assumed that this was the one explanation to be scorned. Thus, the doctor says in the end:
I had something against me heavier and more hopeless than the hostility of the learned; I had the support of the ignorant. (loc. 927)
Your rational principle was that a thing must be false because thousands of men had found it true; that because many human eyes had seen something, it could not be there. (loc. 954)
This book is a very quick read, and it doesn’t have as wide an appeal as some of his other novels. Some modern readers will definitely feel off-put by the blatant use of certain characters as a voicebox, a practice criticized in postmodern literature. Nonetheless, it was an enjoyable read and will remain one of the better of Chesterton’s fiction works.
You can find links to many Chesterton’s books for free here.