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.”
Full title: Magic: A Fantastic Comedy.
Genre: Play, comedy.
This play is set at the Duke’s home. The action begins with the search for his adult niece, Patricia Carleon, who has been in the garden, exploring Fairyland.
Carleon. [Still agitated.] Patricia, where have you been?
Patricia. [Rather wearily.] Oh! in Fairyland.
Doctor. [Genially.] And whereabouts is that?
Patricia. It’s rather different from other places. It’s either nowhere or it’s wherever you are.
Thus Patricia, the mystic, sparks a debate about belief involving herself, her uncle, and her uncle’s guests. The themes about disbelief and skepticism in this little play are strongly echoed in C. S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, which in 1950 became the first of The Chronicles of Narnia series. An interesting difference is that Lucy, who discovers Narnia, is a child; while Patricia, in Chesterton’s play, is an adult. Chesterton wants the reader to know that belief is not confined to childhood or naivete.
Conjurer. [Contemptuously.] Yes, your Grace, one of those larger laws you were telling us about. (p. 42)
Published in 1913 and performed in London’s Little Theatre, this is the first of only three plays written by Chesterton and performed during his lifetime. (A fourth was published posthumously.) This is also the only one of his plays that is widely accessible today, having been digitized by Project Gutenberg.
The debate about belief is resolved in much the same way as it is in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: we are reminded of the gloriously child-like wisdom of giving people the benefit of a doubt when they speak of miracles.
Why should sham miracles prove to us that real Saints and Prophets never lived. There may be sham magic and real magic also. . . . There may be turnip ghosts precisely because there are real ghosts. There may be theatrical fairies precisely because there are real fairies. You do not abolish the Bank of England by pointing to a forged bank-note. (p. 30)
One character notes that disbelief is just as bad a curse as gullibility.
Here is the boy who questions everything and a girl who can believe anything. Upon which has the curse fallen?
There is not a lot of action in this play. The plot would have been more memorable if it had been a little longer or had more change of scenery.
Old women have taught you that the fairies are too small to be seen. But I tell you the fairies are too mighty to be seen. (p. 4)
The Doctor does not believe me. He is an agnostic; and he knows everything. (p. 43)
There is no bigot like the atheist. (p. 47)