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Review: The Innocence of Father Brown

Rating: ★★★

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.”

Series: The “Father Brown” series of short stories was collected into five books:

  1. The Innocence of Father Brown (1911)
  2. The Wisdom of Father Brown (1914)
  3. The Incredulity of Father Brown (1926)
  4. The Secret of Father Brown (1927)
  5. The Scandal of Father Brown (1935)

One additional story, “The Mask of Midas” (1936), was not included. (The author died in 1936.)

Overview:

Father Brown epitomizes one key of Chestertonian thought: the triumph of common sense over intellect. While Sherlock Holmes—especially in modern interpretations—glorifies uncommon intellect, Father Brown glorifies the common man. Here is how he is introduced in “The Blue Cross”:

The little priest had a face as round and dull as a Norfolk dumpling; he had eyes as empty as the North Sea; he had several brown paper parcels, which he was quite incapable of collecting.

He is no Sherlock Holmes. In many places in the stories, he summarizes his method of solving crimes, and it is inductive rather than deductive. He solves crimes mainly by his intuitive, priestly knowledge of people, not a knowledge of facts.

“‘How do you know all this?’ he cried. ‘Are you a devil?’
“‘I am a man,’ answered Father Brown gravely; ‘and therefore have all devils in my heart.'” (p. 140)

The above quote summarizes the message of Father Brown. The “Father Brown” corpus carries an intrinsically personal vision of life on earth, and in that way it acts as a weighty supplement to Chesterton’s other writings.

Meat:

My favorite stories from this collection were “The Blue Cross,” “The Invisible Man,” “The Honour of Israel Gow,” “The Hammer of God,” and “The Three Tools of Death.”

In 1910, “The Blue Cross” became the first “Father Brown” story to be published, and in many ways it exemplifies his humble character, and has less violence than many of the others. “The Hammer of God” is also classic Chesterton as well as a thrilling mystery.

Chesterton masterfully utilizes the Scottish castle setting in “The Honour of Israel Gow,” to set the tone of a horror story. In general, I really enjoyed his use of setting. The modern BBC series ties Father Brown down to the Cotswolds (SW England), but this book alone has numerous and varied settings.

Bones:

Although I know it is par for the field, I did not like that nearly all of the stories involved a murder. I felt that Chesterton displayed his unique cleverness whenever there was no violence in the story at all, as in “The Blue Cross,” or Father Brown’s whimsical prelude, The Club of Queer Trades. I wanted more variety.

Quotes:

“Men may keep a sort of level of good, but no man has ever been able to keep on one level of evil. That road goes down and down.” (p. 65)

“I never said it was always wrong to enter fairyland. I only said it was always dangerous.” (p. 111)

“‘How do you know all this?’ he cried. ‘Are you a devil?’
“‘I am a man,’ answered Father Brown gravely; ‘and therefore have all devils in my heart.'” (p. 140)

“There is this about such evil, that it opens door after door in hell, and always into smaller and smaller chambers. This is the real case against crime, that a man does not become wilder and wilder, but only meaner and meaner.” (p. 167)

“Even the most murderous blunders don’t poison life like sins.” (p. 183)

Read (free): Internet Archive (pdf), LibriVox (audio), Project Gutenberg (epub/mobi/html)

FREE PDF: Faber’s Hymns (edited by Pioneer Library)

In the current crisis, many are quarantined either by choice or force, and others are practicing “social distancing” or attending church only remotely. I thought it would be helpful to offer a free ebook, so I’ve attached our 2017 edition of Faber’s Hymns, edited from an 1894 volume, partly to better accommodate Protestant worship.

Many hymns in this book deal with God’s character, God’s holiness, spiritual dryness, and eternity. I thought they might be a comfort to our readers.

Faber’s Hymns (edited by Pioneer Library) (0.4 MB)

Please feel free to share, copy, or re-use the hymns, with or without crediting us. They are in the public domain.

Review: The Napoleon of Notting Hill

Rating: ★★★

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:

Like its more famous cousin The Man Who Was Thursday, The Napoleon of Notting Hill is a tale of paradoxes and dichotomies. It was published in 1904 (his first novel) and set in semi-utopian future, and the tale arcs around two central characters.

The first central character is Auberon Quin, described in the following way:

When he entered a room of strangers, they mistook him for a small boy, and wanted to take him on their knees, until he spoke, when they perceived that a boy would have been more intelligent.

Auberon is selected by a kind of hyper-democratic lottery as the King of England while he is ludicrously babbling about Nicaragua. This plot device—the selecting of monarchs at random—was not a mere gimmick for Chesterton, but was his actual explanation of dynastic monarchy, as he had stated in his chapter of Robert Browning’s philosophy:

The great compliment which monarchy paid to mankind [is] the compliment of selecting from it almost at random. (Robert Browning, p. 94)

The second central character (to whom the title alludes) is Adam Wayne, who lives his whole life in Notting Hill, and grows an obsessive patriotic loyalty for the London borough that he calls his home.

He still retained his feeling about the town of Notting Hill . . . He was a genuine natural mystic, one of those who live on the border of fairyland. But he was perhaps the first to realise how often the boundary of fairyland runs through a crowded city. Twenty feet from him (for he was very short-sighted) the red and white and yellow suns of the gas-lights [i.e. street lamps] thronged and melted into each other like an orchard of fiery trees, the beginning of the wood of elf-land.

The playful competition and opposition of these two characters comprises the whole plot of this novel.

Meat:

Without spoiling the plot, there are some themes worth mentioning. One is the nearness of fairyland. “Fairyland” or “Elfland” in Chesterton (and the Inklings who read him) refer to a hypothetical land visited by imagination. The theme is the precise precursor to Lewis’ Narnia and functions like another dimension, visited in vision by the most childlike characters. In Napoleon of Notting Hill, the narrator references “fairyland” quite a few times through the course of the novel (for example, see the above quotation). This is important because these are some of his earliest published references to an idea that became integral to Chesterton’s view of life. “Fairyland” figures most prominently in Chesterton’s works Magic: A Fantastic Comedy and Orthodoxy, but I have yet to find a book in which it is not mentioned.

Another theme is the vindication of humor. (See also “A Defence of Nonsense”!) Auberon Quin seems to take nothing seriously, and Adam Wayne seems to take everything seriously. As the novel proceeds, positive and negative judgments are given on both characters, and the reader is left wondering who is the hero.

“Madmen are always serious; they go mad from lack of humour. You are looking serious yourself, James.” (Auberon Quin)

Chesterton also has an interesting take on patriotism, which I give here at length, since it does not in any way spoil the novel, and is a characteristic sample:

Upwards from his abstracted childhood, Adam Wayne had grown strongly and silently in a certain quality or capacity which is in modern cities almost entirely artificial, but which can be natural, and was primarily almost brutally natural in him, the quality or capacity of patriotism. . . . He knew that in proper names themselves is half the poetry of all national poems. Above all, he knew . . . that the patriot never under any circumstances boasts of the largeness of his country, but always, and of necessity, boasts of the smallness of it.

All this he knew, not because he was a philosopher or a genius, but because he was a child. Any one who cares to walk up a side slum like Pump Street, can see a little Adam claiming to be king of a paving-stone. And he will always be proudest if the stone is almost too narrow for him to keep his feet inside it.

It is almost impossible to convey to any ordinary imagination the degree to which he had transmitted the leaden London landscape to a romantic gold. . . . To this man, at any rate, the inconceivable had happened. The artificial city had become to him nature, and he felt the curbstones and gas-lamps as things as ancient as the sky. (p. 134-136)

Political themes are also important to Napoleon of Notting Hill, but there is nothing there I haven’t written about in my review of What I Saw in America. His stance on “internationalism” is obvious in Napoleon from the semi-utopian setting of the book; ultimately, he sees efforts to unite the world in peace to be idealistic and misguided. He also mocks pure democracy in the setup to the novel (again, he wrote about this in his writings on America).

Bones:

This novel is not as fast-moving as The Man Who Was Thursday. Admittedly, during the first few chapters, I was quite lost as to where the novel was going, or who the “Napoleon of Notting Hill” could be. The first chapter is essentially an essay. But the novel does start to get interesting after “The Charter of the Cities,” and it does have its fair share of action in the second half. Take heart; patience is rewarded in this one.

When I saw how the plot turned in this novel, I was inclined to think that it could have been a short story. The short story usually turns on one key dilemma or plot device (in this case, a monarch selected at random), and so far that has been true of Chesterton’s novels. At least they are interesting, and Chesterton’s narration has many intriguing asides.

Review: Notes on the Psalms

Rating: ★★★

Author: G. Campbell Morgan was a British Congregational preacher, active from 1883 to 1943, mostly at Westminster Chapel in London. Nicknamed “the Prince of Expositors,” Morgan’s accessible expository preaching gained him a wide audience on both sides of the Atlantic. During his long life of ministry, he published more than 60 books, many of which were sermons.

Overview:

The first edition of Morgan’s Notes on the Psalms (1947; posthumous) contains brief notes on all 150 psalms, as well as the full English text of the Psalms (in a metrical layout, two columns). I believe the Bible version used is the American Standard Version. For each psalm, Morgan gives a kind of outline or summary, with a few devotional comments. Most psalms have only one or two paragraphs, meant to give you the core of the psalm. Where needed, he sometimes adds brief notes related to translation problems.

Meat:

I really liked the way this book was laid out. Including the full text of the Psalms, while unusual, made the book extremely useful as devotional reading. I was amazed how much poignant historical and textual information he was able to fit in such a short book. I also felt that his summaries of each psalm were weighty. I did not feel—as I often feel in reading a modern Bible with headings—that the heading given to each psalm was overly modern and fell short of the author’s intended theme.

Bones:

Probably the most distracting thing about this book (for me) is the charts that divided the psalms into sections or “books”. Morgan himself admits in his preface that attempts to classify the psalms are “arbitrary,” but I felt that the book divisions in particular did not provide any helpful index to interpreting the individual psalms within them. There are differences in authorship and perhaps linguistic differences, but thematic differences were just too broad to detect over as many as 30 or 40 psalms. It distracts the reader from the fact that each of them has a unique origin, and even the traditional grouping and ordering was probably, to some extent, arbitrary.

For this reason, in my own summary of the Psalms, I recommend a variety of methods of classifying the Psalms, the best of which was the one I found on Dennis Bratcher’s website.

Read: At the time of writing, this book is freely available in PDF format here.

God never sends a man into the world without first preparing the world for his coming. He even gives our parents a few months’ notice so that they may have everything ready.

The quote comes from “Dinna Forget Spurgeon!”, one of the chapters in Ships of Pearl by F. W. Boreham. Find out how you can help us bring this book back to print by visiting our Kickstarter page.

Ships of Pearl: Funding Update & SAMPLE PAGES

If you are following our journey to keep F. W. Boreham in print, you know we have designed a brand new hardback edition of Ships of Pearl. We are currently 19% funded on this project. We believe Boreham’s books are a gold mine of insight and illustrations for Bible teachers and small group leaders, and Ships of Pearl is one of the best.

Let me walk you through what is different about this new edition:

  • It will be the first print run of Ships of Pearl since 1935—that’s 85 years! We hope that 2020 marks a new era of bringing F. W. Boreham’s classic devotional reading to a new generation.
  • Ships of Pearl: The Signature Edition will be bound in a cranberry linen cloth hardcover, with Boreham’s unique signature embossed into the cloth in gold lettering.
  • The new edition has over 100 footnotes explaining Boreham’s sources. Aside from merely noting what Boreham was quoting from, these footnotes bring a new depth of insight about his stories and the author himself. Below are some sample pages, showing the kind of footnotes we have added to the essay called “My Autobiography”:

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And now, let’s take a look at what is the same between the 2020 edition and the 1935 edition:

  • We have kept all the original wording and punctuation, including British spelling and dialogue in various English dialects. Occasional footnotes help make Boreham’s original writings accessible to modern and American audiences.
  • For years we have imitated the font and layout of Boreham’s classic books. In fact, we have matched the fonts so closely that in some of our books the page numbers in the table of contents are nearly identical between editions.
  • The paper used will be a thick 60-weight in a natural or “cream” color rather than stark white. This is easier on the eyes, and will give the pages a warm and vintage feel.

If this edition succeeds, it will kickstart us towards getting more hardback Boreham in circulation. Please consider supporting this important project as we seek to provide quality biblical and theological resources to new generations or readers and seekers.

Ships of Pearl: The Signature Edition

This is the first update regarding our first crowdfunded book project, Ships of Pearl by F. W. Boreham. If you haven’t yet, head to the Kickstarter page to see how you can get a copy of F. W. Boreham’s rarest book.


Why F. W. Boreham?

F. W. Boreham has been endorsed by Charles Spurgeon, Billy Graham and Ravi Zacharias, but his classic books have fallen out of print, and some of them are impossible to obtain.

Why Ships of Pearl?

Ships of Pearl is not only extremely rare, but it is undoubtedly one of Boreham’s best works. Like The Passing of John Broadbanks, it came at a time when Boreham believed he was nearing the end of his writing career; his work had been perfected, polished, and seasoned with the salt of age.

At the moment, Ships of Pearl is F. W. Boreham’s rarest book—rarer than The Whisper of God or The Blue Flame, which Pioneer Library has already put back into print. Ships of Pearl is not currently in print, and you won’t see it for under $100 on Amazon, Abebooks, eBay, B&N, Alibris—you name it. At time of publication, the only copy for sale online costs $851.90 plus shipping. I believe that this is because someone using tailored software bought the last few copies on the Internet, and is waiting for someone foolish and desperate to make them a cool grand.

What will it look like?

We have prepared a new edition of this classic book, completely re-typeset to match as closely as possible the flavor of the original. We’ve also added 126 footnotes giving Scripture references, sources for quotations, and, occasionally, notes on the author’s dialect.

The new edition will be printed on 60-weight natural paper, which is opaque and easy on the eyes. The hardcover will have a cranberry linen cover with a custom gold foil stamp of the title and the author’s signature, as well as a tough 100-weight dust jacket.

Why Gorham?

We have gone with Gorham Printing, a short-run printer in Centralia, Washington. (Yes, we know! Boreham and Gorham!) Using a short-run printer means that we have to choose how many copies to order up front. Since out-of-print books are often forgotten to start with, we could not justify investing thousands of dollars without first knowing how many serious Boreham fans are out there.

All the books we have printed thus far have been softcover books, perfect-bound, and print-on-demand. This is a great option for affordability; however, the quality of the binding does not compare with that of a book from a print run. This means they don’t last as long. There is also no customizability with the big, outsourced print operations. Gorham allows us a litany of design options, and when we email them a question, we get a response from a human being, usually within a day.

Why Kickstarter?

We decided that Kickstarter was the best way to fund this project for two reasons: First, it is currently the most popular way to crowdsource funding for a business venture. Second, Kickstarter provides accountability. If the project doesn’t make, Kickstarter returns all pledges. And if a project doesn’t follow their guidelines, they can hold the designer responsible.

The thirty-day timeline is also important. We don’t have any warehouse or office space to deal with continual sales. Kickstarter enables us to have a short, focused period to sell these books, and then get back to our day jobs.

What about Amazon?

As much as it is humanly possible at this time, we are breaking up with Amazon. There are basically two reasons for this.

The first reason is erratic management. Because of its size, there is no redress for problems with the Amazon process. I have had multiple F. W. Boreham projects rejected by Amazon for unfounded reasons, but there is no appeal process to get my new books in print. In August 2017, they accepted The Drums of Dawn for Kindle publication, but rejected it for print publication. They did something similar for The Ivory Spires and When the Swans Fly High,. This effectively halted our new Boreham publications, and I have never received any explanation.

The second reason is justice. Amazon has been roundly criticized for employee abuse and monopolizing practices. When ebooks hit the global market, Amazon took a seven-figure hit in its prices, just so that they could crush their only viable competitor, Barnes and Noble. They also bought out their only online competitor, Abebooks. Brick-and-mortar bookstores throughout North America are closing their doors because of Amazon’s ruthless business practices.

How do I get on board?

Go to our Kickstarter page to see how you can contribute to making this book a reality. If our project succeeds, you will get a brand new, hardback copy of Ships of Pearl for only $40, and you can order both print and digital for $50.