Thursday, June 5, 2008

Superstition

The other night, as I told you, I jumped into bed to read the final story in The Amazing Adventures of Father Brown. The story was called "The Blast of the Book." I found it to be an apt parable.

In the story, Professor Openshaw, a skeptic scientist who debunked local psychics for fun, was stumped when a visitor arrived at his office and told him of a magic book that made people disappear. Apparently this man had seen the book in action in Africa when it made a friend of his disappear, and he was now in the process of bringing it back to its owner, but he thought he would bring it to Openshaw first since he was such a well-known destroyer of superstitions and myths. Openshaw agreed to look at the book, but when they went back out to the clerk's office where he had left the book, they found the book on the desk, unwrapped, and the clerk gone!


Eventually three more people disappear and poor Openshaw is frantic that he can't explain how this book can really be magic. That's where Father Brown steps in and helps crack the case. I won't tell you how he does it, but I'll tell you the last thing Brown says about it—they're the last lines in the book, actually. Openshaw asks Father Brown, "Did you never feel just a momentary awe of that awful volume?"

"Oh that," said Father Brown. "I opened it as soon as I saw it lying there. It's all blank pages. You see, I am not superstitious."

Ha ha! One point for all good Catholics! And, more importantly, one point for all good readers, for those who aren't afraid of books!

How often are people afraid of a good book on the grounds that it's too big or has too few pictures or that they don't have enough time? How often do we refuse to pick up the book that intrigues us because we feel bound by the book that obligates us? Openshaw was afraid he too might disappear, but Father Brown shows us that there's no need to worry—what's so bad about disappearing into a good book?


As a kid I was always intimidated by books I thought were out of my age group. When Liz was reading Lord of the Flies and got me hooked on the premise, rather than grab a copy myself I fretted that I wasn't "old enough" for a high schooler's book. When Jen showed me the very cool covers of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings that were in our house—that had always been in our house—I was too scared to try them out because they were thick and there were four of them.

What's the worst that could've happened to me? I could've read them for 15 minutes and then tossed them aside, bored. Why was I superstitious about only reading books I considered to be at my age level? Why be afraid of chapters or pages or reputations? So much time lost.

Well no more. I'm a book slayer now. You should be too.

4 comments:

Mary Arlene said...

What about being scared of books because they are scary? Which reminds me, I finally finished Dracula!

Sarah said...

I'm gonna quit reading this if you don't mention me. I don't care if I didn't read growing up. Make it up.

Mary Arlene said...

I agree, make something up about me too. Or just slip my name in randomly. I could live with that.

ke said...

I'm pretty sure that I'm still not old enough for 'Lord of the Flies.' Also, I started reading 'Catcher in the Rye' much too young, dropped it, and when I found it at like 16 or 17 I was completely enthralled.
Does nonfiction intimidate you? It does me. It's like the final frontier of adult reading. (Though I read a book on the Medicis last summer in like 10 minutes. It started with a huge complex bloody botched murder and only got better.)