Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Border of Fairyland: : Weekends with Chesterton

I just finished Chesterton's The Napoleon of Notting Hill (I am working my way through Dale Ahlquist's Chesterton 101, and I am on Lecture 6, reading along with the books he discusses)

I am joining with Sarah at Amongst Lovely Things for this linkup.

Here is the quote for the week.  There were a lot of good quotes in the book!  

This one reminded me that there is poetry everywhere, that the "woods of elfland" infringe on our daily lives more than we know, if we can only see it.

While thinking about this quote, I tried to imagine the "border of fairyland" in something that seems ultimately prosaic and non-elf-like.  That is, housekeeping.  I think I was scrubbing down the bathroom at the time.

My first thought was that the essence of housekeeping is "keeping fairyland far away" -- that is, that ordinary housecleaning and maintaining is kind of a war against the land of Faerie, the land of the mysterious, oblique, enchanted.

Then I thought of how many times domesticity and Faerie overlap in the old stories.  The woman of the house leaves a bowl of milk for the Little Folk -- or someone goes straight from the most prosaic and ordinary of cottages, straight into the world of magic and mystery.

That made me think of  two book studies I did several years ago:

Both of them deal with the mysterious, transcendent, religious aspect of housekeeping and the home.

When you get into "splendor" and "litany" you aren't far from the borders of elfland.   And in fact, when you get into the world of folk fairy tales, if there is anyone closer to the land of magic than a simple, wondering child, it is a housewife.  She may be sweeping away the cobwebs of Faerie with her broom, but she is definitely there, a force to be reckoned with!   

You can see this in the Bantry Bay series by Hilda van Stockum.    The story moves seamlessly from the smallest details of prosaic domestic life to the strange, eerie and humorous world of what CS Lewis called The Longaevi.  

I think the Faerie Folk take the housewife very seriously, and vice versa.   There is a definite relationship there.  

That is a consoling thought somehow, and I am going to keep it in mind as I go about my household tasks this week, and try to see the elusive glimpse of that other world as I scrub and sweep and tidy!

I think you can also see this a bit in the lives of the saints.  They did every ordinary thing well, yet they somehow partook of that bigger world, the world of mystery.   They lived in both worlds.  I aspire to that.  


  1. The home seems to me to be where this intersection between the ordinary and the mystical can be viewed most clearly. I read Keeping House: The Litany of Everyday Life a couple of years ago and was really struck by how our ordinary tasks are bound up so tightly with the divine.

    I haven't read this piece of Chesterton's yet, so this was a new quote for me! Thanks for linking up. :)

  2. hmmm....very thought-provoking. I like to think of my house as somewhere the fairies would like to stop by. Maybe I could, when I am cleaning the bathroom, imagine that I am keeping it nice and fresh so that if they happen to visit me *there* they would feel welcome. :-) I love the quote, and the image of the boundary of fairyland. It reminds me of the idea that the ceiling between heaven and earth is really very thin.


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