Sunday, January 26, 2014

Weekends with Chesterton: The Moor Eeffoc

We are linking with Sarah at Amongst Lovely Things for this Weekends with Chesterton post.


Do you know the MOOR EEFFOC?  asks the blog of the American Chesterton Society.
In the door there was an oval glass plate, with COFFEE-ROOM painted on it, addressed towards the street. If I ever find myself in a very different kind of coffee-room now, but where there is such an inscription on glass, and read it backward on the wrong side MOOR-EEFFOC (as I often used to do then, in a dismal reverie,) a shock goes through my blood.   -- Charles Dickens, autobiographical fragment

Chesterton writes in his book on Charles Dickens--

Herein is the whole secret of that eerie realism with which Dickens could always vitalize some dark or dull corner of London. There are details in the Dickens descriptions - a window, or a railing, or the keyhole of a door - which he endows with demoniac life. The things seem more actual than things really are. Indeed, that degree of realism does not exist in reality: it is the unbearable realism of a dream. And this kind of realism can only be gained by walking dreamily in a place; it cannot be gained by walking observantly. Dickens himself has given a perfect instance of how these nightmare minutiae grew upon him in his trance of abstraction...
That wild word, "Moor Eeffoc," is the motto of all effective realism; it is the masterpiece of the good realistic principle - the principle that the most fantastic thing of all is often the precise fact. And that elvish kind of realism Dickens adopted everywhere. His world was alive with inanimate objects.
This is something you see constantly in Chesterton's work, as well -- the transmogrification of the ordinary and commonplace into the eerie and extraordinary.   It is the world of the imaginative child, of Adam Wayne in Napoleon of Notting Hill

Tolkien writes, in On Fairy Stories:

And there is (especially for the humble) Mooreeffoc, or Chestertonian Fantasy. Mooreeffoc is a fantastic word, but it could be seen written up in every town in this land. It is Coffee-room, viewed from the inside through a glass door, as it was seen by Dickens on a dark London day; and it was used by Chesterton to denote the queerness of things that have become trite, when they are seen suddenly from a new angle..... The word Mooreeffoc may cause you suddenly to realize that England is an utterly alien land, lost either in some remote past age glimpsed by history, or in some strange dim future to be reached only by a time-machine; to see the amazing oddity and interest of its inhabitants and their customs and feeding-habits... 
 He contrasts this type of fantasy with the kind Tolkien himself is doing, the kind where something new is made, but of course you can't read any good fantasy without seeing some echoes of the everyday world, if only in the homely pipe and pots and pans of Samwise Gamgee, or the name and lineage of the Proudfoots.

For some reason, the term reminds me of the term used by Kathleen Norris in the title of a book, The Quotidian Mysteries.    The subtitle is "Laundry, Liturgy, and Women's Work".   She writes:

The Bible is full of evidence that God's attention is indeed fixed on the little things. But this is not because God is a great cosmic cop, eager to catch us in minor transgressions, but simply because God loves us--loves us so much that we the divine presence is revealed even in the meaningless workings of daily life. It is in the ordinary, the here-and-now, that God asks us to recognize that the creation is indeed refreshed like dew-laden grass that is "renewed in the morning" or to put it in more personal and also theological terms, "our inner nature is being renewed everyday". Seen in this light, what strikes many modern readers as the ludicrous details in Leviticus involving God in the minuitae of daily life might be revisioned as the very love of God.
The idea of Mooreeffoc as expressed by Chesterton is that humble, commonplace things are only showing one side, and that if you look at it another way, something vast and mysterious and new may just reveal itself to you.    He writes in The Ethics of Elfland:

This elementary wonder, however, is not a mere fancy derived from the fairy tales; on the contrary, all the fire of the fairy tales is derived from this. Just as we all like love tales because there is an instinct of sex, we all like astonishing tales because they touch the nerve of the ancient instinct of astonishment. This is proved by the fact that when we are very young children we do not need fairy tales: we only need tales. Mere life is interesting enough. A child of seven is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door and saw a dragon. But a child of three is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door. Boys like romantic tales; but babies like realistic tales--because they find them romantic.


  1. I love this! All that stuff about Dickens is so true!.......says the woman currently in the middle of two of his tomes!!!

  2. Willa, I love the connections you make! Great post!

  3. Oh my goodness, absolutely love it!

    Thanks so much for the insight and the fun.

  4. Somehow you always manage to take something that would otherwise go right over my head and make sense of it. :)

    1. Sarah, I have been telling her that for years!!!! Part of our symbiotic relationship. ;)

    2. Yes, yes, yes, that's SO Willa!!! Loved this post, all of it :)

  5. This is fabulous. Love the connection of mooreeffoc!

  6. Love this! Although I must admit that I'll probably associate MOOR EEFFOC as the effect of having drunk too much coffee, similar although not what Chesterton was getting at probably, LOL.


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