My first science fiction novel is a reimagining of G.K. Chesterton’s famous thriller The Man Who Was Thursday. It is titled Thursday and comes out on March 9. It takes Chesterton’s amazing plot (featuring perhaps the greatest plot twist in the history of fiction) and layers it over a ravaged world where virtual reality is becoming reality. In short, it’s a cyberpunk or VR thriller.
But it’s also more than that. One of the things I struggled with was that the Chesterton is a giant among religious writers, and I’m an atheist. I knew that working from his source material would pretty much guarantee that there were going to be religious overtones to the book no matter how much I changed it, but I didn’t want to be disrespectful in how those could be interpreted. So I asked my Christian friend and author Matt Mikalatos to read the book.
Matt liked it. He not only liked it, he loved the idea of an atheist taking on a giant like Chesterton. So I asked him to write the afterword for the book. I present it here for those who are fans of Chesterton and wonder what I have done to one of his greatest works.
By Matt Mikalatos
Jake Kerr and I have a running joke that we’re in a contest to convert each other. He’s Atheist and I’m Christian, and we’re both devout and committed about it. We tease each other and keep track of who is “winning” in our conversations.
A while back, Jake picked me up from a seminary where I was doing a series of lectures. We were headed to dinner (we both agree that dinner is something good), and while we were out he told me, “I’m writing an updated version of G.K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday.”
After a stunned silence I said, “Um. You do realize that Chesterton was a Christian, right?” Not just a Christian, but an evangelistic, brilliant, argumentative theologian activist. He wrote a book called Orthodoxy, widely considered in Christian circles to be a classic for use in defending Christianity. Chesterton was friends with (and fought publicly and loudly with) George Bernard Shaw, Rudyard Kipling, the atheist newspaper editor Robert Blatchford, and H.G. Wells. Chesterton wasn’t just a Christian, he was an unapologetic Catholic who had every intention of convincing every human being on earth that they also should be unapologetic Catholics. He’s a beloved giant in the world of theology, and his fiction has a constant theological bent, whether it’s the Father Brown mysteries, or the story of an Atheist and a Christian trying to duel one another, or, yes, The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare.
Of course Jake knew all this. “Do you think that would be okay?” he asked me. Meaning, did I think it would be okay with the Christians, for an Atheist to do an adaptation of Chesterton’s work.
I’m not sure about the rest of Christendom, but I know this: G.K. Chesterton would have been thrilled.
Chesterton loved a good argument. The man’s eyes lit up at the thought. He grabbed his knives and his pistols and headed straight for the opponent. The idea of an atheist tearing one of his books apart and putting it back together in another time and another shape? Oh, he would have loved it.
The Man Who Was Thursday is the perfect book for a project like this. Much of the historical bite of the original has been lost to us in the modern day. Chesterton went after the anarchists, who at the time were feared and dangerous people. Today we think of them as the kids who put on black hoodies and break the windows at Starbucks. To bring back the verve and vigor Chesterton infused in his story is an exciting thought. Not only that, but Chesterton’s theological exploration in this book (and the reason he included A Nightmare in the title) is about the central critique of Christianity: If God is good and loving and powerful, then why is there evil in the world?
In fact, Chesterton is worrying at a specific bit of theological argument that often comes up between Atheists and Christians: the suggestion that, looking at the damaged and broken world we live in, there either is no God or God is a being of malevolent evil who desires humans to suffer.
What I love about Jake’s book, Thursday, is that it reads less like an adaptation and more like a continuing conversation. Jake has been so careful to respect Chesterton and his vision, and yet he brings his own thoughts, ideas, and insights to this new version. Like Chesterton’s original, this book is funny, deep, thoughtful, and well worth your time. Have fun. Think deeply. Join the conversation between Kerr and Chesterton. Jake is a generous and entertaining guide. You’ll enjoy his company.
In one of our recent arguments, Jake made two points I agreed with. One, he said that on Sunday mornings when I go to church, he gets to stay home and do whatever heathens do on Sunday mornings. I had to admit that sounded pretty good.
Two, he said the great thing about being an Atheist was that, if what I was saying about God was true, then that meant, “God loves me whether I believe in him or not.”
That’s absolutely right. And I think it’s precisely the sort of truth Chesterton was hinting at in The Man Who Was Thursday when Syme asks if Sunday has ever suffered… Sunday’s face fills the universe and his voice echoes back, “Can ye drink of the cup I drink of?” It’s a quote from Jesus, God in the flesh, come to suffer as a human being alongside us. It’s precisely the thing that Syme calls “impossible good news.”
That’s probably the key disagreement between me and Jake, Chesteron and Blatchford, Christians and Atheists. When confronted with the “impossible good news” one side emphasizes that the news is impossible, the other that the news is good.
Maybe it’s together that we come closest to the truth.