G.K. Chesterton, The Coloured Lands

Weil Chesterton jetzt gemeinfrei ist und ich diesen Text von ihm online nirgendwo gefunden habe, habe ich ihn mit meinen neu erworbenen Zehnfingerkenntnissen abgetippt. (Wieder eine interessante Erfahrung: Alliterationen entdeckt man sofort. Und welches ist wohl das längste Wort, das man mit einem Finger schreibt? Deutsch: zum, nun, Englisch: hun, loo, nun – gibt es auch vierbuchstabige? Nachtrag: Englisch: ceded, deeded. Welches ist die längste Buchstabenfolgen, die Teil eines Wortes ist? Englisch: humm-er, unnum-bered?)

Anyway, hier meine Chesterton-Lieblingsgeschichte:

The coloured lands

Once upon a time there was a little boy whose name was Tommy. As a matter of fact his name was Tobias Theodore; the former because it was an old name in the family, and the latter because it was an entirely new name in the neighbourhood. It is to be hoped that the parents who called him Tobias Theodore, moved by a natural desire to keep it quiet, agreed to call him Timmy; and anyhow we will agree to call him Tommy. It is always assumed in stories that Timmy is a common name for a boy; just as it is always assumed that Tomkins is a common name for a man. I do not really know very many boys named Tommy. I do not know any man named Tomkins. Do you? Does anybody? But this enquiry would lead us far.
Anyhow Tommy was sitting one very hot afternoon on a green lawn outside the cottage that his father and mother had taken in the country. The cottage had a bare white-washed wall; and at that moment it seemed to Tommy very bare. The summer sky was of a blank blue, which at that moment seemed to him very blank. The dull yellow thatch looked very dull and rather dusty; and the row of flower-pots in front of him, with red flowers in them, looked irritatingly straight, so that he wanted to knock some of them over like ninepins. Even the grass around him moved him only to pluck it up in a vicious way; almost as if he were wicked enough to wish it was his sister’s hair. Only he had no sister; and indeed no brothers. He was an only child and that moment rather a lonely child, which is not necessarily the same thing. For Tommy, on that hot and empty afternoon, was in that state of mind in which grown-up people go away and write books about their view of the whole world, and stories about what it is like to be married, and plays about the important problems of modern times. Tommy, being only ten years old, was not able to do harm on this large and handsome scale. So he continued to pull out the grass like the green hair of an imaginary sister, when he was surprised to hear a stir and a step behind him, on the side of the garden far away from the garden gate.
He saw walking towards him a rather strange-looking young man wearing blue spectacles. He was clad in a suit of such very light grey that it looked almost white in the strong sunlight; and he had long loose hair of such very light or faint yellow that the hair might almost have been white as well as the clothes. He had a large limp straw hat to shade him from the sun; and, presumably for the same purpose, he flourished in his left hand a Japanese parasol of a bright peacock green. Tommy had no idea of how he had come onto that side of the garden; but it appeared most probable that he had jumped over the hedge.
All that he said was, with the most casual and familiar accent, “Got the blues?“
Tommy did not answer and perhaps did not understand; but the strange young man proceeded with great composure to take off his blue spectacles.
“Blue spectacles are a queer cure for the blues,” he said cheerfully. “But you just look through these for a minute.“
Tommy was moved to a mild curiosity and peered through the glasses; there certainly was something weird an quaint about the discoloration of everything; the red roses black and the white wall blue, and the grass bluish green like the plumes of a peacock.
“Looks like a new world, doesn’t it?” said the stranger. “Wouldn’t you like to go wandering in a blue world once in a blue moon?”
“Yes,” said Tommy and put the spectacles down with a rather puzzled air. Then his expression changed to surprise; for the extraordinary young man had put on another pair of spectacles, and this time they were red.
“Try these,” he said affably. “These, I suppose, are revolutionary glasses. Some people call it looking through rose-coloured spectacles. Others call it seeing red.“
Tommy tried the spectacles, and was quite startled by the effect; it looked as if the whole world were on fire. The sky was of a glowing or rather glaring purple, and the roses were not so much red as red-hot. He took off the glasses almost in alarm, only to note that the young man’s immovable countenance was now adorned with yellow spectacles. By the time that these had been followed by green spectacles, Tommy thought he had been looking at four totally different landscapes.
“And so,” said the young man, “you would like to travel in a country of your favourite colour. I did it once myself.“
Tommy was staring up at him with round eyes.
“Who are you?” he asked suddenly.
“I’m not sure,” replied the other. “I rather think I am your long-lost brother.”
“But I haven’t got a brother,” objected Tommy.
“It only shows how very long-lost I was,” replied his remarkable relative. “But I assure you that, before they managed to long-lose me, I used to live in this house myself.”
“When you were a little boy like me?” asked Tommy with some reviving interest.
“Yes,” said the stranger gravely. “When I was a little boy and very like you. I also used to sit on the grass and wonder what to do with myself. I also got tired of the blank white wall. I also got tired even of the beautiful blue sky. I also thought the thatch was just thatch and wished the roses did not stand in a row.”
“Why, how do you know I felt like that?” asked the little boy, who was rather frightened.
“Why, because I felt like that myself,” said the other with a smile.
Then after a pause he went on.
“And I also thought that everything might look different if the colours were different: if I could wander about on blue roads between blue fields and go on wandering till all was blue. And a Wizard who was a friend of mine actually granted my wish, and I found myself walking in forests of great blue flowers like gigantic lupins and larkspurs, with only glimpses now and then of pale blue skies over a dark blue sea. The trees were inhabited by blue jays and bright blue kingfishers. Unfortunately they were also inhabited by blue baboons.”
“Were there any people in that country?” enquired Tommy.
The traveller paused to reflect for a moment; then he nodded and said:
“Yes; but of course wherever there are people there are troubles. You couldn’t expect all the people in the Blue Country to get on with each other very well. Naturally there was a crack regiment called the Prussian Blues. Unfortunately there was also a very energetic semi-naval brigade called French Ultramarines. You can imagine the consequence.” He paused again for a moment and then said: “I met one person who made rather an impression on me. I came upon him in a place of great gardens shaped in a crescent like the moon, and in the centre above a fringe of blue-gum trees there rose a great blue lustrous dome, like the Mosque of Omar. And I heard a great and terrible voice that seemed to toss the trees to and fro; and there came out between them a tremendously tall man, with a crown of huge sapphires round his turban; and his beard was quite blue. I need not explain that he was Bluebeard.”
“You must have been frightened,” said the little boy.
“At first perhaps,” replied the stranger, “but I came to the conclusion that Bluebeard is not so black – or perhaps so blue – as he is painted. I had a little confidential talk with him, and really there was something to be said on his side of the case. Living where he did, he naturally married wives who were all blue-stockings.”
“What are blue-stockings?” asked Tommy.
“Naturally you don’t know,” replied the other. “If you did, you would sympathise more with Bluebeard. They were ladies who were always reading books. They even read them aloud.”
“What sort of books were they?”
“Blue-books, of course,” replied the traveller. “They are the only kind of book allowed there. That is why I decided to leave. With the assistance of my friend the Wizard I obtained a passport to cross the frontier, which was a very vague and shadowy one, like the fine shade between two tints of the rainbow. I only felt that I was passing over peacock-coloured seas and meadows and the world was growing greener and greener till I knew I was in a Green Country. You would think that was more restful, and so it was, up to a point. The point was when I met the celebrated Green Man, who has given his name for so many excellent public houses. And then there is always a certain amount of limitation in the work and trade of these beautiful harmonious landscapes. Have you ever lived in a country where all the people are green-grocers? I think not. After all, I asked myself, why should all grocers be green? I felt myself longing to look at a yellow grocer. I saw rise up before me the glowing image of a red grocer. It was just about this time that I floated insensibly into the Yellow Country; but I did not stay there very long. At first it was splendid; a radiant scene of sunflowers and golden crowns; but I soon found it was almost entirely filled Yellow Fever and the Yellow Press discussing the Yellow Peril. Of the three I preferred the Yellow Fever; but I could not get any real peace or happiness even out of that. So I faded through an orange haze until I came to the Red Country, and it was there that I really found out the truth of the matter.”
“What did you find out?” asked Tommy, who was beginning to listen much more attentively.
“You may have heard,” said the young man, “a very vulgar expression about painting the town red. It is more probable that you have heard the same thought put in a more refined form by a very scholarly poet who wrote about a rose-red city, half as old as time. Well, do you know, it is a curious fact that in a rose-red city you cannot really see any roses. Everything is a great deal too red. Your eye are tired until it might just as well all be brown. After I had been walking for ten minutes on scarlet grass under a scarlet sky and scarlet trees, I called out in a loud voice, ‘Oh, this is all a mistake.’ And the moment I had said that the whole red vision vanished; and I found myself standing in quite a different sort of place; and opposite me was my old friend the Wizard, whose face and long rolling beard were all one sort of colourless colour like ivory, but his eyes of a colourless blinding brilliance like diamonds.
“ ‘Well,’ he said, ‘you don’t seem very easy to please. If you can’t put up with any of these countries, or any of these colours, you shall jolly well make a country of your own.’ 
“And the I looked round me at the place to which he had brought me; and a very curious place it was. It lay in great ranges of mountains, in layers of different colours; and it looked something like sunset clouds turned solid and something like those maps that mark geological soils, grown gigantic. And all along the terraces of the hills they were trenched and hollowed into great quarries; and I think I understood without being told that this was the great original place from which all the colours came, like the paint-box of creation. But the most curious thing of all was that right in front of me there was a huge chasm in the hills that opened into sheer blank daylight. At least sometimes I thought it was a blank and sometimes a sort of wall made of frozen light or air and sometimes a sort of tank or tower of clear water; but anyhow the curios thing about it was that if you splashed some of the coloured earths upon it, they remained where you had thrown them, as a bird hangs in the air. And there the Wizard told me, rather impatiently, to make what sort of world I liked for myself, for he was sick of my grumbling at everything.
“So I set to work very carefully; first blocking in a great deal of blue, because I thought it would throw up a sort of square of white in the middle; and the I thought a fringe of a sort of dead gold would look well along the top of the white; and I spilt some green at the bottom of it. As for red, I had already found out the secret about red. You have to have a very little of it to make a lot of it. So I just made a row of little blobs of bright red on the white just above the green; and as I went on working at the details, I slowly discovered what I was doing; which is what very few people ever discover in this world. I found I had put back, bit by bit, the whole of that picture over there in front of us. I had made that white cottage with the thatch and that summer sky behind it and that green lawn below; and the row of the red flowers just as you see them now. That is how they come to be there. I thought you might be interested to know it.“
And with that he turned so sharply that Tommy had not time to turn and see him jump over the hedge; for Tommy remained staring at the cottage, with a new look in his eyes.

G.K. Chesterton, The Coloured Lands, Sheed & Ward: New York 1938. (Illustrated by the author.)


— Was ich an dieser Geschichte mag, wie auch an vielen anderen Chesterton-Texten, ist die Ehrfurcht vor der Schöpfung und das Staunen darüber. Und dass wir selber Schöpfer sind. Mit diesem Gedanken können auch Atheisten wie ich sehr gut leben.

Vielleicht sollte ich ergänzen, dass es etwa drei Menschen gibt, die mich “Tommy” nennen, soweit ich weiß.

Im Vorwort des posthumen The Coloured Lands steht mein Lieblingszitat von Chesterton, das diese Haltung sehr schön zusammenfasst:

It is one thing to describe an interview with a gorgon or a griffin, a creature who does not exist. It is another thing to discover that the rhinoceros does exist and then take pleasure in the fact that he looks as if he didn’t.

Ich mag phantastische Literatur. Wegen des Eskapismus, der Zugänglichkeit, Prägung in der Jugend, warum auch immer. Das Staunen, der sense of wonder – ein Science-Fiction-Fans wohlbekannter Begriff – führte zumindest bei mir dazu, dass ich nicht nur über Irreales staune, sondern auch über unsere wirkliche Welt. Stell dir vor, es gebe keine Nashörner. Was wären sie dann für eine phantastische Erfindung, mindestens so phantastisch wie Drachen und Einhörner. Und jetzt die Überraschung: Es gibt sie tatsächlich. Das ist kein Grund, weniger über sie zu staunen.


Und wo ich gerade dabei bin, biete ich zum Vergleich “The old master painter” an (Text: Haven Gillespie, Musik: Beasley Smith). Bekannt gemacht wurde das Lied durch Richard Hayes, heute wird es wohl am ehesten mit Frank Sinatra in Verbindung gebracht. Ich kenne es vor allem in der Version von Phil Harris.

That old master painter from the faraway hills
painted the violets and the daffodills
He put the purple in the twilight haze
then did a rainbow for the rainy days
Dreamed up the murals on the blue summer skies
painted the devil in my darling’s eyes
Captured the dreamer with a thousand thrills
The old master painter from the faraway hills

Then came his masterpiece and when he was through
He smiled down from heaven and he gave me you
What a beautiful job on that wonderful day
That old master painter from the hills far away

Parallelen zu Chesterton: Der Topos vom Maler, die vielen Farben, Lob der Schöpfung. Die Tatsache, dass der Maler nicht der christliche Gott ist, da er ja auch das Spitzbübische erschaffen hat. Man möge mir theologische Vereinfachungen verzeihen. Was natürlich fehlt ist die Tatsache, dass bei Chesterton der Mensch selbst zum Pinsel greifen kann.
Ohne Musik wirkt der Text nicht ganz so gut. Phil Harris (Baloo der Bär) legt sein ironisches Zwinkern in die Stimme, das Sinatra gar nicht kennt. Dafür ist bei Harris ein grässlicherer Chor im Hintergrund.

(Note to self: Dringend mal über Phil Harris schreiben.)

(Note to others: Und jetzt wieder raufscrollen und die Chesterton-Geschichte lesen. Ist nur ein Vorschlag.)

Nachtrag 1: Auch eine Jever-Pils-Werbung von 2015 stellt den Menschen in die Rolle des Schöpfers:

Wenn Du das Meer gemacht hättest, hättest Du es zahm gemacht? / Wenn Du den Wind gemacht hättest, hättest Du ihn lau gemacht?

Nachtrag 2: In der Novelle “Ehrengard” lässt Isak Dinesen den Maler Cazotte bei einem nächtlichen Spaziergang folgenden Gedanken nachgehen:

“I am no modest person, I think pretty highly of my own talents, and I venture to believe that I might have imagined one or the other of the things that surround me. I might have invented the long grass – but could I have invented the dew? I might have invented the dusk, but could I have invented the stars? I know,” he said to himself as he stood quite still and listened, “that I could not have invented the nightingale.”

6 Antworten auf „G.K. Chesterton, The Coloured Lands“

  1. Für stewardesses braucht man aber alle Finger, ich dachte an einen einzigen Finger. In meinem Oulipo-Band wird, wenn ich mich recht erinnere, auch ein Text (Roman?) erwähnt, der nur aus Zeichen der linken Hälfte der Schreibmaschinentastatur besteht.
    Aber ein längeres als stewardesses finde ich jetzt auch nicht.

  2. Tolle Seite, danke! “Ceded” und “deeded” sind dort auch. “Yummy” ist noch schöner, geht aber nur auf der englischen Tastatur. Und überhaupt viel lustiger Kram. Ich freue mich sehr, dass es noch mehr solche Leute gibt, die sich um so etwas Gedanken machen.

    (Ich weiß noch, wie in England aus Langeweile mal nach einem Wort suchte, dass die Vokalzeichen a‑e-i-o‑u in genau dieser Reihgenfolge enthält, ohne Wiederholung, aber mit beliebig vielen Konsonantenzeichen drumherum und dazwischen. Nach einem Tag denken oder so ist mir dann auch eines eingefallen. Danach habe ich gelesen, dass das natürlich ein klassisches Problem ist und es sogar zwei Antworten gibt.)

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