G.K. Chesterton was one of the most prolific Christian authors and philosophers of the 20th century, yet many young Christians have never read his books.
As a teenager, I first encountered Chesterton through the shelves of my local library. I was browsing for new reading material and caught sight of an interesting title.
It was just a slim paperback novel, but it changed my life and my pursuit of Christ.
And now The Man Who Was Thursday is my all-time favorite book and an annual re-read!
G.K. Chesterton is known for his eminent quotability and sharp wit.
He was also an incredibly productive writer, with over 80 books, 4000 essays, and 200 short stories to his name.
The Man Who Was Thursday is perhaps his best-known work.
This novel chronicles the incredible journey of Gabriel Syme, a poet turned police detective who is tasked with infiltrating the most dangerous anarchist society in Europe.
Syme begins his mission by befriending Lucian Gregory, a fanatical anarchist who believes that breaking rules and routine is an inherently glorious endeavor.
The two argue at length, trading witticisms in Chesterton’s famous style, until a frustrated Gregory brings Syme to a local meeting of anarchists.
Gregory swears to keep Syme’s cover intact in order to prove the worth of anarchy, but he fails to realize how crafty the detective is.
After a series of astonishing revelations and careful arguments, Syme finds himself elected to the Central Anarchist Council as an agent called Thursday.
At this point, Chesterton introduces a symbolism that holds the entire novel together: each member of the Central Anarchist Council is named after a day of the week.
Syme first meets Monday, the secretary of the Council, then the rest of the days in quick succession.
Each of the men on the Central Anarchist Council is strange in his own way, but Syme finds himself terrified by Sunday, the leader of the movement.
Sunday is an enormous man, perspicacious and sly, with a mind for baffling jokes on a cosmic scale.
He begins Syme’s first meeting by outing Tuesday as a spy for the police. Syme is petrified that he will also be exposed, but he quickly makes a startling discovery.
Friday, the elderly professor, is also a policeman. And so is Saturday, the doctor with the strange glasses.
Surely three of them can capture Sunday, the supreme anarchist!
Before long, the three detectives embark on a wild cross-country chase after Sunday.
They gather an entourage of helpers as they go—no spoilers here! —but gradually realize that Sunday is far more powerful than they dreamed.
The ragtag band of detectives faces down bombs, swords, and vicious mobs, but Chesterton’s grand touch is a wild chase through the streets of London.
The detectives, grim and purposeful, commandeer a procession of hansom cabs in order to follow Sunday, who is riding a stolen elephant from the London Zoo.
When I reached this point during my first reading of the novel, I had to set down the book and laugh out loud for a moment. Chesterton has a gift for absurdity that never wears thin.
The elephant-and-cab chase is just one example of the consistent theme that Chesterton weaves throughout this story: chasing God is a risky but wondrous endeavor.
The police detectives start their quest with a grim determination to dismantle the Central Anarchist Council, but as their pursuit develops, they realize that they know far less than they thought.
The pursuit of Sunday is a confusing and humbling experience for Syme, whose high-minded ideals led him to this mission.
Over the course of the story, Syme confesses his own foolishness and weakness, longing for a perfect understanding of everything that has happened.
All the characters trade hypotheses about who Sunday is and what he is capable of, with each character discerning different aspects of his personality.
They grapple with what they have seen and suffered in their pursuit of Sunday, wondering if they will find pure goodness or pure evil when they finally catch the anarchist leader.
The story climaxes with the group wandering down a lonely English lane as Syme exclaims, “Shall I tell you the secret of the whole world?”
He continues, “It is that we have only known the back of the world…”
They have journeyed far to see the face of Sunday, and the true face of the world. But Sunday’s grandest joke—and most breathtaking revelation—is yet to come!
The Man Who Was Thursday is undoubtedly a classic that all Christ-followers should read.
Through this story, I learned how to confront the many mysteries of the Christian faith. It’s not always easy to see what God is doing, even when I’m following Him.
But Chesterton’s characters inspire me to keep struggling and fighting the good fight. Syme and the others model perseverance, faith, and determination in the face of almost certain defeat.
I’ve read and re-read this book nearly every year since I was in my late teens, and it never fails to strengthen my faith.
I’m always reminded that, no matter what struggles I’m currently facing in my life, God has had a plan the entire time…even if it all looks like hansom cabs and elephants in the moment!
Purchase your copy today.