I tell you, without ever having read any G. K. Chesterton, I continue to be impressed by him. I've been learning about him vicariously through Garry Wills, C. S. Lewis, random book descriptions, word of mouth, and now an introduction by Martin Gardner to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. (I got up early for a change this morning, so I killed a couple of hours at the mall before heading to the airport. While there I picked up a copy of the Carroll. After all, it was cheap ($3.95) and I was reluctant to start the other book I brought -- Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? -- I figured I could probably finish one if not both of the Alice stories on the plane. (Had I not been so sleepy, I think I could have read more than just one.)
Anyhow, in the introduction, Gardner makes the point that fantasy writing is often not regarded as having much literary merit, yet many of the enduring classics -- Homer, Shakespeare, Virgil, Dante, Goethe, Lewis, Baum, etc. -- can be classified in the fantasy genre. Gardner quotes part of an essay ("The Dragon's Grandmother," found in Tremendous Trifles) by Chesterton, where he criticizes the reader who forswears fantasy in favor of "real" literature grounded in realism and feels that fairy tales ought not be read to children:
Can you not see ... that fairy tales in their essence are quite solid and straightforward; but that this everlasting fiction about modern life is in its nature essentially incredible? Folk-lore means that the soul is sane, but that the universe is wild and full of marvels. Realism means that the world is dull and full of routine, but that the soul is sick and screaming. The problem of the fairy tale is -- what will a healthy man do with a fantastic world? The problem of the modern novel is -- what will a madman do with a dull world? In the fairy tales the cosmos goes mad; but the hero does not go mad. In the modern novels the hero is mad before the book begins, and suffers from the harsh steadiness and cruel sanity of the cosmos.