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The Turkey and the Turk

by Michelle McCoy 3/8/2012 10:19:00 AM

Just what sort of book is titled, The Turkey and the Turk? One where the cast of characters features a turkey and a Turk (or Turkish knight). Other players include St. George the English crusader (meant to be interchanged and confused with St. George the dragon slayer), a German doctor, Father Christmas, and the Princess of the Mountains who tells us "I had to come; or there would be no lady".

Best known for his mystery series about Father Brown, a Catholic priest and amateur detective, the bulk of G. K. Chesterton's, (1874-1936), literary output was nonfiction, including thousands of columns for various periodicals. He also wrote plays and poems that T. S. Eliot described "first-rate journalistic balladry".1

In The Turkey and the Turk, Chesterton retains the traditional form of a mumming play and its core groups of actors to take a satirical look at the political, religious, cultural and scientific issues in the years following WWI surrounding the fall of the Ottoman Empire. In Chesterton's farce, however, while Father Christmas prepares to carve up the turkey for the holiday feast, the Princess states, "That you might ply your kindlier Christmas work--And kill the Turkey while we killed the Turk". Not even the "rationality" of science in the form of a German doctor can surgically sew the pieces (of Turkey) back together. The Ottoman alliance with Germany ended in an occupation by the Entente Powers after the war and the promise of science just keeps creating new weapons for destruction as the Doctor attests: "The Gauntlet shall be mightier than the hand, -- Science has found the hand of your desire -- An iron hand, a hand for flinging fire…"

These themes are further explored in other writings of Chesterton, such as his essay called, "The Mummer", describing the local traditions in his part of England and his book, The New Jerusalem, which further discusses the legacy of St. George and the Crusades. Other writings include a poem about the last stand of the Ottomans, "The Battle of Lepanto".

The Turkey and the Turk is truly a rare book. As a generous donation from the Department of History, DePaul's Special Collections & Archives now holds number 44 of 100 copies that were hand pressed by St. Dominic's Press of Ditchling, numbered, and signed both by the author and the illustrator (Thomas Derrick). It is thought that the remainder of the edition was destroyed by fire.

Chesterton, G. K. The Turkey and the Turk / by G.K. Chesterton; arranged and pictured by Thomas Derrick. [Ditchling, Sussex : St. Dominic's Press, 1930].

Call Number: SpC. 821.91 C525t1930


For more information about this text, contact Special Collections & Archives at: archives@depaul.edu.

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