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Monday, 30 July 2012

Olympic Opening Ceremony 'inspired by GK Chesterton'

Friday's Olympic Opening Ceremony was a work of genius which weaved together British history, literature, music, religion, humour and traditions into several hours of compelling entertainment.

In case you missed it, you can enjoy one of its most surprising moments by watching this video:


The appearance of the Queen, like the defeat of Voldemort by hordes of Mary Poppinses and the lengthy medley of pop music hits, made a lot of British people feel proud of the rich and varied history of their country.

Interestingly, it was the thoughts of a Christian writer which helped inspire the tone of the opening ceremony.

Words written by GK Chesterton, the renowned twentieth-century British novelist and apologist, provided - according to Frank Cottrell Boyce (left), the man who wrote the Opening Ceremony - a focus and direction for those involved in the creation of Friday's event.

Boyce writes in the Guardian newspaper that “if you’re trying to celebrate a nation’s identity, you have to take things that are familiar parts of the landscape and make them wonderful. On to the wall went GK Chesterton’s great aphorism: 'The world shall perish not for lack of wonders, but for lack of wonder.'"

It's a great quote.

But this was no throwaway comment for Chesterton. His most famous work, Orthodoxy, has some lengthy sections on the importance of 'wonder'.

Chesterton (right) describes the experiencing of entering relationship with Jesus as one which simultaneously combines the thrill discovering something new with the comfortable and familiar sense of 'coming home'.

He writes: “We need so to view the world as to combine an idea of wonder and an idea of welcome... This elementary wonder, however, is not a mere fancy derived from the fairy tales; on the contrary, all the fire of the fairy tales is derived from this. Just as we all like love tales because there is an instinct of sex, we all like astonishing tales because they touch the nerve of the ancient instinct of astonishment.”

Chesterton was saying that the joy and excitement we feel at wondrous stories - and spellbinding Opening Ceremonies - exists because it resonates with something buried deep within all of us, and when we experience it we are being reminded that there is more to life (and to us) than biological, chemical and psychological processes.

Danny Boyle, the director of the Opening Ceremony, is himself a vaguely agnostic former Catholic who once considered entering the priesthood. But his chief writer, Boyce, says in his Guardian article that Boyle still "has a very Catholic sense that yes, this is a fallen world, but you can find grace and beauty in its darkest corners".

Chesterton himself, when writing about the kind of wonder and sense of beauty Boyle's work stirred up on Friday, wrote:

"We have all read... the story of the man who has forgotten his name. This man walks about the streets and can see and appreciate everything; only he cannot remember who he is. Well, every man is that man in the story. Every man has forgotten who he is... We have all forgotten what we really are. All that we call common sense and rationality... only means that... we forget that we have forgotten. All that we call spirit and art and ecstasy only means that for one awful instant we remember that we forget."

Maybe, as a UK television audience of 26.9million people watched the Opening Ceremony on Friday, the stirring in their hearts was more than mere national pride. Perhaps a nation was also, even if for a fleeting moment, remembering that it had forgotten.

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