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10/1/2012 3:13:00 PM
Great Catholic author recast as young adventurer
The Tripods Attack cover.
The Tripods Attack cover.
Ed Langlois
Of the Catholic Sentinel

It's difficult, but intriguing, to imagine G.K. Chesterton as a teenager.

Brilliant, irascible and plump as a middle aged man, Chesterton was larger than life in many ways. He spanned the 19th and 20th centuries, a Colossus of incisive Catholic thought.

John McNichol, a middle school teacher at St. John the Apostle School in Oregon City, has resourcefully solved our struggle in imagining an adolescent Chesterton. McNichol is almost done writing a trilogy for youths in which the Catholic boy genius has sci-fi adventures in the Gilded Age.

Gilbert, as he's known in McNichol's works, encounters the rollicking world — and worlds beyond. He tinkers with moral quandaries alongside characters like H.G. Wells, Father Brown from the real Chesterton's own pen and Dr. Watson from the Sherlock Holmes series.

The first volume, titled The Tripods Attack, did well for Sophia Press, and is in the midst of a second printing. In it, 16-year-old Gilbert is orphaned and friendless, stuck in a menial job in grimy turn-of-the-century London. One night strange lights fill the sky, and a hail of giant meteors crashes into a field outside the city. The next day Gilbert is amazed to find himself hired by a newspaper and rushed out to investigate the scene. As Gilbert is drawn deeper into the threat of the mysterious tripods, he unveils a sinister conspiracy that may hold the key not only to the fate of mankind, but to the accident that took his parents’ life.

Is it a harmless natural phenomenon, or the first wave of a Martian invasion? It's especially enjoyable to see Father Brown, a short, mild, middle-aged priest with an extraordinary talent for solving mysteries. Young Gilbert doesn’t know much about Christ or the Church, but Father Brown will teach him lessons of faith, love, and courage.

“Young man, there are those who misuse religion, true," Father Brown says to a young skeptic, a friend of Gilbert's. "But blaming religion itself is quite the wrongheaded approach. Do we blame steam power when a child is scalded by her mother’s tea? True religion makes man a noble creature, and gives people like me the strength to do our jobs when people like the amputees lose theirs.”

Gilbert and companions fly frantically from danger to danger, battling street thugs from London’s underworld and mechanical creatures from another world. And so with only his friends, his wits, and a tattered holy card to help him, Gilbert must race to save the world — all the while struggling to reconcile his troubling past with his budding faith in God.

The second of McNichol's installments, The Emperor of North America, was published last year by Bezalel Books. In it, Chesterton learns his life is in jeopardy and flees England for his American homeland. There, a powerful man takes a keen interest in the youth’s career as a journalist. Gilbert fights past dogged, airborne assassins and steam-powered cowboys, through the streets of New York and a floating city in the clouds.

McNichol, 42, is currently at work on the final volume, "Where the Red Sands Fly."
Born and raised in Toronto, he left to attend college at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio. There he met his American wife, and has remained a resident of the United States since his graduation and wedding in 1992.

He and wife Jeanna live with their seven children in Vancouver and have what McNichol calls "The Dumbest Dog In The State Of Washington."





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