Sunday, March 25, 2018

Truncated windmills

Elements of the Dutch landscape - 6 - updated after seeing several of these in Schiedam

In the book The innocence of Father Brown G.K.Chesterton has included a story called The wrong shape. Just before the group stumbles upon a murder scene - disguised as a suicide - Father Brown meditates upon good and bad shapes of objects and buildings:
Father Brown had stopped for a moment, and picked up out of the long grass, where it had almost been wholly hidden, a queer, crooked Oriental knife, inlaid exquisitely in coloured stones and metals. ...
"It's very beautiful," said the priest in a low, dreaming voice; "the colours are very beautiful. But it's the wrong shape.
"What for?" asked Flambeau, staring.
"For anything. It's the wrong shape in the abstract. Don't you ever feel that about Eastern art? The colours are intoxicatingly lovely; but the shapes are mean and bad-- deliberately mean and bad. ...
"Why, look at it," cried Father Brown, holding out the crooked knife at arm's length, as if it were some glittering snake. "Don't you see it is the wrong shape? Don't you see that it has no hearty and plain purpose? It does not point like a spear. It does not sweep like a scythe. It does not look like a weapon. It looks like an instrument of torture." 
"Well, as you don't seem to like it," said the jolly Harris, "it had better be taken back to its owner. Haven't we come to the end of this confounded conservatory yet? This house is the wrong shape, if you like."
"You don't understand," said Father Brown, shaking his head. "The shape of this house is quaint--it is even laughable. But there is nothing wrong about it."
Walking through the Dutch landscape you frequently come upon buildings with the wrong shape. These are the truncated windmills. At some time the windmill lost its function and it got too costly to maintain the superstructure. So it was demolished and removed. What remains is a castrated, claustrophobic bunker that does not reach for sky and wind anymore. Not really a corpse but more a zombie.
Father Brown seemed to be studying the paper more than the corpse; he held it close to his eyes; and seemed trying to read it in the twilight. ...  
Darkness full of thunder followed, and after the thunder Father Brown's voice said out of the dark: "Doctor, this paper is the wrong shape." 
"What do you mean?" asked Doctor Harris, with a frowning stare.
"It isn't square," answered Brown. "It has a sort of edge snipped off at the corner. What does it mean?"


  1. The Babbersmolen (Schiedam) is being rebuilt.
    To add some background to the story of these zombie mills, there is an ongoing discussion in the 'dutch windmill world' about wether all these truncated mills should be restored to complete mills or not. Up until a few years ago it was quite common to see large amounts of (public) money being spent on the recontruction of windmills or even building complete new ones, however this is changing. Nobody really thinks these stumps are pretty but now there are people arguing that these remnants themselves have historic value, especially if they have been in continued industrial use since their life as windmill ended. Restoring the stump to complete windmill often destroys the changes made to the mill over the years while adding little historic value and using money that could be used to maintain existing mills. To get back to Father Brown: they may be the wrong shape but that doesn't mean they have no value.
    I think the discussion has been getting out of hand by the way and it is now difficult to have a neutral opinion that can be depending on the case. I even read someone using the "you're either with us or against us" argument.

  2. A truncated suite as well? "Each time I get a set of five I publish it." It is two short.
    I enjoy your "elements" posts. This one has a restive tension. To my mind It brings images of stumped scribes separated from their muses.

    1. There you caught me! Yes I have truncated the series because I thought it would take too long to collect five examples. I may do that more often :-)