People now consider The Napoleon of Notting Hill to be a Speculative Fiction book, and it can certainly be read as such. Chesterton would definitely have thought of it as “a fantasy”. It was the first novel that Chesterton wrote to be published and he describes the moment he took the idea to his publisher as necessitating a few stiff drinks at The Cheshire Cheese near Fleet Street in London before marched over to his publisher, John Lane’s office, threw open the door and said “this is the book I want to write and this is how I’m going to write it”. The publisher liked the idea and signed him to a contract on the spot. Then Chesterton had to go away and write the thing.
Coincidentally, the story takes place “eighty years after the present date”, making it 1984. Orwell, it can be safely assumed, did not enjoy Chesterton very much and took ocassional swipes at him in his own fiction, even though Orwell did get his start writing for G. K.’s Weekly. It deals first with a very charismatic politician named Auberon Quin who thinks it would be a lot of fun to become the king of Notting Hill and cede from the nation. He manages to do this but then a second man, Adam Wayne, takes the matter much more seriously. When a highway is scheduled to be built through the suburb, he marshals a military force to prevent it. In the ensuing battle Notting Hill apparently lies in ruins and two figures speak to each other from the mist, discussing love, laughter, and seriousness — these are revealed to be the two main characters who are finally reconciled. This is he core conflict of the book, seriousness and humour, summed up in a conversation between the two protagonists halfway through the book:
Auberon turned on Wayne with violence.
“What the devil is all this? What am I saying? What are you saying? Have you hypnotized me? Curse your uncanny blue eyes! Let me go. Give me back my sense of humour. Give it me back. Give it me back, I say!”
“I solemnly assure you,” said Wayne, uneasily, with a gesture, as if feeling all over himself, “that I haven’t got it.”
The King fell back in his chair, and went into a roar of Rabelaisian laughter.
“I don’t think you have,” he cried.
It’s an odd little book, an odd little pebble that has nonetheless created significant ripples. C S Lewis must have been fond of it since he borrowed its ending for Book 2 of his Space Trilogy, Perelandra, which ends in two abstract figures having a conversation. He also took the title for a Narnia book from one of this book’s chapter title: The Last Battle. Neil Gaiman also has said that he got the idea for his first novel Neverwhere, in which a hidden London is described, from this book and even quotes this one at the beginning of his.