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Posted April 20, 2007
This Also is Thou
This is my favorite of Charles Williams' seven novels which include Many Dimensions, Shadows of Ecstasy, Descent into Hell, The Place of the Lion, The Greater Trumps, and All Hallow's Eve. It's not usually the fave of other Williams fans, so I'll say why I like it. Along with Many Dimensions and Shadows of Ecstasy, it's the easiest to read, and I reread it nearly every year the way other readers do Tolkien. Williams dragged most of his interests into this novel: detective stories, the occult, the stages of mysticism, and mythic history--here of Prester John, the Guardian of the Graal. It also illustrates one of Williams' favorite maxims, 'believe and doubt well'. He likes supernatural things to happen to atheists and skeptics, not settled believers, as did C.S. Lewis (That Hideous Strength). While not a dualist, he yet exults in contrasts and following out opposite paths. Williams is anti-gnostic and considers matter substantial and real. Yet the supernatural world is always crowding at the corners, and mortals are always on the brink of being translated into the realm of joy at the heart of the Holy Trinity. Williams' novels always strain against language even as they are carried by it, and Williams often lapses into explanation, as if he were a bystander on the scene and not the narrator. Critics consider this a fault, but in War in Heaven it allows the Archdeacon to move in and out of the action, as it were, the scenes going in and out of focus, from a fog to crystal clarity. Were this a movie, it wouldn't need an alternative ending, it already has two, or three, or five, depending on where you look. And then it ends like a Dr. Who episode, all neat and tidy, everything back where it began. Or is it?
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