War in Heavenby Charles Williams
Pub. Date: 01/28/1930
Publisher: Eerdmans, William B. Publishing Company
Williams gives a contemporary setting to the traditional story of the Search for the Holy Grail. Examining the distinction between magic and religion, War in Heaven is an eerily disturbing book, one that graphically portrays a metaphysical journey through the shadowy crevices of the human mind. See more details below
Williams gives a contemporary setting to the traditional story of the Search for the Holy Grail. Examining the distinction between magic and religion, War in Heaven is an eerily disturbing book, one that graphically portrays a metaphysical journey through the shadowy crevices of the human mind.
- Eerdmans, William B. Publishing Company
- Publication date:
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- Product dimensions:
- 5.32(w) x 7.64(h) x 0.57(d)
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Charles Williams died in 1945, aged fifty-nine, and I acquired three of his novels recently from a second-hand stall. This is the first one I've read. I found myself thinking of the differences between modern writing and the stories of not-too-long ago, remembering reading Dickens as a young teen and coping fine with long descriptions that would later bore my sons, knowing as I read that "this is a good author" therefore trusting the story to come. Not that Charles Williams writes like Dickens, but his stories do have longer paragraphs and more description than modern fiction. If War in heaven is anything to go by, they also have fascinating plots, up-to-date mysteries-even a Holy Graal-and complex characters with no simple bad guy/good guy denotations. That last point makes me think they may represent better story-telling than many recent Christian novels I've read, though some of the plot-lines make me wonder if they'd be accepted by a modern Christian publishing house. In case you can't tell, I really rather enjoyed reading War in Heaven. The author paints the English town and countryside very convincingly, making me think of home. And he writes the dialog delightfully, with half the truths lying unspoken between the lines. There's a murder on page one, and an absolutely perfect first line that declares the phone's ringing unanswered "since there was no-one in the room but the corpse." And even as mystery piles on mystery, that corpse lies waiting to be identified, the cause of death unknown till the story's end. There's a country pastor, a Duke, a mad archeologist, strange chemists brewing even stranger potions, and innocent book publishers just trying to get on with their lives. There are deaths as well, not just the corpse; crazy chases; magical mists and mysterious strangers. And there are long and fascinating conversations like sitting by the fireside listening in while those with serious opinions opine. It's a zany mad-cap adventure, told slowly and leisurely. And I find myself wondering if, in a world with fewer authors and fewer books, perhaps it was easier to know "this is a good author" and trust the tale to come. Perhaps we need our fast pace and instant action when we read today because the reader's probably not heard of the author before. If we're not caught straight away in the story's net what reason will we have to invest the time? Ah well, that's my two-pennorth. And when I get time, I'll invest it in reading and reviewing another of Charles Williams' books.
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?