June 25, 2003

Charles Williams

Category: Literature :: Permalink

Before I left for Oregon, Carmon asked if I would comment on Charles Williams when I returned. I’m back, but I’m not sure what to say.

I read a few of Williams’s novels several years ago, though I remember little about them. I figured I would start reading (and in some cases rereading) Williams chronologically (can you say “obsessive-compulsive”?), starting with the first novel he published, War in Heaven.

In many ways, it’s a delightful book. It starts out with the discovery of a dead body, but just as you’re thinking it might be something of a mystery novel, things begin to change, and I’m not going to tell you exactly how, except to mention that it involves an old chalice in a small church in England which might be the Holy Grail (or, as Williams prefers to spell it, the Graal). Here’s one of my favourite paragraphs:

So through the English roads the Graal was borne away in the care of a Duke, an Archdeacon, and a publisher’s clerk, pursued by a country householder, the Chief Constable of a county, and a perplexed policeman. And these things also perhaps the angels desired to look into.

In all the fun, there’s also a lot of serious weirdness. Williams’s prose isn’t always crystal clear and there are moments when the story bogs down momentarily or loses one in bafflement (“What is he on about here?”). Perhaps the best thing I can do is recommend Thomas Howard’s The Novels of Charles Williams, which I have but haven’t read. It appears, however, to be a helpful guide to what’s going on in the novels and how it relates to Williams’s views about theology and the nature of charity and whatnot.

Since finishing Williams and Wodehouse (see my last entry), I’ve also read Walker Percy’s The Last Gentleman, his second novel, which I greatly enjoyed, though with Percy, too, albeit in a completely different way than with Williams, I’m never entirely sure where the story is going and I’ve been musing over the ending. What is the last question Will Barrett wants to ask Sutter just before Sutter drives away?

And now I’m reading C. S. Lewis’s first narrative poem, Dymer. I’ve also been reading some stuff on preaching in preparation for a lecture on liturgical preaching at the upcoming Biblical Horizons conference. I need to get that talk prepared before I leave for my vacation.

Posted by John Barach @ 5:09 pm | Discuss (0)

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