19 June, 2009

The Forgotten Inkling

What a dramatic opener, no? Charles Williams, the forgotten member of the literary group that so many fans of 20th century literature know and love, friend of J.R.R. Tolkein, Dorothy Sayers, C.S. Lewis, to name a few.

So who is he, and what does he write about? Intrigued by this question and by the relative lack of any information about this fellow, I've been remaining keenly alert to any copies of his works that I find lurking in hidden corners of used bookstores (often his books are drastically overpriced - in my opinion - online) and I know have a respectable collection of his novels. These are often described, by the few critics who address them at all, as "spiritual thrillers". I'm not quite sure what to make of such a description, which seems to me to be unhelpfully vague. There's certainly a rather chilling aspect to those I've read, and they all treat things that our culture tends to consider fantastic - such as souls, ghosts, life after death, etc - as having a very real and substantial effect on the ins and outs of material existence. (I look forward to giving some thought eventually to William's philosophical compatability with Gilbert Ryle, but that will take a few more reads, I think.)

There's a definite power to his writing, which really draws you up into the story, but my one concern with the books - particularly Descent Into Hell (a book very sound in its moral philosophy, but perhaps just a tad questionable in its metaphysics) - is that their plots are dreadfully confusing. I closed Descent Into Hell with a clear idea of what it was trying to say and of the basic arc of moral development among the characters, but without a firm grasp of how or when anything happened.

I exaggerate. I did understand a lot of it, but there were some portions that seemed to get so wrapped up in mysticism that the logic of the plot is defied. Maybe this is an effect he's trying to acheive. I wouldn't doubt it, given his purpose in writing. My judgment as to its literary merit, however, I think will have to wait to give me a chance to do some second readings.

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