All Hallow's Eve


I've said before, and I do not think I will tire of saying, Charles Williams is one of the most unjustly neglected authors of recent times. Every time I dip into this book, I am once again convinced of the eerie power Charles Williams has to evoke the spiritual world and the kinds of battles that rage there. Much of his work is difficult, perhaps even obscure. I shared this work with the reading group I have and one person was completely confounded by it. The other enjoyed it but did find it a bit difficult.

One of the main themes in all of Williams's work is the battle that rages around us constantly and our inability to see it. So too here. We start with Lester and Evelyn whom we learn very early on are both dead. We follow them around through a kind of shadow London, the nature of which is not completely clear--though it seems a London in which it is possible to move through time. This becomes clear when we meet the Clerk--a Rasputin-like religious figure with an enormous power of a great many followers. He sends Betty, a rather lackluster girl, through shadow London on various missions. As it happens, Betty has connections in the past with both Lester and Evelyn.

I don't want to go to much into the mechanics of the plot here because it might dissuade you from reading this magnificent work. I think a better focus might be to mention that the book is largely about the neglected power of the sacraments. We see the transforming, indeed salvific power of the sacrament of Marriage in action in one character. In another we see the similar power of Baptism, even though the character was prevented from doing anything that would reinforce the initial sacrament.

One of the book group readers was fascinated and entertained by the powerful love story that provides the backbone for the book. All were intrigued by the various symbols in the work--for example, the two paintings of Jonathan that portray the Clerk and his followers and the "real" London. These symbols need to be carefully examined and "unpacked" for the story to have full effect.

While the book is short, it is NOT fast reading. You have to allow yourself the leisure to enjoy and understand it. While it can be read in one sitting, I'm not sure that is the most effective means of approaching it. Better to take it a little at a time and let it blossom, savoring the sentences, the meanings, and the symbols that come to life with careful examination.

Williams is an amazingly talented author. His fiction is uniformly as good as most of Lewis, and better than some. His prose is dense, an occasionally difficult thicket of words; nevertheless, it is so deliberately. It isn't an absence of cultivation that makes for obscurity, but, I believe, a deliberate attempt to slow the reader down and make them face the elements of the tale before them.

If you've read and enjoyed Lewis and Tolkien, you owe it to yourself to try the most difficult, and in some ways most interesting of the Inklings. (This is high praise indeed, if you only knew the great esteem in which I hold C.S. Lewis and some of J. R. R. Tolkien.)

Highly recommended--but not for beach reading.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on July 19, 2004 6:59 AM.

Prayer Reqeusts--19 July 2004--Monday Week 16 Ordinary Time was the previous entry in this blog.

The Martian Child is the next entry in this blog.

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