A very strange man indeed

One of C.S. Lewis'circle at Oxford was Charles Williams, poet, novelist, mystic, theological writer, and one-time member of, if I have recollected the name correctly, the Fellowship of the Golden Dawn, a group which dabbled in thaumaturgy and of which W.B. Yeats was also a member. I came across his writings through coming across a copy of his series of poems 'Taliessin through Logres' when browsing in the library at Kings, College London, where I was supposed to be studying law. He believed in the what he called the 'co-inherence' of Christians, a development of the idea that 'we are all one boy in Christ, and taught that we can, through prayer, 'bear one anothers' pain'. He wrote a number of supernatural novels, which I found almost unreadable.

He had a considerable influence on C.S. Lewis, as may be discerned by reading 'That Hideous Strength', an unstatisfactory book to my mind. Tolkien distrusted him, I understand. In his time he had a wide influence but now seems to be forgotten.

Have any shipmates come across him? Was his influence healthy or unhealthy?
«1

Comments

  • I've read several of his novels, and enjoyed them very much.
  • I also went through a phase of reading his novels, some of which I enjoyed more than others, but all of which certainly stretched the mind. I must try them again soon. He declared himself to be an adherent of the “way of affirmation” which sees God and the sacred in all things, and uses the created world to come close to the divine. He asserted that equally valid was the “way of negation” which tries ascetically to cut oneself off from the created word to be at one with the divine. Two halves of the same coin.
  • I really like him, but I think he goes a bit too far with the kinds of things he asserts. I like a theologically cautious guy, me. But the coinherence thing may have something to it, though I think it would be presumptuous in me to try to make any use of it in any manner other than by prayer. But yeah, I can see God choosing to grant a prayer that someone might carry and/or share the pain of another.
  • HuiaHuia Shipmate
    Madeleine L'Engle, in one of her autobiographical books talks about pain being borne on another's behalf. It's a long time since I read it, which is why I am vague about the details.

    I've read only one book by Charles Williams, Mr Weston's Good Wine. I only read it because of the connection with C S Lewis and Tolkein. It didn't leave enough of an impression for me to chase up any more.

  • His best is either Many Dimensions or All Hallows' Eve. Or War in Heaven, which has the added pleasure of villains getting outwitted by an archdeacon.
  • I was keen to read one of his novels on the strength of Lewis's immense admiration for him. I tried "The Place of the Lion". I have to say I didn't really like it. The style seems somehow lugubrious and slightly creepy although there are some interesting ideas.

    I agree that "That Hideous Strength" seems like a Williams-influenced novel; although it's not one of my favourite Lewis books I'd take it over "Place of the Lion" any day...
  • The Place of the Lion was rather incoherent I thought. If you give him another try, either Many Dimensions or War in Heaven is much more clearly plotted and interesting. The first deals with a wonderworking stone that turns up out of the hands of its keepers and leads to chaos as various people try to exploit it (a pretty good answer to "Why doesn't God just hand out miracles like candy?"). The second is "What if the Holy Grail turned up in a quiet English church and some baddies found out about it and tried to get their hands on it?" which is really quite entertaining, esp. as the archdeacon is sensible and, while he values the cup, does not worship it or put an undue value on it--rather like Christ in that, really...
  • Gee DGee D Shipmate
    His best is either Many Dimensions or All Hallows' Eve. Or War in Heaven, which has the added pleasure of villains getting outwitted by an archdeacon.

    Those villains must have been pretty dull then.
  • mousethiefmousethief Shipmate
    edited November 2020
    I've only read The Place of the Lion of his, and I rather enjoyed it. I am currently reading a joint biography of the Inklings (The Fellowship by Philip and Carol Zaleski), and in fact just today read about how Tolkien felt about Williams, which is complex. As a person he was very fond of him, and they often met for a beer even without the social glue of Lewis. But taken as a novelist and poet Tolkien wasn't as impressed with him, and as a Christian philosopher he was even less impressed. He liked some of Williams' novels as adventure stories, but didn't at all jibe with the theology. He suspected that Williams was holding back some even wackier beliefs from the Inklings (which he was).
  • EnochEnoch Shipmate
    I've read some of them and enjoyed them, but it was many years ago and I can't remember much about them. Because of his interest in esoterica, which often forms the basis of his plots some people are probably suspicious of him.

    As he died quite young in 1945, almost everything by him is now out of copyright in the UK, but as Project Gutenberg is in the USA if you want to access anything by him try the Canadian or the Australian Gutenbergs.

    An odd snippet is that from memory, he used to refer to his wife as Michal, which is a very strange nickname to choose. One wonders what private mystery this conceals.

  • Enoch wrote: »
    An odd snippet is that from memory, he used to refer to his wife as Michal, which is a very strange nickname to choose. One wonders what private mystery this conceals.

    To be fair he had a nickname for EVrybody, and for the office mate he fell in love with (purely platonic we are told over and over and over), he had two. Michal was of course Saul's younger daughter and the first wife of David. If the Zaleskis say why he chose that name, I was unable to find it using the index (see my above comment).
  • BroJamesBroJames Purgatory Host, 8th Day Host
    Gee D wrote: »
    His best is either Many Dimensions or All Hallows' Eve. Or War in Heaven, which has the added pleasure of villains getting outwitted by an archdeacon.

    Those villains must have been pretty dull then.

    Don’t let @Zappa hear you saying that.
  • Gee DGee D Shipmate
    edited November 2020
    That was something that crossed my mind, but I think he's now back to being a Dean - his archdeaconshipping well in the past.
  • LydaLyda Shipmate
    Well, Descent into Hell is in my top ten novels. However I tried a few more by Williams and just didn't get into them in the same way.
  • But yeah, I can see God choosing to grant a prayer that someone might carry and/or share the pain of another.

    There are indications that Lewis believed, or at least hoped, it was possible during his wife's illness. There is also some evidence that his prayer was answered as he became ill as she experienced some respite.
  • I have A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken, who was a friend of CS Lewis. When Vanauken's wife becomes ill he talks about her "handing over" her fear and he takes it and enters into it. They were fans of Charles Williams but I hadn't realised the idea came from him. I understood their act as being symbolic (he didn't expect to become ill) but bringing real comfort to her, I guess similarly to laying something down before God.
  • Charles Williams is a fascinating person with many idiosyncratic ideas about, for example, theology, salvation, sexuality, some of which border on heresy or just the plain weird, which is why the strait laced Tolkein distrusted him and Lewis found him stimulating. He was fun to be around and would have been wonderful in a radio discussion programme about religion, poetry, mythology, such was the breadth of his learning. He died too young, alas!
    There is a wonderful glimpse of his character in Humphrey Carpenter's 'The Inklings', and an excellent biography, 'Charles Williams, the Third Inkling' by Grevel Lindop. It's a long read, but rewarding.
    BTW, I disagree about Lewis's 'That Hideous Strength'. It's worth seeking out an unabridged copy, which is, to my mind a cracking good read if you like that sort of thing. Dated, yes, but still with lots to enjoy. It is (as one wag remarked) William's best book!

    As to Williams' own novels, 'Many Dimensions' is by far the best and most coherent. His 'Decent of the Dove', about the Holy Spirit and the Early Church is also excellent (if more than a little 'left field').

    Thank you for starting this thread. The concept of 'coinherence' is much with me at the moment when shipmates (and my own daughter) are suffering and being prayed for. Williams would have approved.
  • MaryLouiseMaryLouise Purgatory Host, 8th Day Host
    edited November 2020
    Huia wrote: »
    Madeleine L'Engle, in one of her autobiographical books talks about pain being borne on another's behalf. It's a long time since I read it, which is why I am vague about the details.

    I've read only one book by Charles Williams, Mr Weston's Good Wine. I only read it because of the connection with C S Lewis and Tolkein. It didn't leave enough of an impression for me to chase up any more.

    Huia, Mr Weston's Good Wine isn't Charles Williams, it was written by another great eccentric, TF Powys.

    Charles Williams as an Anglican theologian was a 'romantic sacramentalist' and I have a copy of his The Descent of the Dove: A Short History of the Holy Spirit in the Church. One of his oddest novels (wooden dialogue, sadly) is The Greater Trumps featuring the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot deck imagery. He liked to draw on occult themes and didn't associate the occult with the diabolical (he was a member of the esoteric Order of The Golden Dawn from 1917 until 1938).
  • Surely Owen Barfield is the third Inkling if Lewis and Tolkien are 1 and 2.
  • Mousethief, I think Carpenter's 'The Inklings', illustrates well why the wonderfully monikered Grevel Lindop chose the title he did. Williams was quite as strong willed as Lewis and could dominate discussions.

    At least, whilst he was an Inkling he saved the group from having to listen to the first drafts of 'Bored of the Rings' , which not all members appreciated!
  • There are a few things that make me slightly uneasy about Williams. The first is a lurking suspicion that some of his beliefs stray close to Tantrism (though I would be hard-pressed to say exactly why this is) and for all I know Tantrism may be OK nowadays. The second is that I read in an essay on his life that if his female secretary made a mistake, he would make her bend iber his desk and ritually give her a couple of light strokes with a cane which he kept for the purpose. That seems to be going a bit far, even for the 1930s, and it seems almost inconceivable that the secretary would put up with it. He clearly was a whole-hearted believer in male headship; throughout 'The Descent of the Dove', he refers to 'Our Lord the Holy Spirit', which jars somewhat these days. But Lewis would have gone along with him.
  • EnochEnoch Shipmate
    @Eirenist I don't know anything about Tantrism and wouldn't recognise a Tantrist if I met one, but I agree that there's something about Williams's interests in esoteria that make me feel slightly uneasy. That generation was often attracted by esoteria and were a lot more muddled about how one relates that to Christian faith than we are. Lewis was aware of it and referred to it more than once.

    I wasn't around in the 1930s, but tapping your secretary's backside with a small cane would have been regarded as a little bit odd even then.

    On male headship, though, I think you may be criticising him for not having the 'right' views on something that virtually nobody had really thought of until long after he'd died. I can say from memory that even in the fifties and sixties people, particularly male people, made a lot of assumptions that it had never occurred to them to question. I don't know the context of "Our Lord the Holy Spirit" but it reads more like an assertion of the Holy Spirit's godhead than an assertion of male headship. Many of us are saying what is in essence the same thing every Sunday in the third response to the Kyrie.

  • mousethiefmousethief Shipmate
    edited November 2020
    RockyRoger wrote: »
    Mousethief, I think Carpenter's 'The Inklings', illustrates well why the wonderfully monikered Grevel Lindop chose the title he did. Williams was quite as strong willed as Lewis and could dominate discussions.

    At least, whilst he was an Inkling he saved the group from having to listen to the first drafts of 'Bored of the Rings' , which not all members appreciated!

    Carpenter only mentions one member who didn't like Rings. He was given a veto, and it had nothing to do with Charles Williams.
  • What I meant was that even when Hugo wasn't there, Williams enlivened the conversation so that Tolkein was squeezed out. Williams made Hugo's point for him that 'conversation was better than having to listen to what had been written by members'.

    Just trying to make the point that calling Williams 'The third Inkling' was not too unreasonable.

  • "Conversation was better than having to listen to what had been written by members" is a strange motto for a group that started as a place for people to share what they had written. No wonder he got on Tolkien's tits. Famously meetings of the Inklings started, after Warnie had served everyone tea, with Lewis saying "Well, has anyone got anything to read?"
  • Ok, mousethief, I surrender!
    But please remember that Carpenter's splendid recreation of an Inkling evening is made up. Warnie Lewis's diary records that meetings could be very dull. Williams, I imagine, was never dull!

    Back to the topic of this thread please!
  • RockyRoger wrote: »
    Back to the topic of this thread please!

    Williams? That's who we were talking about, but okay.
  • HuiaHuia Shipmate
    MaryLouise, of course, I muddled the title with War In Heaven, but only realised when I read further in this thread.
  • Charles Williams is a favourite of mine, and the subject of my MA thesis many years ago. Yes, he was attracted to o esoteria (as many were at the time) but he ultimately was drawn to the open secret of the Eucharist. His reflections on the Tarot Pack are not to Rider-Waite, but to his own designs. And his penultimate novel is a great exploration of coinherence, but I can't call its name to mind right now.

    And then there are the poems, the plays, the literary criticism and the theology. A wonderful, many faceted, man.
  • MooMoo Kerygmania Host
    Enoch wrote: »
    1 Samuel An odd snippet is that from memory, he used to refer to his wife as Michal, which is a very strange nickname to choose. One wonders what private mystery this conceals.
    1 Samuel 6:16
    As the ark of the Lord was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart.

    1 Samuel 6:20
    When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, going around half-naked in full view of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!”
    Apparently in his enthusiastic dance, David inadvertently exposed himself.

    There was an occasion when Williams' wife criticized him, not for physically,exposing himself, but for going very far in religious expression. I don't remember the specific details. Williams said his wife's criticism of him was like Michal's criticism of David. Hence the nickname.



  • That seems a not-entirely-nice nickname to give to one's wife.
  • DafydDafyd Shipmate
    A friend knew Williams' son: apparently he was not a good father.
  • Has anyone else come across any of Williams' verse? I read, many years ago, his two collections - 'Taliessin Through Logres' and 'The Region of the Summer Stars'. There's quite a lot of fairly erotic material in there, particularly in the latter book, but I also came across a line in 'The Prayers of the Pope' which has stayed with me and on which I have preached: 'Send not, send not the rich empty away.
  • Eirenist wrote: »
    Has anyone else come across any of Williams' verse? I read, many years ago, his two collections - 'Taliessin Through Logres' and 'The Region of the Summer Stars'. There's quite a lot of fairly erotic material in there, particularly in the latter book, but I also came across a line in 'The Prayers of the Pope' which has stayed with me and on which I have preached: 'Send not, send not the rich empty away.

    Kind of kicks against the Magnificat.
  • I also find that a powerful line. In world terms we are the rich; it is a plea for God's blessing to reach us as well.
  • Huia wrote: »

    I've read only one book by Charles Williams, Mr Weston's Good Wine. I only read it because of the connection with C S Lewis and Tolkein. It didn't leave enough of an impression for me to chase up any more.

    Mr Weston's Good Wine is not Charles Williams but T F Powys. The title seems to come from Jane Austen's Emma of all places.
  • MooMoo Kerygmania Host
    Eirenist wrote: »
    Has anyone else come across any of Williams' verse? I read, many years ago, his two collections - 'Taliessin Through Logres' and 'The Region of the Summer Stars'.

    I read them many years ago. The line that stuck in my head was (speaking of money) "When the means [of exchange] are autonomous, they are deadly."

  • Gary2Gary2 Shipmate Posts: 4
    I have a number of Charles Williams books - many of the novels are available on the ‘Faber Finds’ scheme which prints off a copy for you. I was introduced to Williams when doing work on the poet W.H. Auden - who was a fan of Williams and seemed to regard him as a very saintly character. T.S Eliot was also an admirer, but he didn’t like the poetry.

    ‘The War in Heaven’ about the discovery of the Holy Grail in an English country church is pretty good and has some excellent creepy occultist villains who want to acquire the Grail for their own nefarious purposes.

    I also love ‘All Hallows Eve’. Its description of the world seen through the eyes of a character who has recently died in an air-raid is wonderful and surreal. It also has a terrifying villain in The Deacon (though some anti-semitic tropes in his depiction have always disturbed me).

    ‘The Descent of the Dove’ - which Auden said he re-read every year - is an amusing short history of the church, written with insight and wit.

    I am very shocked by Eirenist’s disclosure that Williams used to spank his secretary. I’m sure T.S. Eliot never would have engaged in this sort of thing!
  • I did my finals dissertation on Charles Williams and CS Lewis in 1987, so have the full set of CW’s novels.
    The abridged “That Hideous Strength” is certainly reminiscent of Charles Williams; the unabridged version slightly less so, with a little more humour, which greatly improves it. I had the impression he was rather too impressed by CW while writing it.
    There are very definite echoes of Charles Williams in Narnia, but they’re less noticeable as CS Lewis had properly digested his influence by then and integrated it much more successfully into his own fiction. Charles died (quite suddenly) five years before the publication of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”.

    Robert Armin - I’m not surprised to find out you are a fan of Charles Williams as I’d recognised your avatar from the cover of “The Greater Trumps”!
  • I didn't think from the description that it was a serious spanking of his secretary, more of a ritual or game. a bit disturbing, nonetheless.
  • I must thank the poster who started this thread, as it got me (finally!) to start reading my copy of 'Descent of the Dove' . Wow! what a thrilling ride, what a fascinating page turner. I'm up to where Constantine becomes Emperor with all its benefits and problems.

    What I've learned so far is (a) the nonconformist churches, at least those that are self aware, are facing/have faced the same problems and are going through the same processes that the early church went through, with similar tensions and resolutions; (b) the thought process I went though in leaving an evangelical ('Fundy-Lite') church to end up in -sort of comfortably - in the COE mirror Williams' narrative, and (c) It has, unexpectedly, given me an inkling of how Trump supporters see the World and how many of them can still be (in my experience) normal decent folk.
    What an academic historian would think of it I don't know, but for me, it's just great for Advent.
  • Eirenist wrote: »
    I didn't think from the description that it was a serious spanking of his secretary, more of a ritual or game. a bit disturbing, nonetheless.

    Well, yeah: sexual harassment.
  • Re David's dance:

    Hmm. I've thought he was naked on purpose. Maybe deep into an ecstatic state, but on purpose. Whether that was inappropriate in his culture, and whether he would've done it if not in an ecstatic state, I don't know.

    Michal obviously didn't like it. I suspect most wives wouldn't.
  • Re Charles Williams' ideas:

    --There's a really good episode of "Inspector Lewis", called "Magnum Opus". Some of CW's ideas are at the heart of it. (Note: That's Robbie Lewis from "Morse", spun off into his own series.)

    --Someone (possibly CS Lewis) said that CW didn't really like the idea of an afterlife, nor did he want one.
  • EnochEnoch Shipmate
    edited December 28
    Golden Key wrote: »
    Re David's dance:

    Hmm. I've thought he was naked on purpose. Maybe deep into an ecstatic state, but on purpose. Whether that was inappropriate in his culture, and whether he would've done it if not in an ecstatic state, I don't know.

    Michal obviously didn't like it. I suspect most wives wouldn't.
    I don't think he was was dancing in the nude. I get the impression that he was dancing so vigorously that he revealed his private parts. It's also fairly clear that a major part of Michal's disapproval was that he was behaving in a raucous low-class way ill-becoming a king.

    I've slightly wondered if there had been something similar in the Williams' life together that was behind that name.

  • Lockdown does have some benefits: I have finished Williams' 'Descent of the Dove', his idiosyncratic history of the Christian church in the West. What an academic historian would make of it I dread to think, but for me it was full of interesting observations, many of which are pertinent to our troubled times Below are just a few of his gems I jotted down and thought worth shearing in this thread:

    1. The wise man thinks many things he would do well to keep to himself.
    2.There is a difference between knowing and believing.
    4. The conviction of wisdom is the plague of mankind.
    5. St Augustine's predestination was safe with him; comprehensible in Calvin, tiresome in English puritans, intolerable in Scottish Presbyterians. The horrid imps of debased Calvinism.
    6. Re Montaigne: In him all forms of dogmatism are discredited. The minds of his readers are not equal to his own, who could not maintain his poise.
    7. Ignorance is so much recommended . . . as fitting an element of faith as obedience.
    8. It is not possible for a man to rise above himself.
    9. We are - I do not know how - double in ourselves.
    10. A hypothesis translated into certitude by anger, obstinacy and egotism.
    11. God has delivered me from a multitude of opinions.
    12. There was a change in the style of belief in the Sixteenth Century . . . imposition of belief was no longer an option.
    13. I maintain my opinions, I cannot choose them.
    14. Do not believe in something more strongly after a violent argument than before.
    15. The subtlety of Darwin vs. the bullishness of Huxley.
    16. George Herbert: he renounced the World in a sedate Anglican manner.
    17. When religion is in the hands of natural man, he, [and it] are the worse for it. It adds his own dark fire and helps inflame his four elements of selfishness and envy, pride and wrath.
    18. The Middle Ages: questions that could not be answered theologically were held as negligible. The Enlightenment: questions answers that could not be answered scientifically were more and more held to be worthless.
    18.The Ruling Class: within, witty and cultured; without, the heavyweight of self indulgent cruelty, luxury and tyranny.

    Good stuff, I hope you agree!

  • I like number 10, if we're picking favourites :smile:
  • RockyRoger wrote: »
    Lockdown does have some benefits: I have finished Williams' 'Descent of the Dove', his idiosyncratic history of the Christian church in the West. What an academic historian would make of it I dread to think, but for me it was full of interesting observations, many of which are pertinent to our troubled times Below are just a few of his gems I jotted down and thought worth shearing in this thread:

    1. The wise man thinks many things he would do well to keep to himself.
    2.There is a difference between knowing and believing.
    4. The conviction of wisdom is the plague of mankind.

    I sense a strong anti-Trinitarian bias in his thinking. :smiley:

    Interesting stuff, thanks.

  • I disagree with #2. From within they are indistinguishable.
  • mousethief, I think it's a matter of self awareness; by choosing to believe an area of human culture can be explored. There are so many things we don't know - cannot prove - to be true, but by accepting them (being aware of what we are doing) we can flourish.
Sign In or Register to comment.