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‘There are no novels anywhere quite like them . . . He really believes in what he is talking about.’ That was T. S. Eliot writing about the seven novels of Charles Williams. How to describe them? Again, probably in T. S. Eliot’s words, ‘They may be described as supernatural thrillers; ”popular” novels in the best sense, by a man who had something important and quite individual to say. When we say ”thrillers” we mean that their plots are adventurous and breathless, their scenes sometimes entrancing and sometime horrifying; and when we say ”supernatural” we mean that Williams had a real experience of the supernatural world to communicate. He had a kind of extended spiritual sense: he was like a man who can perceive shades of colour, or hear tones beyond the ordinary range. The theme of all his novels is the struggle between good and evil; and as an interpreter of the mystical experience he was unique in his generation. He excels in descriptions of strange experiences such as many people have had once or twice in their lives and have been unable to put into words. There are pages also which describe, with a frightful clarity, the deterioration and damnation of a human soul; and pages which describe the triumphant struggle towards salvation.
War in Heaven was the first in the sequence, published in 1930, and the most conventional of them. It relates the discovery of The Holy Grail in a country church and of the struggle between good and evil forces to possess it. There are detailed and convincing accounts of black magic. The author belonged to A. E. Waite’s Christian Rosicrucian order, The Fellowship of the Rosy Cross and was therefore conversant with esoteric rites.
All seven novels are being reissued in Faber Finds: War in Heaven, Many Dimensions, The Place of the Lion, The Greater Trumps, Shadows of Ecstasy, Descent into Hell and All Hallows’ Eve.
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