Descent Into Hell ★★✬☆☆


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Title: Descent Into Hell
Series: ———-
Author: Charles Williams
Rating: 2.5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Christian Fiction
Pages: 178
Words: 73.5K



Synopsis:

From Wikipedia

The action takes place in Battle Hill, outside London,[1] amidst the townspeople’s staging of a new play by Peter Stanhope. The hill seems to reside at the crux of time, as characters from the past appear, and perhaps at a doorway to the beyond, as characters are alternately summoned Heavenwards or descend into Hell.

Pauline Anstruther, the heroine of the novel, lives in fear of meeting her own doppelgänger, which has appeared to her throughout her life. But Stanhope, in an action central to the author’s own theology, takes the burden of her fears upon himself—Williams called this the Doctrine of Substituted Love—and enables Pauline, at long last, to face her true self. Williams drew this idea from the biblical verse, “Ye shall bear one another’s burdens”[2]

And so, Stanhope does take the weight, with no surreptitious motive, in the most affecting scene in the novel, and Pauline, liberated, is able to accept truth.

On the other hand, Lawrence Wentworth, a local historian, finding his desire for Adela Hunt to be unrequited, falls in love instead with a spirit form of Adela, which seems to represent a kind of extreme self-love on his part. As he isolates himself more and more with this insubstantial figure, and dreams of descending a silver rope into a dark pit, Wentworth begins the descent into Hell.

The book ends with Wentworth reaching the bottom of the rope and realizing all understanding has been taken from him and that he is truly alone. There is no way for him to climb the rope back up. He is lost.

My Thoughts:

I had to think long and hard about what to write about this book. Unlike the other Williams’ book I read, this came across as poetic, mystical bushwah. The closest thing I can accept for poetry is Patricia McKillip’s writing. Anything else, I toss it out the door as useless trash.

A poet and playwright forms the bones of this book and I should have known from the get go that it was going to be half-finished sentences, unspoken thoughts, all that kind of garbage that people seem to think is mystical and too wonderful for words.

It also didn’t help that I am strongly against some of the theology presented by Williams, namely that Hell is some sort of internalized thingamajig instead of a literal lake of flame and eternal fires and that people can affect events in the past or future directly from their timeline. While God may encompass all of time, we certainly don’t and while Hell might be described stylistically, it is most definitely a real place with real utter torment.

Overall, I just waded my through this, wondering if I should read any more by him. I’m hoping to do a buddy-read with one or two people from Librarything in a couple of months on one of Williams’ books, but after that, I’m done. Williams puts his mysticism on full display here and I won’t be bothering to look anymore. Tell me what you mean as plainly as possible, don’t dance around in circles and avoid the point.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

War in Heaven ★★★☆½

This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission
Title: War in Heaven
Author: Charles Williams
Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 211
Words: 81K

Synopsis:

From Enotes.com

War in Heaven is a novel concerned with the struggle over possession of a chalice that the characters believe is the Holy Grail, the cup from which Jesus drank at the Last Supper. A cup that could be this holy relic turns up in England in the twentieth century. Julian Davenant, the archdeacon of the Fardles village church, tries to protect it and prevent it from falling in to the wrong hands. In contrast, Gregory Persimmons, a retired businessman, strives to possess it and uses its power for black magic. Ultimately, the forces of good prevail, and Gregory is punished.

Two possibly unrelated events begin the novel. First, an unidentified corpse is found at the publishing firm that Gregory owns. Second, the contents of a manuscript at the firm are revealed, suggesting that the Grail is in the Fardles church. Gregory begins to obsess over the Grail. Renting a house in the Fardles area, he tries to buy the chalice and then pays to have it stolen; during the theft, Julian is attacked. Gregory also lures the Rackstraw family to his new residence, with the plan to kidnap their four-year-old son, Adam, and use him in black magic.

Aided by the Duke of North Ridings and Kenneth Mornington, Julian locates the chalice in Gregory’s home and steals it. Taking it to London, Julian hides in the Duke’s home. His prayers protect it from the evil spells that Gregory’s accomplices, Manasseh and Lavrodopoulos, are putting on it to destroy it. Gregory injures Barbara, Adam’s mother; poisons her; and brings in a “doctor” Manasseh, who will worsen her ill health while pretending to cure her. Julian agrees to exchange the chalice for Barbara’s health, for which they pray all night. A mysterious stranger, John, arrives in Fardles just as she is cured; he is Prester John of Arthurian myth.

In London, occult forces kill Mornington and threaten Julian, who is captured and tied up to be ritually killed. The combined positive forces emanating from the Grail and the actions of Prester John, who arrives in the nick of time, save Julian. Moreover, Gregory is arrested after confessing to an unsolved murder that had set the novel in motion. Back in Fardles, Prester John celebrates mass at the church; both he and the Grail disappear, and Julian dies in peace on the altar.

My Thoughts:

Christian Mysticism. What C.S. Lewis is with his Narnia and Space Trilogy to Fantasy and Science Fiction, that is what Williams is to Mysticism. Not being an advocate for, a believer in, or even a fan of, mysticism, this was a hard book to get through.

I was discussing this with Pilgrim over at Librarything and ended up saying this about the book part way through:

I guess part of it is that the idea that God’s Power can imbue an object and then be used willy nilly, by anybody. While there are a few instances that spring to mind of that happening in the Bible (Elisha’s bones raising the dead man and Peter’s hankerchief healing people) most of the miracles were directly tied to a prophet on a mission. Gahazi couldn’t use Elisha’s staff to raise the dead woman’s son, the river didn’t heal all the lepers only Naaman, etc.

I guess I reject mysticism because I view it as a way to use God’s power through our own power (incantations, etc) instead of it being something that God’s does through us. I certainly do believe in miracles and I do believe in magic. I just don’t see how a Christian can think of miracles in the same vein as magic.

I reject with every fiber of my being the idea of there being White and Black Magic. God’s Power is not magic and the power of Satan and the fallen spirits is corrupted and its final goal is the damnation of the user and recipient.

While Williams makes it impossible for Persimmons to use the Grail himself, Persimmons manages to get around that by using the child Adrian. Of course, it backfires, but still, the idea that an evil person can use an object of Holiness for the “power” contained therein just rubs me completely the wrong way. Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark is a perfect example of this idea in our popular culture. The idea that Nazi’s could harness the power of the Ark, the very seat of God on Earth, for themselves is simply abhorrent to me. It also displays a shocking lack of understanding on the subject. Williams understands the theology behind what he’s writing, it is just that he and I disagree on the interpretation.

That led me into my other main issue. The boy Adrian. Persimmons makes it his mission to win the child so he can use him as a conduit for the Graal (everybody referred to it as the Graal instead of the Holy Grail. I have no idea why) and in the back of his mind is that Adrian would also either make a pefect Disciple of Satan or a fantastic sacrifice after being used by Persimmons. I had to stop reading and ask Pilgrim if Adrian was going to be ok before I could go on. Thankfully, everything WAS ok, but the leadup to that was very ominous and not something I enjoyed contemplating. Kids in danger, physical or spiritual, is something I don’t handle well.

At the same time, I thoroughly enjoyed reading a book about Christians and the working out of everything through a Christian world view. While I gave it the Fantasy tag, it is way closer to real life than I’d ever be truly comfortable with. I’ve got several more of Williams books available to me and I think I’ll add them to my tbr, just further down the line.

I realize my complaints got more time than the positives, but this books deserves those 3.5stars. The fact that I plan on reading more Williams cements in my mind that this WAS a good read.

★★★☆½