Charles Williams

Charles Williams

Charles Williams

Charles Williams

Excerpt

C HARLES WILLIAMS died in 1945, yet, even after the lapse of some ten years, it is very difficult to arrive at a balanced estimate of his place in modern English literature. Criticism has, indeed, largely neglected him; and in particular it has neglected that part of his work, the later poems, by which he would certainly have wished primarily to be judged. There appear, however, to be signs that interest in his work is steadily growing, especially among the younger generation, though it is probably for his prose fiction that he is best known. His novels are 'metaphysical thrillers', in which the supernatural always plays a prominent part. They belong, broadly, to the same literary genre as the stories of Sheridan Le Fanu (in Through a Glass Darkly ), Arthur Machen, Algernon Blackwood, and M. R. James. This is a tradition of English writing (an offshoot, really, of the earlier tradition of the 'Gothic' romance, of which the detective story is another offshoot) which, whatever its entertainment value, criticism does not feel called upon to take very seriously. Witchcraft, converse between the living and the spirits of the dead, a magic stone that can transport you at will in time and space, the images of the Tarot pack, a modern quest for the Holy Grail--these, surely, are things which may entertain our fancy, even produce a pleasurable shudder of a winter's evening--but have nothing to do with our rational, day to day experience, and hence cannot form the material of serious literature.

Yet the reader, encountering the properties I have mentioned above in the pages of a novel by Charles Williams, quickly becomes conscious of a factor which distinguishes his work from that of other writers of this kind. The supernatural is being taken seriously, and is being brought disconcertingly close to our own experience. Magic is seen, not as something which may provide a fanciful escape from a dull reality, but, at least image of something which is part . . .

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