Thursday, October 31, 2013

All Hallows' Eve

Cover from 1980 edition
All Hallows' Eve, by Charles Williams

These days, Charles Williams is not terribly well-known, but he was really kind of famous as a writer and unusual historian in his day.  He was an editor at Oxford University Press and an Inkling, and C. S. Lewis was one of his greatest admirers.  Williams wrote several novels that are just about unlike anything else I've ever read; T. S. Eliot called them supernatural thrillers, but they are not at all what you and I would expect to find if we went looking for supernatural thrillers.  Williams' novels feature spiritual elements made manifest in the contemporary world, and concern the misuse of power and the state of the soul.  They are intensely Christian, though they rarely mention that word and are, again, nothing like what you would expect from a Christian novel.  If you've ever read Lewis' Space Trilogy and were completely baffled by That Hideous Strength, that's the book that Lewis is supposed to have tried to write in a Williams style.  I really like it, but I may be one of the oddball few.

All Hallows' Eve starts with Lester, who is dead.  She and her best friend have been killed by an accident, just at the end of the war too. Lester finds herself in London, but a different London--the City that is not quite the same as the one she knew.  Meanwhile, her husband Richard and his friend Jonathan are meeting a man hailed as a great spiritual leader, the only man to heal the world: Simon the Clerk.  Simon is in fact a black magician--a sort of anti-Christ, though that word never appears--and he is trying to take over the world by using both the physical and spiritual realms.  On All Hallows' Eve, the characters (dead and alive)
must act together to try to stop him.

This is Williams' last novel, written in 1945, and may be a pretty good entry point to his books.  It is not as densely and weirdly symbolic as the others I've read (but I've only read two!) and is probably easier to understand.  As with all Williams novels, it is quite short.

I would very much like to read all of the novels and then go on to some history and other writing.  He considered his best work to be his complex poetic works about Arthur, which would probably break my brain just like Eliot does, but I plan to try one of these days.

If you're interested, all of Charles Williams' novels are now available on Kindle for $2.99 each, and I snapped up several.  They are not easy to get in print, after all.  However, there is something wrong with the files--the last couple of letters of every line disappear into the margin.  This is true no matter how you have the type size or margins or orientation set.  You can see it in the samples.  I did a customer service chat about it and managed to stump 3 tech support people in a row!  They say it should get fixed sometime (I'm presuming it's some problem with the files' margin settings), so if you want to read them, either check in every so often to see if it's fixed, or resign yourself to an annoying-but-not-fatal impediment to your reading enjoyment.  I found that if I set it to pretty small type, so as to get as much text as possible into each line, it wasn't too bad.


Ekaterina Egorova said...

How come I've never heard of him? O_o Sounds really interesting! I don't have a Kindle, but it's old so there must be some free electronic editions somewhere... I'll look for them.

Amateur Reader (Tom) said...

Very interesting. I read War in Heaven a long time ago and wondered what else is out there.

I am surprised there has not been a revival. Neil Gaiman surely read these books.

Jean said...

Ekaterina, he was writing in the 1940s, so not that old, but maybe you will find something. I was wrong, btw--the books are 1.99, not 2.99.

Tom, you should try another one! There are 6, I think. And I bet Gaiman did!

Jenny @ Reading the End said...

Oh Jean! I am so excited that you posted about this author. Every successive thing you have said about him appealed to me more and more. The books are available on Nook too (hooray!), apparently without the margin issue, so I'm definitely going to buy one of them.

What were the other two you read by him?

Jean said...

I read The Place of the Lion and War in Heaven. Let me know what you think! I would love to have somebody else read these, and then we could talk!

Faith said...

Sounds really fascinating! Thanks for this review.

Amy said...

Almost every time I visit your blog, I discover an fascinating-sounding author I never heard of. :)

Jean said...

Hey thanks! You do that for me too, I love that we can share.