"War in Heaven" by Charles Williams. A Review
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Oftentimes the mundane and material are perceived as swimming in a closed system, performing and progressing along well defined tracks to a clearly predictable destination; unless the mundane and material are seen through the eyes of the mystically minded. Charles Williams, long-time friend and confidant of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, is such a one. “War in Heaven,” originally published in 1930, and recently republished as a 260 page e-book (Kindle), is an ideal example of Williams’s ability to see the commonplace and corporeal through celestial senses. This particular edition has a new introduction written by admirer Jonathan Ryan.
“War in Heaven” seizes the reader’s interest in the first line, “The telephone was ringing wildly, but without result, since there was no-one in the room but the corpse” (11). From there the story takes the reader from London to Fardles, city to country, and back again as we follow the steps of Gregory Persimmons, the Archdeacon of Castra Parvulorum (also known as Fardles), and their respective compatriots. The storyline swirls around a chalice purported to be the Holy Graal, that just happens to be at the chapel in Fardles under the unwitting care of the Archdeacon. Yet the story is bigger than simply the Graal; it includes murder, conspiracy, intrigue, dark forces, surprising powers, light, darkness, despair and hope. Then it ends, not with a complete shock, but a wonder nonetheless.
Throughout “War in Heaven” Williams slowly brings out the normally unperceived and unseen, penetrating into realms and regions that permeate the present. Like many mystics before him, Williams seems focused on sighting what “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard” (1 Corinthians 2.9) and schooling the reader to join with him. The numinous aspects that lurk behind life and death, stratagems and sincerity, intrigues and integrities seep out into the forefront encouraging us to sense more than the seeable.
“War in Heaven” is a playful read, as well as perplexing at times. There are places where one will likely stub their toe on the uneven pavement. At other times a reader will be brought to reread a paragraph to try and figure out how the story turned that corner. All-in-all, the book was fun to read, with all of its older British humor, pastoral settings, dialogue, and thoughtfulness. You ought to give it a go!
Thanks to Open Road Integrated Media and Net Galley for the free, temporary e-copy of the book used for this review.
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