Charles Williams: Poet of Theology

Reviewed by:

G. Connor Salter, Professional Writing alumnus from Taylor University, Upland, IN.

Title:

Charles Williams: Poet of Theology

Author:

Glen Cavaliero

Publisher:

Wipf and Stock

Publication Date:

May 1, 2007 (original edition published 1983)

Format:

Paperback

Length:

199 pages

OVERVIEW

Sometimes referred to as “The Third Inkling” or the “The Odd Inkling,” Charles Williams was part of the Oxford group where C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and other friends met to share their work and discuss ideas. While Lewis in particular loved Williams’ work, few people remember Williams today outside of Inklings scholarship circles. Glen Cavaliero overviews Williams’ work, arguing that the key to understanding him to see him as an essentially theological writer like C.S Lewis or G.K. Chesterton. However, Williams’ unusual style and themes make his works more poetic and perhaps mystical than either of those writers. Cavaliero breaks his discussion down into chapters on several key areas:

  • Life
  • Early Poetry
  • Criticism, Biography and Plays
  • Novels
  • Arthurian Poems
  • Theology

As Cavaliero considers the main ideas that Williams explored in different mediums, he shows how the ideas connect to the rest of Williams’ oeuvre.

Actor Christopher Lee commented in his autobiography that fantasy author Mervyn Peake’s work is “unique and brilliant, a kind of oxbow off the mainstream of English writing.” This observation could equally apply to Charles Williams. Cavalierio shows over and over how Williams has a distinct writing style and unusual vision. Much of Williams’ work fits into recognized categories – like C.S Lewis he wrote theology, like Tennyson he wrote Arthurian poetry, and like Dennis Wheatley he wrote “occult thriller” novels. However, it’s clear that Williams approached the material in ways that make his books very different from the rest of the genre. For example, Caveliero notes that most Arthurian poets give a contemporary edge to their work (Victorian poems depict the knights like Victorian people, etc.), but Williams avoids that and aims for something more outside time. Similarly, Williams’ novels are all stories about people coming against bizarre supernatural events or entities, but his concept of evil ultimately being redirected to good as part of God’s grand design (the “co-inherence” that connects all creation together) makes these novels very different from his contemporaries.

Although Cavaliero doesn’t necessarily “make Williams more accessible” (which would probably involve dumbing his work down), he does show what makes Williams’ work so fascinating. He particularly does a very good job of integrating Williams’ work together, showing how his novels and poetry and theology are all parts of a whole that communicate the same themes.

A well-written overview of an underrated writer.

ASSESSMENT

Rating (1 to 5 stars)

4.5 stars

Suggested Audience

Readers interested in Charles Williams, particularly with an emphasis on the theological themes in his work.

Christian Impact

Cavaliero unpacks the religious themes that were important to Williams, and in doing so shows how although Williams had a more eccentric view of faith than most 20th-century writers, his main themes were orthodox and quite compelling.

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