The Novels of Charles Williams

Reviewed by:

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

Title:

The Novels of Charles Williams

Author:

Thomas Howard (foreword by J.I. Packer)

Publisher:

Wipf and Stock Publishers (original edition by Ignatius Press)

Publication Date:

September 14, 2004 (original edition published 1991)

Format:

Paperback

Length:

298 pages

OVERVIEW

Charles Williams was many things – a poet, a playwright, a lay theologian, a friend of C.S. Lewis and Dorothy Sayers. To many today, he is perhaps best-known for his novels. These novels generally involve people discovering supernatural objects (Tarot cards, the Holy Grail, etc.), so they might be called supernatural thrillers. However, Williams had an eclectic approach that made his novels mystical. He always seemed to be less interested in heroes winning by force, more interested in what they learned about the spiritual world. Thomas Howard guides readers through Williams’ novels, describing their plots, themes, imagery and place in the theological framework that pervades Williams’ work.

This book came out eight years after Charles Williams: Poet of Theology by Glen Cavaliero. Howard agrees with Cavaliero on several points, such as how Williams’ obscure imagery initially makes him hard to ready. However, since Cavaliero covers all of Williams’ work, his thoughts on the novels are condensed. Howard devotes an entire book to the topic and uses that space well. He gives a great overview of each novel, noting its important elements and how it connects to Williams’ other novels. Howard admits in the preface that he could have easily included many more pages unpacking Williams’ imagery and references, but that would be excessive. Howard’s writing style is also simpler and more accessible than Cavaliero’s style. Thus, even when he covers the same ground, his work reads easier.

The afterword, where Howard gives his final thoughts on Williams’ place in English literature, is fascinating on several levels. He suggests that Williams is hard to categorize because he doesn’t fit the major English novel tradition defined by writers like Charles Dickens, James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence, etc. Therefore, Howard argues that readers must face that Williams’ books aren’t “good novels,” but they are still worth reading today. Multiple times, Howard positively contrasts Williams’ novels to comic books, which he feels aren’t literature. This is ironic since when Howard wrote this book, writers like Art Spiegelman, Neil Gaiman, and Alan Moore were making graphic novels (Maus, The Sandman, Watchmen) that convinced the academics they could read comic books as literature. In hindsight then, part of the answer to Howard’s question is the high/low literature line is permeable. This may be especially true of Williams, who credited Sax Rohmer with inspiring him to write novels. Regardless of whether readers agree with Howard’s definition of a “proper novel,” this afterword creates much food for thought.

A great introduction to Charles Williams’ fiction, and an interesting examination of what makes a good book.

ASSESSMENT

Rating (1 to 5 stars)

5 stars

Suggested Audience

Readers seeking a scholarly but accessible overview of Williams’ novels.

Christian Impact

Howard shows how Williams’ novels explore various Christian concepts, particularly his belief in co-inherence (all life being connected within a divine framework).

Note: To read ECLA reviews of other books on Williams, go to:

https://eclalibraries.org/2021/04/24/charles-williams-poet-of-theology/

https://eclalibraries.org/2021/05/15/three-plays-the-early-metaphysical-plays-of-charles-williams/

The Novels of Charles Williams


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