Saturday, March 25, 2006
Charles and the Ring
Somewhere I read that March 25 corresponds to the Shire calendar day when Gollum and the Ring of Power toppled into Mount Doom, thereby unmaking Sauron and freeing Middle Earth. Sauron's kingdom was later auctioned off, becoming the Mordor Pitch and Putt. (For a proper Trilogy send-up, I suggest the Harvard Lampoon's 1969 "Bored of the Rings.")
In any case, I've had Tolkien and his peers on my mind for the last two weeks, ever since a member of my writing group lent me a book on "The Inklings." The Inklings were a mid-20th Century literary group in Oxford. Very distinguished. Among others, the Inklings featured J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Charles S. Williams. Novelist Dorothy L. Sayers, though not a member, hung with the Inklings and is said to have dogged Charles S. Williams until he explained Dante and Beatrice to her. Zany cut-ups, these English writers.
Tolkien, of course, wrote "The Hobbit" and the "The Lord of the Rings." C.S. Lewis wrote "The Chronicles of Narnia." And Charles S. Williams wrote some strange spooky fiction. (He also wrote numerous plays, poems, and critiques, but they weren't all that strange and spooky.) Williams took genres such as detective fiction and wove in heavy metaphysical elements. For example, "War in Heaven" opens like a murder mystery but we learn the Holy Grail has been discovered in a small English church. A race is on as various parties seek the Grail for its supernatural powers. (A bit like "Raiders of the Lost Ark" only 51 years earlier.)
Williams' books are dense as a neutron star. But there is something eerie and compelling in his work, as if he were able to part the veil and render events beyond our temporal senses. The closest comparison I can make is to the film, "The Others." Charles S. Williams leaves you convinced there's more to life — and death — than you'd normally care to dwell on.
His novels never really sold. But they're still in print. Williams, who worked as an editor for Oxford Press and taught classes in literature, died in 1945 at age 57. If I get through more of his books, I'll let you know.