November 12, 2003
"Wheeler in Hell," or "Charles Williams is the Man!"
Wilfred Bohun: "How do you know all this? Are you a devil?"
Father Brown: "I am a man, and therefore have all devils in my heart."
That quote has nothing to do with anything. It just struck me, so it's there. In other book-related news:
I finished Many Dimensions earlier this week. What an incredible book . . . I only have to read two of the novels from The Charles Williams Reader, but I'll certainly be reading all three. As far as the premise of the book goes, amazon.com has a pretty good summary:
"Imagine Raiders of the Lost Ark set in 20th-century London, and then imagine it written by a man steeped not in Hollywood movies but in Dante and the things of the spirit, and you might begin to get a picture of Charles Williams's novel Many Dimensions. The plot turns on the discovery of the magical Stone of Solomon, through which one can move at will through space, time, and thought. Those who think they can manipulate the stone to serve their own ends, however, find to their horror that, as Jesus once ironically said, "they have their reward." While the story clearly deals with the extraordinary, through his humorous and loving depiction of his British characters Williams more deeply shows us the spiritual reality that lies inside the ordinary."
Williams requires that his readers be very well-read if they want to understand all of the layers of his work. I'm not, in all probability, well-read enough to catch everything, but the most important (and most humorous) references he makes are chiefly Biblical. The final piece of dialogue requires a familiarity with Ecclesiastes, for instance. The book was a very fun and reasonably easy read for the first 240 pages or so. I had to slow down quite a bit for the last thirty pages. This was not because of any decrease in quality, quite the opposite, rather I found it necessary to read slowly, and re-read a few passages in order to fully understand everything that was taking place.
Random quote that made me laugh: "'I'm not going to let that woman out of my sight,' Sheldrake said. 'Where she goes I go.'
'Her people shall be thy people and her gods thy gods,' Oliver murmured. 'Sudden conversion of a millionaire. The call of the old home. Way down on the Swanee River. O Dixie, my Dixie, our fearful trip is done.'
'O, go to the devil!'" *The greedy millionaire is merely pursuing his own gain, but Oliver hilariously finishes his sentence with a quote from Ruth and then launches into a hymn, twisting the meaning in an entirely different direction. The millionaire is not amused.*
Random quote that made me stop and think: "He said, in a voice shaken beyond his wont, 'Do you know what you must do?'
She looked at him with a docile content. 'I have nothing at all to do,' she said, and the Hajji cried suddenly aloud, 'Blessed for ever be the Resignation of the elect.'" *A shocking, arresting, impossible-to-ignore Calvinistic reference, which I hadn't expected at all, and coming from a Muslim fanatic, which I expected even less.*
My one word review: "Transcendent."
I have begun (and am now a good way into) the second book I am reading by Williams: War in Heaven. It's a modern-day Grail quest (or Graal, as Williams spells it). It's quite good so far. The guy wrote deep Indiana Jones stories. Only he did it first, and he did it better.
A thought occured to me last night. I am currently reading seven books. That may seem a bit ridiculous to some of you. It seems ridiculous enough to me. I didn't plan it that way, it has simply happened. I have been unable to put off the reading of certain books, and I have been unable to clear out some the old books fast enough to make room for the new. I hope to have wittled it down by at least one over the course of the weekend.
The thing that struck me, though, was the fact that of the books I am reading, three of them are for the moment (or soon will be) chiefly concerned with Hell. I am in the midst of Dante's Inferno (yes, still) crawling desperately through the Malebolges (the 8th level of Hell, reserved for the fraudulent and the malicious). At the same time I am working my way through Milton's Paradise Lost. I've just begun that one fairly recently. At the moment, Satan (the star of the show, in many ways) is rallying his troops in the depths of Hell after they have been hurled down from Heaven. And, as soon as I finish War in Heaven (which needs to be done by Monday), I'll be reading Williams's Descent into Hell. The Hell in that novel is mostly figurative, but no less real or terrifying.
So, half of the books I'm reading are set in Hell, and all of those happen to be books I'm reading in relation to schoolwork (though not for any specific class . . . I'm going beyond the requirements in each case). I wonder what I ought to do to balance out the inordinate amount of time I'm spending on the wrong side of the theological tracks. Reading Father Brown mysteries helps, certainly. And racing pell-mell through the Bible in a semester for Bib Lit should lend some extra weight to the proper side, I suppose. Besides, none of the Hell books is particularly obsessed with Hell, as I'm sure you'll recognize. We'll just have to see that I don't get obsessed with it due to the heavy dosage . . . Meanwhile, I'm having loads of fun and reading loads of good books. And on that note, I think I'll go read some more, because I have lots to do. Farewell for now.