War in Heaven (II)

They went from the dining-room to a small room next to Gregory's bedroom, which he unlocked with a key he carried on his own chain. There appeared in it only a cabinet in one corner, two or three cushions dropped beside it, and a low pedestal of wood in the centre on which lay an oblong slab of stone. On this slab stood two candlesticks, around the pedestal, at a good distance, had been drawn a white circle, in which at one point was a small gap. Before he entered the room Gregory had fetched the Graal from its corner; he passed through the gap, set it upright on the slab between the candlesticks, and turned to Sir Giles.

"You'd better sit down at once," he said, "and I should recommend you to keep within the circle. There are curious forces released sometimes on these occasions."

"I know all about that," Sir Giles said, as he brought two of the cushions into the circle, also taking care to pass through the gap. "I saw a man once in Ispahan who looked as if he'd been unable to breathe once he got outside. Atmospheric disturbances, but why? Why does your purely subjective industry disturb the air? Well, never mind. I won't say a word more." He settled himself comfortably on his cushions over against one of the shorter sides of the pedestal. Gregory went over to the cabinet, and there first changed from the clothes he was wearing into a white cassock, marked with esoteric signs. He then brought from it an antique vessel, from which he poured what was apparently wine into the Graal till it all but brimmed. He brought also a short rod and laid it on the slab in front of the Graal; he arranged and lit at what appeared to be the back of the altar a chafing-dish containing herbs and powders, scattered other powders upon it, and came back to the front of the altar. Lastly, with great care, he brought to it from the cabinet a parchment inscribed with names and writings, and a small paper from which he let fall on to the wine in the Graal what appeared to Sir Giles to be a few short hairs.

He considered the arrangements, went back and closed the cabinet, re-entered the circle, took the rod from the altar, and, bending down, with a strong concentration of countenance, closed the gap, drawing the rod slowly as if with an effort against the path of the sun. He came to the front of the altar, and immersed himself in a profound silence.

Sir Giles, curled upon the cushions, watched him intently, noting every change in his face and the growing remoteness of his eyes. Almost an hour had passed before those eyes, seeming to stir of their own volition, lowered themselves from the darkness of the room to the Graal standing in the steady light of the two candles. Very slowly he stretched his hands over the chalice and began to speak. Sir Giles, straining his ears, caught only an occasional phrase.

Charles Williams
War In Heaven - Chapter 7 “Adrian”

In Charles Williams’ supernatural thriller War in Heaven, an exquisitely constructed story pits three good characters against three evil ones in the protection and attempted destruction, respectively, of the Holy Graal (old spelling of Grail), discovered in the English village of Fardles, or Castra Parvulorum, the Camp of the Children. Caught in the center of this drama is a generic family: a worried father and husband; a cheerful mother and wife; their innocent four-year-old son.

As a prologue to this battle between Heaven and Hell, set in the inter-war years of Williams’ present day, we are introduced to a murder, a publishing house, and the murderer himself, with a nod to the conventions of the English mystery. The first line of the Prelude reads, with its underlying humor:

“The telephone bell was ringing wildly, but without result, since there was no-one in the room but the corpse.”

Soon, however, the characters gather around the body and we see into their souls, and the war begins.

(Christine Sutherland)

A Requiem Mass

In September 1973, Father John Tolkien celebrated a Requiem Mass for his father at the Church of St. Anthony of Padua, in Oxford. JRR Tolkien was buried next to his wife Edith in a Catholic cemetery just outside Oxford at Wolvercote. He may have penned his own epitaph in 1956, shortly after The Lord of the Rings was published, when he wrote: “I am a Christian, and indeed a Roman Catholic, so I do not expect ‘history’ to be anything but a long defeat — though it contains (and in a legend may contain more clearly and movingly) some samples or glimpses of final victory.”

This sense of exile was present in The Lord of the Rings. At the end of the story many of the heroes travel, quietly and alone, to the Grey Havens, a harbour containing ships to take passengers on a one-way voyage away from Middle-Earth. Against all odds good has triumphed, but at a cost. Some of the travellers are scarred by evil, others by sorrow. The boat slips anchor and fades into the darkness, leaving in its wake a glimmer of light, which in turn disappears. A sense of melancholy prevails.

Of Beren & Lúthien

Lúthien, called 'Lúthien Tinuviel' by Beren (Nightingale, daughter of twilight in Sindarin), was the fairest of the elven maids of Beleriand, and lived in the First Age of the Sun before the War of Wrath. Her story and fate is tied inevitably to Beren son of Barahir, with whom she fell in love when he wandered into Doriath. Lúthien Tinuviel was daughter of the great King Thingol of Doriath, greatest of the Teleri elves, who would not give his daughter freely, especially to a mortal man. So, Upon Thingol's discovery of Beren's presence in his land, he sent for him and, having sworn not to harm the man, set before him a quest to recover a Silmaril from Morgoth's iron crown. Upon the successful completion of this quest, Beren would be allowed to marry Lúthien, as they desired.

So, Beren set out upon his quest while Lúthien, imprisoned by Melian the Queen of Doriath to stop her from following Beren into hell, devised a means of escape from her prison in order to follow her love. Beren travelled to Nargothrond and there gained the help of King Felagund while gaining strong enemies in the Sons of Feanor (q.v.). Beren and the party left Nargothrond and travelled north disguised as orcs until they came to Wizard's Isle and were imprisoned by Thu (Sauron), Lord of Wolves. Lúthien flees Doriath to help Beren and, with the help of Haun, great hound of the Valar, they destroy Wizard's Isle and free Beren (Felagund and his companions had died in captivity at the hands of Thu's wolves).

Beren and Lúthien wander until they approach Doriath and Beren steals away from Lúthien while she sleeps and goes to Angband to fulfill his quest. Before approaching Thangorodrim Lúthien and Huan once again find him and, with the help of Lúthien's elvish magic, they approach Angband in the guise of a werewolf and bat. They enter Angband and steal a Silmaril from Morgoth's crown while he is enchanted by Lúthien. Beren loses the stone, however, when the great wolf Carcharas bites off the hand of Beren that holds the Silmaril. It is regained, however, in Doriath, when Carcharas is killed by Huan and Beren in the end fulfills his quest to Thingol.


To Charles Williams

Your death blows a strange bugle call, friend, and all is hard
To see plainly or record truly. The new light imposes change,
Re-adjusts all a life-landscape as it thrusts down its probe from the sky,
To create shadows, to reveal waters, to erect hills and deepen glens.
The slant alters. I can't see the old contours. It's a larger world
Than I once thought it. I wince, caught in the bleak air that blows on
the ridge.
Is it the first sting of the great winter, the world-waning? Or the cold of

A hard question and worth talking a whole night on.
But with whom? Of whom now can I ask guidance? With what friend concerning your death
Is it worth while to exchange thoughts unless—oh unless it were you?

CS Lewis
Poems (Bles 1964)

War on Terror?

[Image: 'The Bomber in the Corn' - Paul Nash]

The the anniversary of the first bombing of London in September 1940, and today being the anniversary of '9/11', perhaps an opportune time to hear a passage from a talk which C.S. Lewis gave in Oxford during the Second World War.

Still applicable to the ‘War on Terror’ in the 21st Century?

"The war creates no absolutely new situation: it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it. Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice. Human culture has always had to exist under the shadow of something infinitely more important than itself. If men had postponed the search for knowledge and beauty until they were secure, the search would have never begun... we are mistaken when we compare war to 'normal life.' Life has never been normal. Even those periods we think most tranquil, like the nineteenth century, turn out on closer inspection, to be full of crises, alarms, difficulties, emergencies."

Learning in War-Time – CS Lewis

War in Heaven

The telephone bell was ringing wildly, but without result, since there was no-one in the room but the corpse.

A few moments later there was. Lionel Rackstraw, strolling back from lunch, heard in the corridor the sound of the bell in his room, and, entering at a run, took up the receiver. He remarked, as he did so, the boots and trousered legs sticking out from the large knee-hole table at which he worked, but the telephone had established the first claim on his attention.

"Yes," he said, "yes...No, not before the 17th...No, who cares what he wants?...No, who wants to know?...Oh, Mr. Persimmons. Oh, tell him the 17th...Yes...Yes, I'll send a set down."

He put the receiver down and looked back at the boots.

It occurred to him that someone was probably doing something to the telephone; people did, he knew, at various times drift in on him for such purposes. But they usually looked round or said something; and this fellow must have heard him talking. He bent down towards the boots.

"Shall you be long?" he said into the space between the legs and the central top drawer; and then, as there was no answer, he walked away, dropped hat and gloves and book on to their shelf, strolled back to his desk, picked up some papers and read them, put them back, and, peering again into the dark hole, said more impatiently, "Shall you be long?"

No voice replied; not even when, touching the extended foot with his own, he repeated the question. Rather reluctantly he went round to the other side of the table, which was still darker, and, trying to make out the head of the intruder, said almost loudly: "Hallo! hallo! What's the idea?" Then, as nothing happened, he stood up and went on to himself: "Damn it all, is he dead?" and thought at once that he might be.

That dead bodies did not usually lie round in one of the rooms of a publisher's offices in London about half-past two in the afternoon was a certainty that formed now an enormous and cynical background to the fantastic possibility. He half looked at the door which he had closed behind him, and then attempted the same sort of interior recovery with which he had often thrown off the knowledge that at any moment during his absence his wife might be involved in some street accident, some skidding bus or swerving lorry. These things happened--a small and unpleasant, if invisible, deity who lived in a corner of his top shelves had reminded him--these things happened, and even now perhaps... People had been crushed against their own front doors; there had been a doctor in Gower Street. Of course, it was all untrue. But this time, a she moved to touch the protruding feet, he wondered if it were.

Charles Williams
The Prelude (Chapter One)
War in Heaven (1930)

War in Heaven - A review

Describing a terrifyingly subtle warfare waged among mere humanity. Written by the least known (and perhaps least appreciated) of the triumvirate of Oxford Dons (Tolkien, CS Lewis and Charles Williams), Williams nevertheless deserves credit for his gripping characterisations of terrifying bleak and quiet evil operating in a deceptively normal appearing world.

War in Heaven was the first of a series of books that dealt with the concept of ordinary individuals thrust into extraordinary circumstances, caught in the line of fire between Heaven and Hell. Short enough to make for a good afternoon’s read, this book is especially haunting in its description of how ordinary and mundane the appearance of true evil could be, and yet with none of its destructive impact attenuated by this veneer of civility and normalcy. It also describes how characters with which one might easily identify, ‘ordinary’ folk, can be swept up in the maelstrom of evils intent, attacked in vile and yet also nasty petty little ways, all compelled by a most foul yet cold hatred for humanity, simply because that humanity is also the focus of Divine intent as well.

Finally, Williams wonderfully captures the subtlety of an all compelling and inexorable Divine intent, never flashy, never pyrotechnical yet undeniable, and unstoppable in it's progression, a true presentation of a God so big, He doesn't have to make a really big show of His efforts.

In some respects, Williams was better at describing the subtle monstrousness of evil than either of his two compatriots (although C.S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters came very close). Avoiding the pitfalls often seen in other's attempts to describe Cosmic Conflict using Angelic or Demonic beings, Williams had no problem using mere humanity as the effective agents of both evil and Divinity. He did not have to interview God or Satan to grasp the essence of their activities in the material universe.

If Stephen King were a protestant theologian, he would write stories like this. I recommend you buy this one first, then get the others in chronological order, and delve deeply into a world where both evil and Divine intent wage total war among us, and through us, and for us...while most of us wander through the blasted battle field mostly (and disturbingly) unaware.

Charles Williams - WAR IN HEAVEN is available in all good bookshops and on Kindle