Sunday, January 24, 2016

Simon Magus in the Mirror: The Platypus Reads Part CCXC

I recently finished Grevel Lindop's landmark biography of Charles Williams, Charles Williams: The Third Inkling. It's one of the those books that can only be written when enough people have died. If that doesn't pique your interest, we can go on to "did you knows". Did you know that actor Christopher Lee met and corresponded with Williams during World War II? Did you know that Charles Williams was mainly responsible for the books picked to form the Oxford World Classics series, thus shaping the literary tastes of students across the anglo-phonic world? Did you know that the line "at the still point of the turning world" from the Four Quartets is a reference to Charles' Williams' The Greater Trumps? Did you know that Charles Williams played a major role in promoting the poetic works of Gerard Manley Hopkins? If not, don't be surprised. Williams himself lived with the fear that he would always be a mere footnote to his friends and associated greatness. According to Lindop's interpretation, that fear drove Williams throughout his adult life until he became two persons, the wise, mystic sage represented by Peter Stanhope in Descent Into Hell and the egotistical deviant Wentworth in the same novel. Lindop's chronicle of this bifurcation is one of the sad and revolting stories in 20th Century Christendom. Of course, he being dead and having famous friends, it's easy to want to give Charles Williams a pass. He was an influential GENIUS after all. The real challenge I walked away with after reading Charles Williams: The Third Inkling was to examine the way that contemporary Christians give a pass to all sorts of un-Christian behavior in the name of supporting those with "genius" (see Yoder) or the right connections (see Gothard or Wilson). Williams is dead, but the challenge of dealing with men like him in the churches is all too alive and well. As with Yoder, there also remains the role of assessing the work of Charles Williams in so far as it can be divorced from the evils of the man. How to begin going about that, I don't know, but in his treatment of his subject, Grevel Lindop may show us a way forward. Want to see how he does it? Take up and read!

N.B.- John Mark Reynolds is running an excellent series on detecting and expelling charlatans and grifters at his blog Eidos. For more on Charles Williams and his relationship with the Inklings, see The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings by Philip and Carol Zalenski.

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