Classics Challenge #10- War in Heaven

Classics Challenge #10- A classic by a new-to-you author

War in Heaven, by Charles Williams

I didn’t know what to expect when I began Charles Williams’ War in Heaven.  I was surprised to find how much it reminded me of C.S. Lewis’ That Hideous Strength.  It almost felt as if one looked over the other’s shoulder during an Inkling meeting and said “a modern apocalyptic with Arthurian elements, eh?  Let me have a go at it!”

In a distance he discerned a shed by the side of the road, broke into a run, and, reaching it, took shelter with a bound with landed him in a shallow puddle lying just within the dark entrance.  “Oh, d–n and blast!”  he cried with a great voice.  “Why was this bl—y world created?” “As a sewer for the stars,” a voice in front of him said.  “Alternatively, to know God and to glorify Him for ever.”-Chapter Eight, Fardles

I finished this book the day before Halloween, which is fitting.  I must admit War in Heaven was disturbing in quite a few places, to the point where I considered abandoning it.  There are struggles for soul and sanity, and not everyone makes it out alive.  The villain is twisted in just about every way.  He thinks nothing of murder, abusing trust, or using the innocent or holy for his own evil ambitions.

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

But I don’t mean to say that this book is all doom and gloom.  There is a theme of despair overcome by hope, and panic overcome by peace.  I also enjoyed the dynamic trio of the Archdeacon, the clerk Kenneth Mornington, and the Duke.  There was an engaging balance of conflict and agreement between the three.  Better yet, their scripts were lyrical- with the Archdeacon’s constant quotations, Mornington and the Duke’s introduction over poetry, and Mornington’s prophetic summary here:

After a few moments he said to Mornington, “I suppose you know what we’re doing?”  “We’re carrying the Sans Graal,”  Mornington said.  “Lancelot and Pelleas and Pellinore — no, that’s not right– Bors and Percivale and Galahad.  The Archdeacon’s Galahad, and you can be Percivale…And I’m Bors… you must be Percival because you’re a poet.  And Bors was an ordinary workaday fellow like me.  On, on to Sarras!”- Chapter Nine, The Flight of the Duke of the North Ridings

As a final note, I was intrigued when Williams introduced his version of Prestor John.  Prestor John has always sparked inspiration, but has also always been impossible to peg down.  He’s been proposed as a ruler in Asia, ruler in Africa, and even– I kid you not– part of the Marvel pantheon.  But in War in Heaven he plays his most unique role yet.  The character of Prestor John sums up my opinions of War in Heaven: In some ways frightening, comforting in the end, but ultimately too philosophical for me to properly grasp.

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