This is the fourth in a series of guest posts written by readers of The Place of the Lion, one of CW’s great novels. Most of these posts assume the reader’s familiarity with The Place of the Lion, so you might want to read the novel first. You can find it here and here.
Today’s post is by John Fitzgerald. Here is his self-introduction.
Hi, I’m John Fitzgerald. I’m currently working towards a Masters degree in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University. My novel in progress, All Saints – set in Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds – explores the point where religion, mythology and storytelling meet and intersect in daily urban life.
The first book I read by Charles Williams was All Hallows’ Eve in 1994. CW has remained a pivotal influence on my thought and imagination, especially in terms of the understanding and finesse with which he depicts the balance and relationship between the numinous and the everyday.
As part of my degree I need to hold a “Teaching Creative Writing” workshop. I am hoping to run a class centred around Williams and C.S. Lewis, with their novels serving as springboards or ‘triggers’ for our own poems, short stories or novels.
I’ve already written a similar response to War in Heaven on my blog. There is also a piece on The Voyage of the Dawn Treader as well as reflections on a variety of writers who portray the interaction (and occasional collision) of different worlds and levels: Alan Garner, William Golding, Elizabeth Bowen and more. You can also read some free-standing pieces of my own.
It seemed that at any moment one was going to be able to walk right though the screen of surface appearances, as through a mirror, into a strangely violent but exalted world of poetry and revolution.
David Gascoyne, Collected Journals, 1936-42.
The Place of the Lion contains little in the way of characterisation and psychological depth. It is not that kind of book. But this is by no means to suggest that Williams’s fourth novel is in any way a shallow or a trivial read. Quite the reverse. It is a ‘novel of ideas’, certainly, but also a carefully crafted work of art centred around the power and reality of ideas themselves. It is about ideas in a way that most twentieth and twenty-first century literature, with its tendency to foreground human emotion and sensibility, is not. It is about ideas in the raw.
Viewed from another angle, however, one could construct a case that the human condition is central to the text’s concerns. The story explores, in sixteen tightly-knit chapters, the turn events might take were angelic intelligences to break through from the archetypal realm and start disturbing the everyday commerce of the safe, predictable world human beings have built to keep them at bay.
How men and women react to this rupture – how imaginatively (or not) we respond to the challenge – is always germane. It will never be far from the heart of the matter:
“You’re doing what Marcellus warned you against,” Richardson said, “judging them by English pictures. All nightgowns and body and a kind of flacculent sweetness. As in cemeteries, with broken bits of marble. These are Angels – not a bit the same thing. These are the principles of the tiger and the volcano and the flaming suns of space.”
What follows, as the narrative develops, is nothing less than the collapse, re-imagination and re-integration of an entire world.
The clash of levels, collision of worlds, and ensuing discordance, portrayed in The Place of the Lion, occurs more frequently (if less dramatically) in our own lives than we might think. Illness, bereavement, redundancy, any kind of trauma or emergency, or – alternatively – experiences of joy, love, harmony and connection, can strip us of our ego-centred defences and open us up to what reality might be like at deeper, more essential levels.
The moral of the novel, if there is one, might be for us to try and remember (though it’s hard to think straight when worlds collide) never to batten down hatches, curl in on ourselves and drift aimlessly with the flow. Better always to dig deep, kindle our specifically human qualities – integrity, faith, creativity – and map these onto the world, as best as we can and in concert with others, as Damaris, Anthony and Richardson are compelled to do in the book.
‘Human kind cannot bear very much reality,’ wrote T.S. Eliot in Burnt Norton. He was right. It bites. But, as Williams shows, here and elsewhere, that need not always be a bad thing.
“You’ll never be comfortable,” says Anthony to Damaris. “But you may be glorious.”
by John Fitzgerald