Guest Post 8 on “The Place of the Lion” by David Llewellyn Dodds

The Place of the LionThis is the eighth in a series of guest posts written by readers about The Place of the Lion, one of CW’s great novels. Today’s post is by David Dodds.

While The Place of the Lion is an exciting story from a purely human point of view—with houses falling in, telephone lines down, and conversion to Christianity occurring after an attack by a pterodactyl—the spiritual side of the story is inextricable from these local events. Specifically, the “Angelicals” are essential to the action and the ideas. What are these “Angelicals,” and what is their association to classical concepts, to traditional Christian angels, and to similar beings in the works of the other Inklings? This is the subject matter David Llewellyn Dodds approaches in part, in his contribution to the series.

David Llewellyn Dodds is editor of the Charles Williams and John Masefield volumes in Boydell & Brewer’s Arthurian Poets series. David DoddsWhile on his honeymoon, he delivered a paper concerned with Tolkien’s angels: “Technology and Sub-creation: Tolkien’s Alternative to the Dominant Worldview,” published in Scholarship & Fantasy: Proceedings of The Tolkien Phenomenon, Turku, May 1992, ed. K.J. Battarbee Anglicana Turkuensia No. 12, 1993. He wrote the article on Williams as novelist for the Dictionary of Literary Biography, vol. 153. As Scholar Guest of Honor at Mythcon 32 he spoke about Williams in relation to the conference theme, Many Dimensions: Modern Supernatural Fiction

Trying to Place the Apparent Oddness of Williams’s “Angelicals”

C. S. Lewis wrote to his friend, Arthur Greeves, about The Place of the Lion: “Do get it, and don’t mind if you don’t understand everything the first time.” In the spirit of Lewis’s encouragement, let me note that I have quoted a lot from the novel, partly to give an idea of its flavor, and hope this gives no false impression and that the hefty dosage will not put off anyone in trying it for themselves. Rather, I hope this sampling encourages readers to experience the novel in full.

When C.S. Lewis first encountered Charles Williams’s The Place of the Lion (1931), he wrote Greeves about it on 26 February 1936, and did so in terms of Platonic archetypes. But in the novel, Williams also speaks in terms of “Angelicals” and, indeed, Angels. Now, Angels turn up repeatedly in Lewis’s own work and that of his other friend and fellow Inkling, J.R.R. Tolkien. For example, by 5 May 1919, long before he met Tolkien, Lewis told Greeves he had begun a poem featuring what he described as “‘the Dynasties’ or planets—the evil powers that hold the heaven, between us and something really friendly beyond.” And by the time he read Williams’s novel, Lewis had already become acquainted with the fictional angels of Tolkien’s myth-making: the Valar and Maiar. In his gandalf___digi_paint_by_lasse17-d5obyhbLegendarium, Tolkien imagined that these beings helped to make and look after the world. In commenting playfully, probably early in 1930, on Tolkien’s Lay of Leithian, a poem featuring his angels, Lewis imagines another old poem about a time when “Thought cast a shadow: brutes could speak: and men / Get children on a star.” In working on The Allegory of Love, he regularly thought about various ancient and mediaeval cosmologies,. Along the way, he encountered a book written in 1147 by Bernardus Sylvestris that mentioned the name “Oyarses”; Lewis would later use this title for some of the fictional angels in his “space-trilogy.”

At some point, Lewis and Tolkien decided to write their own space-travel and time-travel stories (Out of the Silent Planet and Tolkien’s unfinished novel The Lost Road were the results), but the exact time of this decision is tantalizingly uncertain. Tolkien wrote much later concerning the names of some other of Lewis’s “space-trilogy” angels and his own elves. He said he imagined that Eldil is an echo of the Eldar, but added that Lewis’s “own mythology (incipient and never fully realized) was quite different” from his, however much Lewis had been “impressed by ‘the Silmarillion and all that’.” Tolkien also felt that Lewis’s ‘mythology’ “was broken into bits before it became coherent by contact with C.S.Williams and his ‘Arthurian’ stuff”, with the result that That Hideous Strength “spoiled” the trilogy. However, Tolkien still thought that third ‘space’ novel was “good… in itself.” He does not make any explicit negative criticism of how Lewis uses planetary angels, there.

It is hard to imagine there were no fascinating conversations about angels among the Inklings between 1939 and 1945, when Williams was privy to the development of Gandalf, Saruman, Sauron, and Elbereth (not to mention a balrog) in The Lord of the Rings; the eldila of Perelandra and That Hideous Strength; and the fallen and unfallen angels of The Screwtape Letters—all characters who are in fact angels. Indeed, Williams was then working on what would prove to be his own last novel in the drafts of its abandoned early form, about the Devil trying to beget Antichrist. But if there were any such conversations, I can recall no recorded glimpses of them.

In any case, with The Place of the Lion, Williams was the first of the “Inklings” actually to publish a major imaginative work in which angels are a central feature. His was the oddest, too, because of the apparent lack of ‘personality’ of his “Angelicals.”

We might go further and add that, while all these Angelicals have the appearance of animals when encountered, they yet seem to exhibit less “personality” and “conscious interaction” than the fictional animals of Kipling or Jack London or even real animals from, say, accounts by Konrad Lorenz, Sterling North, or Joy Adamson. They contrast sharply in this respect with other ‘non-humans’ in Williams’s works, such as the Skeleton of Thomas Cranmer of Canterbury (1936), the Flame of The House of the Octopus (1945), and even the elementals of The Greater Trumps (1932).

This matter of the personality of the Angelicals is explicitly (if not simply) addressed in The Place of the Lion itself: in Richardson’s translations from Berringer’s copy of “the De Angelis of Marcellus Victorinus of Bologna” (1514) and his remarks upon it. One remark is: “The idea seems to be that the energies of these orders can exist in separation from the intelligence which is in them in heaven.” This suggests that the great animals Anthony and others encounter are only emanations of energy from the angels, not the angels themselves.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALater, Richardson himself confronts an “Angelic energy”: “The subtle eyes gazed at him, without hostility, without friendship, remote and alien.” Marcellus and his Greek source from the 1100s, Alexander, certainly do seem “to confirm the idea that there was another view of angels from that ordinarily accepted”: angels, it seems, not unlike Tolkien’s, characterized by “the days of their creation within this earth.” But very unlike Tolkien’s, where their personality is concerned.

God’s good creation can be subject to abuse, its elements and phenomena (such as fire) function without pity, and you cannot count on wild animals to be friendly. And yet, do angels have detachable energies that “can exist in separation from the intelligence which is in them in heaven”? Do they have “spectres,” or an “appearance,” which can be subject to magical invocation, or even “power” which can be “arrogated to themselves for sinful purpose by violent men,” as Marcellus writes? Can wicked people somehow use angels for evil purposes – even if it is not exactly “those Celestials themselves” being used?

What about their unfallen intelligences, obedient wills, “proper operation,” and freely loving? (Williams pointedly quotes Raphael, “the affable Archangel,” in Book V of Milton’s Paradise Lost where he says, “We freely love,” in a fascinating discussion of that poem in The English Poetic Mind, published in 1932, the year after this novel: “It – and it alone – is the complete and final answer to Satan’s spoken taunts and Adams’s perplexities; the following books are a kind of descant on it.”) Well, as the action proceeds, these angelic attributes do not seem always lacking. Those beautiful and terrible manifestations are also “serene,” perhaps in the same sense as Marcellus calls God “the Serene Majesty”.

eagle eyeThe Eagle, “who knows both himself and the others and is their own knowledge,” faces Anthony Durrant, its eyes burning at him with a piercing gaze, engaging and enabling him. Indeed, having “accepted the challenge of the Eagle” , he is under the protection of that Angelical, described as “that Wisdom”: “the great Power… lived in him”, and he abandons himself to its “purpose.” Yet we are also told that it knew “the faint sounds of the lesser world…, but what to it were those sounds, however full of distress they might be?” The Eagle appears to ignore the sufferings of humans.

unicorn8Then again, the “Divine Unicorn” moves “its head gently in the direction of each” person receiving the Bread of the Communion at a service and “some eidolon of itself, though it remained unchanged in the centre, went very swiftly to each.” Later this “Angel of their Return” frees people from fear, enabling them to work to rescue others who are trapped in collapsing houses.

The Lamb, “the Innocence,” while it frisked in the sunlight and “jumped and ran and rested and gave itself up to joy” and “took no notice… whatever” of Mr. Foster, who is described as a “possessed being” and who stalks his victims very like a lion, yet in fact kept him at bay, protecting Damaris Tighe and Quentin Sabot. And Williams has earlier said, the Lamb “everlastingly formed and maintained” the sheep which “alone in their field seemed to know nothing of the Angels of that other world.”

Rising_Phoenix_by_devilmaycryubAnthony perceives more about this creating and sustaining of the mutable world, seeing the blazing Phoenix “momently consumed, momently reborn,” “and as it sank all those other Virtues went with it, themselves still, yet changed”: “All of them rose in the Phoenix” and “the interfused Virtues made a pattern of worlds and stayed, and all the worlds lived and brought forth living creatures to cry out one moment for joy and then be swallowed in the Return.”

Ephemera of eternity”: Anthony sees that they include Quentin and Damaris. But he also sees a “white light substituting itself” for the red glow of the blazing Phoenix, “in the midst of which there grew the form of the Lamb.” Not long after this, he has a further vision that seems to correspond with the Fourth, and perhaps also the Fifth, Day of Creation: “Among the forests he saw a great glade, and in the glade wandered a solitary lamb. It was alone—for a moment or for many years.”

When he is operative in the conversion of Damaris Tighe, Anthony is described as “Merciless and merciful,” “pitiful and unpitying.” Perhaps the Angelicals (even when not exhibiting “personality,” “conscious interaction,” intelligence, and love) are in fact serenely, patiently so, as well – merciful and pitiful, despite any appearances to the contrary, and relentlessly so. As Anthony confidently asks, before “the interposition of the Mercy veiled the destroying energies from the weakness of men”: “Won’t He have mercy on all that He’s made?”

probably about 1475-6

Botticelli on the Celestial Hierarchies

Brooding on hints about the Days of Creation and Orders of Angels, I wonder if Williams is subtly stressing an ascending order of both. And that we – people in the story, readers, and author – must correspondingly change and grow spiritually before we can see things, including Angelicals, as they are. “For now we see through a glass darkly,” as St. Paul says. Indeed, you can fruitfully read 1 Corinthians chapter 13, and Psalms 8 and 91 through, in comparison with the novel, and vice versa. And yet…

After Lewis first read The Place of the Lion, he wrote: “It is not only a most exciting fantasy, but a deeply religious and (unobtrusively) a profoundly learned book.” If one agrees with this description, ought one not to remain nonetheless disappointed with, and disturbed by, the odd lack of evident loving intelligence exhibited by the Angelicals, and in some instances by Anthony, and so by their author, Charles Williams?

David Llewellyn Dodds

About Sørina Higgins

Sørina Higgins is Editor-in-Chief of the Signum University Press. She holds a Ph.D. in English from Baylor University. Dr. Higgins is currently co-editing a volume on the ethical turn in speculative fiction with Dr. Brenton Dickieson and previously edited an academic essay collection entitled The Inklings and King Arthur. She is also the author of the blog The Oddest Inkling, devoted to a systematic study of Charles Williams’ works. As a creative writer, Sørina has a volume of short stories, A Handful of Hazelnuts, forthcoming from Signum’s own press. Outside of academia, Sørina enjoys practicing yoga, playing with her cats, cooking, baking, podcasting, gardening, dancing, and ranting about the state of the world.
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22 Responses to Guest Post 8 on “The Place of the Lion” by David Llewellyn Dodds

  1. Jared Lobdell says:

    Yes, CWSW was, in a sense, the first of the “Inklings” to publish a major imaginative work in which angels are a central feature — but, if we mean TPL, it should be remembered that he wasn’t an “Inkling” when he published it, and that these are “angelicals” — not angels. And of course the word “Angel” can mean all nine orders or specifically the lowest [pseudo-Dionysius]. Whatever the eldila are, they aren’t the lowest order — the “angels” — or are they? [I think not.] Whatever the “angelicals” are, they aren’t exactly the “angels” (lowest order). Nor are Tolkien’s “angels” (see the entry in the JRRT Encyclopedia). My guess is all three fall into the middle “choir” [in Dionysius], though it is true TPL refers to “Virtues” — the highest of the lowest “choir.” On love, remember what CSL says about the pure intellectual love that could be mistaken for ferocity.


  2. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Yes. In my first draft I said “Williams was the first published of the eventual Inkling mythopoeic angelologists (so to call them)” , but this seemed in danger of being dauntingly orotund, so I revised it to “was the first of these writers who would later be called Inklings”, but eventually pared it down further to its current ‘shorthand’!

    One of the curious features of TPL is how he uses both “Angelicals” and “Angels” (as in a couple of my quotations), the latter presumably in a general, non-lowest-order sense. Interestingly, I read recently that ‘Virtues’ can also have a general sense: St. Jerome, in his Latin Vulgate Psalter, translates ‘Sabaoth’ with ‘virtutum’, so that, for example, where Coverdale has “God of hosts” in Psalm 80:4, St, Jerome has “Deus virtutum” in the corresponding place (79:5).

    Thank you for the detailed discussion: I shall have to consider the ‘Angelicals’, eldila, and Tolkien’s “angels” further with respect to the nine orders. Curiously, for what it is worth, in TPL Damaris gives an order differing from both the (Pseudo-)Dionysian / Thomist order and the Gregorian order, in their famous difference from each other (as conveniently quoted, for example, in Hugh Pope’s 1907 Catholic Encyclopedia article, “Angels” [as transcribed at New Advent])!

    I have been trying, on the basis of quotations from Marcellus and Anthony’s visionary experience in chapter 15, to arrange the “Angelicals” in a sequence of nine. My (tentative) conclusion is: 1. Lion, 2. Serpent, 3. Butterfly (a set of three C.W. gives in ch. 15), 4. Horse, 5. Eagle, 6. Phoenix (a ‘progressing’ set of which C.W. seems to give three, in ch. 15), 7. Lamb, 8. Unicorn, 9. Seraphim (placing Lamb immediately after Phoenix as in ch. 15).

    What you cite from CSL sounds very Lewisian and somewhat familiar, but I cannot place it, and did not remember it! Thanks!


  3. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    I might add, that when it comes to the “seraphim” and Williams’s “Angelicals”, I am not sure how to read what Richardson says about “goodness only knows what” and “without any clear idea of what they are or what they do or how one knows them.” On this Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, I would like to recall his vision and reception of the stigmata. If Williams’s friend, D.H.S. Nicholson, does not discuss the seraph of the vision in the account in his 1923 book, The Mysticism of St. Francis of Assisi (pp. 259-60), G.K. Chesterton, in his St. Francis of Assisi, first published in October 1923, more than makes up for it. He writes (pp.151-52), “It would seem that St. Francis beheld the heavens above him occupied by a vast winged being like a seraph spread out like a cross.” And that he “saw above him, filling the whole heavens, some vast immemorial unthinkable power, ancient like the Ancient of Days, whose calm men had conceived under the forms of winged bulls or monstrous cherubim, and that winged wonder was in pain like a wounded bird. This seraphic suffering, it is said, pierced his soul with a sword of grief and pity”. And G.F. Hill’s book, Saint Francis of Assisi: XII Scenes from His Life and Legend After Giotto, published in 1915 “at the Oxford University Press by Humphrey Milford”, has as its ninth plate, “He receives the Blessed Stigmata”, and the accompanying description (p. 28) includes “between the wings of the said Seraph suddenly there appeared the similitude of a man crucified” (all three books cited as ‘scanned’ at the Internet Archive). It would be appropriate if, after all the Angelicals with appearances of animals which are traditionally symbolic of Christ, the last should so include “the similitude” of the Second Adam, though I have found no reference in Williams’s text clinching such a Franciscan dimension to the “seraphim”.


    • Sørina Higgins says:

      I do not think that the Seraphim are the “animal” of the ninth circle. I think that each circle is (as you observe) guarded or run, as it were, by one of the angelic orders, and then they manifest themselves as an animal. So the nine orders are, then, in your list, matched up like this:
      1. Lion = Angels
      2. Serpent= Archangels
      3. Butterfly = Principalities
      4. Horse = Powers
      5. Eagle = Virtues
      6. Phoenix = Dominions
      7. Lamb = Thrones
      8. Unicorn = Cherabim
      9. ???? = Seraphim


      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        A good question! Before going to the heart of it, we might spend a little more time on a preliminary one, the sequence of the orders or choirs. Following Marcellus by numbering “the ninth circle” as “attributed to the seraphim”, as you do, we may compare the two (or three, or so!) famous sequences of, first, Pope St. Gregory the Great and then, of “Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite” (as Joseph Stiglmayr entitles his 1909 Catholic Encyclopedia article, observing “The grouping of the second triad exhibits some variations”) whom St. Thomas Aquinas (in one variation, largely!) follows – as well as that given by Damaris in chapter two. We find that all have 1 and 2 and 7 through 9 in common. You follow Dionysius and St. Thomas in having Principalities as third, while St. Gregory has Virtues and Damaris, Powers.

        Then, ‘all Heaven breaks loose’ (to coin a phrase). Fourth: St. Gregory (and sometimes Dionysius) and St. Thomas have Powers, while Dionysius other times has Virtues and Damaris, Princes. Fifth: St. Gregory has Principalities, Dionysius variously Powers and Dominations and Virtues, while St. Thomas and Damaris have Virtues. By the Sixth, things have settled down a lot: St. Gregory, St. Thomas, and sometimes Dionysius have Dominations, as does Damaris, while other times Dionysius has Virtues.

        But what of Marcellus following Alexander? Williams makes a big point of Berringer’s copy being “not complete, unfortunately”. (This may get him out of deciding on an order!) In chapter 10, Anthony reads aloud from it, “translating as he read”. This includes, “The names that are given are of one kind”, “and the shapes which are seen are of another”, “Nor is either made sufficient, but as a foreknowledge of the revelation that shall be.” But in chapter two, Richardson tells that eight crucial pages are missing, with the information they could be expected to supply repeated nowhere else. The end of the last page before the gap speaks “of those Celestial Benedictions, of which the first circle is that of a lion, and the second circle is that of a serpent”. After the gap, “he has got right on to the ninth circle which is that of goodness only knows what and is attributed to the seraphim, […] without giving any clear view of what they are or what they do or how one knows them.”

        No Angels and Archangels are mentioned. Can we assume the “shapes which are seen”, of lion and serpent, correspond to them? Is (part of) “the revelation that shall be” in their cases Angels and Archangels and “what they are” really like?

        If so, can we simply extrapolate that to the “ninth circle”? Is there a ‘shape which is seen’ (and an ‘animal’ shape, at that), which is never explicitly described as such by Williams, and is different from the traditional ‘shape seen’ by Isaiah (6:2-7)? Or is Richardson only guessing that there is likely to be a “goodness only knows what”, distinct from the Scriptural ‘shape’ of Isaiah’s vision – as it is taken up and worked out in subsequent tradition?

        Is the one and only ‘shape to be seen’ in fact simply that which Isaiah saw – and St. Francis saw? Is it no youth “of beautiful appearance” simply, while yet including “the similitude of a man”?

        I do not know. I do not see that, or how, the novel gives “any clear view” of a certain answer. I propose for consideration, that the ‘shape seen’ is the seraph of Scripture, tradition, and perhaps St. Francis’s vision in particular. Chesterton, in considering the details of that vision, relates, “St. Bonaventure distinctly says that St. Francis doubted how a seraph could be crucified, since those awful and ancient principalities were without the infirmity of the Passion.” Perhaps his surprising vision is part of “the revelation that shall be”, of what they are and what they do and how one knows them.


  4. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    A careful rereading of chapter 16 reveals no clear ninth animal ‘shape seen’. Damaris does see break “from the place of the trees […] the pillar of flame, as if […] a fiery sword was shaken, itself ‘with dreadful faces thronged and fiery arms.’ ” The quotation is the description of the cohort of Cherubim thronging the gate of Paradise in Milton’s Paradise Lost (12.644), referring back to their fuller description in 11.127-31. While Michael “drew nigh, /Not in his shape celestial, but as man/ Clad” (11.238-40), they keep their “shape celestial”. But what of that “as if”? Does Damaris see Cherubim in such shape? The stile Anthony vaulted over “seemed as if it were the way into the Garden, only unguarded for this single night by the fire which was its central heart”. And Anthony “seemed” clothed with “skins, as in some old picture Adam might have fared forth from Paradise.” Whatever the fire is (the Phoenix?), this is a fallen man extraordinarily in the course of his earthly life seeming to enter the Garden.

    That reminds me of Dante in his Purgatorio , cantos 27-33. There, Dante meets a Gryphon in the Garden. About him, Wicksteed, for example, in the Temple Classics edition (1901), says, his “twofold nature represents the two natures in one person of Christ.” If there is a “goodness only knows what” distinct from the seraphim as traditionally depicted, perhaps it is a Gryphon? It would neatly combine the Lion of the first circle and the Eagle of the fifth. In a difficult passage, Damaris who “would be […] a lioness” seems to be thinking of the Eagle “that was and yet wasn’t Anthony” as “bound to its heavenly origin by hypostatic union of experience.” Is Williams obscurely playing with Gryphon imagery?

    Curiously, both Cherubim and Seraphim are referred to in what seems some comprehensive way , in a passage about Anthony calling which identifies “names” with “Ideas” with “the Principles of everlasting creation who are the Cherubim and Seraphim of the Eternal.” And the next sentence is: “In their animal manifestations, duly obedient to the single animal who was lord of the animals, they came.” Does this imply that the ninth has an ‘animal manifestation’, whatever it may be? But then, it also notes that man is an “animal”. Might the ninth be in “the similitude of a man” simply, rather than seraphim, or the Gryphon as an image that “God and Man is one Christ” (in the words of the Athanasian Creed)? The wily Williams never tells us clearly, so far as I can discover.


  5. Veida Wissler says:

    I just learned that Catholics think of the 9 orders of angels in groups of 3 with each group especially associated with a person of the trinity. Does Williams give any indication about this? Does anyone have ideas about this?


    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      In chapter 8 of The Place of the Lion, Richardson quotes from his translation of Marcellus, “For though these nine zones are divided into a trinity of trinities, yet after another fashion there are four without and four within, and between them is the Glory of the Eagle. For this is he who knows both himself and the others, and is their own knowledge: as it is written We shall know as we are known – this is the knowledge of the Heavenly Ones in the place of the Heavenly Ones, and it is called the Virtue of the Celestials.” (The passage echoing 1 Corinthians 13:12, while changing its singular to plural, “We shall know as we are known”, is italicized, and an error has crept into some reprints: the second “we” has been omitted.)

      Here, we have the three groups of three. A ‘classic’ discussion of these is that of St. Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica I Question 108, especially Article 6 (which is conveniently available in a translation published in 1920 at He does not mention any relation of groups to Persons of the Trinity, and I do not recall ever hearing of that before. He is very clear in his “answer” in Article 1 that “in the Divine Persons there exists, indeed, a natural order, but there is no hierarchical order”. He is also very attentive to the order of the three groups, and within each group, and is following his two main sources, St. Gregory and Dionysius, in this. I can imagine how someone might extrapolate and relate the hierarchical orders to the “natural order” of the Persons, but, as I say, I do not recall ever encountering it in fact.

      We know Williams owned, and presumably read (around in?) an edition of the Summa in the 1920s, but not exactly what he read of it, when, or what he thought of what he read. An encounter with Question 108 may well be an important part of the background of the novel.

      So far as I know, Williams’s “animal manifestations” in general and also his idea of two groups of four with the Eagle between them – and of making one order somehow peculiarly “the knowledge” of all the others , are all three his own inventions. The 4:1:4 ordering does seem to me to reflect the ‘classical’ attention to order within each group, and I wonder how busy he is ordering his groups of three (in ch. 15, horses-Eagle-Phoenix as the second group seem to show this) – and perhaps inter-relating them, as well. For example, thinking of the animals chosen, the emphemeral Butterfly of the first group corresponding to the incredibly long-lived dying and reborn Phoenix of the second, and – perhaps either the six-winged Seraphim which St. Thomas says “have in themselves an inextinguishable light” (Article 5, Reply 5), or something else winged corresponding to it (the Gryphon?), where the third group is concerned.


      • Sørina Higgins says:

        David: I knew you could handle that answer. 🙂


        • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

          Thanks! But I probably should have waited until I first did the ‘archival archaeology’ needed to find and reread my copy of Dr. Leslie S.B. MacCoull’s ” ‘A Woman Named Damaris’: Pseudo-Dionysius’ Celestial Hierarchy in The Place of the Lion”, in The Charles Williams Quarterly, No. 129 (Winter 2008), pp. 10-20, and follow up some of the references in her fascinating essay. Better late than never!

          What I say about “animal manifestations” being Williams’s own invention is too sweeping. Dr. MacCoull (p. 12) thinks it “plain that one of Williams’s primary inspirations for his novel […] was his reading of an English translation of the Pseudo-Dionysian corpus”, hypothesizing further “that he read and drew on John Parker’s 1894 translation of the Celestial Hierarchy”, and points to the lion, eagle, and horse in chapter 15 of that work.

          Happily, the Rev. Mr. Parker’s translation of The Celestial and Ecclesiastical Hierarchy is available in the Internet Archive (as scanned from a presentation copy now in the Harvard Divinity School library). He supplies Scriptural references in footnotes. Thus (p. 49), when Dionysius passes vividly to “the sacred explanation of the Divine representations of the celestial minds through wild beasts”, beginning with “the shape of a Lion”, and coming to “the representation of the Eagle” he notes Ezekiel 1:10 for both. There, we find, not simply Lion and Eagle as such, as in the novel (and Dionysius’ discussion), but the four living creatures each with four faces (which Ecclesiasticus 49:10 identifies as cherubim).

          Dr. MacCoull finds “the two quartets divided by and flanking a central ninth entity symbolized by an eagle” to be the “most striking thing about ‘Victorinus /Alexander”s imagery structure”. Discussing his commentary on the Celestial Hierarchy, she notes (p. 14) “Hugh of St. Victor’s placing Christ’s humanity in the center.” Reading through chapter 15 in search of Lion, Eagle, and Horses, I was struck by Dionysius saying (p. 45) that those “who are wise in the things of God” also depict angels “under the likeness of men”, “whilst being least in natural powers as compared with the powers of irrational Beings, yet ruling over all by their superior power of mind”. Another Dionysian seed that germinated in Williams’s mind to contribute to the final form of the novel?

          Apologies for groggily mistyping ‘ephemeral’, too!


          • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

            Reading a 1985 sermon by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware posted on New Year’s Day by Fr. Aidan Kimel ( – which has one explicit Charles Williams reference and (I would say) a lot of further ‘resonance’ with Williams’s application of ‘coinherence’ – I was reminded by his fine discussion of St. Andrei Rublev’s famous icon of the ‘Troitsa’, called in the Greek tradition ‘Hagia Trias’ (‘Holy Three’) or ‘Philoxenia’ (which we might gloss ‘Loving entertainment of strangers as honored guests’: the word is used in Hebrews 13:2), of a very famous connection of Angels with the Persons of the Holy Trinity. (The book I am holding in the photo, Ivan Benchev’s Engelikonen [Angel Icons] (1999), ought, of course, to have made me think of it immediately!)

            In Genesis 18, there are references to both three men and The Lord, while in chapter 19 two angels arrive in Sodom. Benchev says Philo (the Jewish scholar of c. 20 B.C. – c. A.D. 50) identified one of the three as the Lord and the other two as Powers. And one clear Christian tradition identified One as God the Son and the other two as His angels. But (if I understand it correctly) there emerges also an interpretation of each of the three angels as somehow representing One of the Persons of the Trinity (with the ‘Trias’ being translated not simply ‘Three’ but ‘Trinity’).

            I have not, however, encountered any distinction of the angels as each representing one of the three groups of three orders, in their representation of the Three Divine Persons.

            (There is an interesting book by Gabriel Bunge, translated by Andrew Louth as The Rublev Trinity (2007), of which ‘google books’ presents samples online.)


  6. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    With your kind indulgence, a few more obervations. One of the interesting things about Dr. MacCoull’s essay is her comparison of expressions from Richardson’s purported translations to real Latin and Greek terms which might lie behind them. If we do something similar and compare the familiar “living creatures” of the first chapter of Ezekiel and the fourth of the Apocalypse (or Book of Revelation) of St. John with the Latin Vulgate version, we find “animalia”. And while Parker only pointed to Ezekiel in his footnote, the “animalia” of Revelation 4:7 are not ones with four different faces each, but include one simply like a lion and another like an eagle flying – with “the third animal having the face as of a man”.

    Dr. MacCoull finds (p. 10) the fictional author “Marcellus Victorinus” to be “seemingly intended to recall the fourth-century Christian NeoPlatonist Marius Victorinus” (incidentally, much praised by St. Augustine). I wonder if St. Victorinus is not also relevant: they were sometimes confused, and surviving extracts from two of his works, both mentioning the “animalia”, were readily available in English translation in Williams’s day – and still are, transcribed at New Advent among the “Fathers”, as are St. Irenaeus’s Against the Heresies III.11.8, a very influential interpretation of them, and a couple by St. Augustine as well: Tractates in the Gospel of John 36.5 and his Harmony of the Gospels I.6. All seem to me worth reading in comparison with the novel.


  7. Ian Russell Lowell says:

    In mediæval imagery the unicorn was often used as a symbol of Christ. I suspect it lies behind the use of the unicorn in Alan Garner’s “Elidor”.
    There is also an understanding that cherubim are the Hebrew equivalent of the man-headed bulls of Assyrian statuary, and seraphim are like sphinxes, that is man-headed lions. The whole aspect is meant to be awe-some and awe-full. There is another thought that in some passages the seraphim are some kind of winged serpent or snake.
    The dual nature of the Angelicals is interesting, as well as their effect upon people, with the emphasis being placed on the choice of will or understanding that the person who encounters them has. Berringer becomes comatose and heavy, Foster becomes aggressive (leonine), Miss Wilmot becomes slithery (serpentine), and while Mr Tighe becomes enraptured, Anthony meets and survives his encounter. Is Williams presenting an extreme Calvinistic predestination or a Pelagian choice?
    As I have mentioned before, Lewis’ overwhelmingly positive response to the novel is surely developed subconsciously into his (very Williams’ influenced) third ‘Space’ novel “That Hideous Strength” with the visit of the various planetary Oyarsas to earth and their effect on the community at St Anne’s. But also in the uncertainty about where Merlin would place or pitch himself — into the Power Camp or into the servants of the Fisher King?


    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      I think there are opportunities of coming to self-knowledge and repentance involved in many of the encounters: I do not think Foster and Dora Wilmot have to become increasingly more badly leonine and serpentine, respectively. So, I do not think there is extreme Calvinistic predestination, here; there is choice, but I am not convinced it is understood in a (semi-)Pelagian way. In Paradise Lost, Milton’s Adam and Eve become the first Christians, looking forward in hope and faith to the “Seed” Who is to come. There is not such explicit Christian reference where Anthony and Damaris are concerned. (Here, compare the end of The Greater Trumps.) Does Williams’s expect us to see Christ in some sense graciously working through His Eagle to save Anthony, and through Eagle and Anthony to save Damaris (as He worked through St. Paul to save her namesake)?

      You make a very interesting point about the uncertainties with respect to Lewis’s Merlin, as analogous to the uncertainties and varying responses with respect to the Angelicals (if I understand you correctly). And it makes me think further of both the varying effects of the planetary intelligences on the communities of St. Anne and Belbury, and of the differing perceptions that can result in the NICE folk coming up with the characterization ‘macrobe’!


  8. Ian Russell Lowell says:

    Thank you for your speedy reply to my comment.
    I rather liked the idea of ‘macrobe’ in Lewis’ “That Hideous Strength”. And yes, the ‘duality’ of the potential response of Merlin in that book I would see as being on a par with double effect of either wonderful fulfilling awe or awful incorporation of the Angelicals in “The Place of the Lion”. This is very clear in the two communities in THS, with the corruption of personality at Belbury, through deceit, manipulation and so forth, whereas, although one’s ego is subsumed at St Anne’s, it is to give greater worth to the person as a whole. In Damaris’ own awakening, Williams is here wonderfully explicit in his descriptive perceptions. In that sense there is also a similarity (though not sameness) with Jane Studdock — although it is Mark Studdock who makes the most similar journey of spiritual awakening as Damaris, I would say.
    I think Lewis expresses that better fictionally than does Williams at the end of TPOTL.
    I first came across the writings of both Williams and Lewis when I was about twelve years old. In different ways I was impressed by “Voyage to Venus” (the Pan paperback edition of “Perelandra”) and “War in Heaven” and “Many Dimensions”. I was successful in buying the prequel and sequel to the first, but had to wait over twenty years to find the remaining five novels of Williams. And, of course, even longer to track down David Lindsay’s “Voyage to Arcturus”, as influential on VTV/P as Milton.


  9. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    I think you are right about Damaris, Jane, and Mark, and probably also about the fictional expression with respect to Mark and Jane compared with Damaris and Anthony. Williams is very compressed and stylized (if that is a sensible way of putting it), though I think both the temptation of Anthony at ‘Joinings’ and the post-conversion Damaris (as you say), and also her moment of lapsing and temptation in the last chapter, are well done.

    I did not come to either Lewis or C.W. till later, but had lots of good luck getting access to their works – and Lindsay – when I did. I would have to reread Elidor to have anything intelligent to say in comparing unicorns. (Speaking of fictional unicorns, do you know Madeleine L’Engle’s Many Waters?) I do enjoy Alan Garner, though I have not read everything, yet, nor am I as ‘comfortable’ with him as with Lewis, or ‘even’ with C.W.’s fiction.

    If I recall correctly, C.W. had contact with Odell Shepard when he was trying to get Outlines of Romantic Theology published in the 1920s, and Shepard’s The Lore of the Unicorn was published in 1930, so C.W. could even have known it before writing TPOTL, though I cannot remember any certain evidence that he knew it. Nor am I certain what-all his sources for animal symbolism are. It is striking how many of his chosen “animal manifestations” were often used as symbols of Christ, and perhaps all of them have been sometimes so used. As you say, there is a serpent tie-in with seraphim and so also, I suppose, with the Brazen Serpent of Numbers 21:8-9 and St. John 3:14-15 (and there is, of course, St. Matthew 10:16). And, for example, the Bestiary which T.H. White translated in 1954 describes the Hydrus, “an aquatic snake”, as a symbol of Our Lord Jesus Christ. About Butterfly and Horse I am not so sure. I have read (but not yet followed up) that the Breath of Life of Genesis 2:7 is sometimes depicted with butterfly wings (and ‘psyche’ names both ‘butterfly’ and ‘soul’, and Our Lord has a human soul and the word translated “life” in St. Matthew 20:28 is ‘psyche’ in the Greek). Dionysius discusses Horses in the context of Angels in Celestial Hierarchy, ch. 15, and perhaps we should here bring the Patristic discussions of the ‘animalia’ mentioned above, to bear.


  10. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Having tried to say something about serpents the other day (see above), I just encountered this:


  11. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Rereading (in a piecemeal fashion, so far) Andrew Louth’s splendid Denys the Areopagite (London: Chapman/Wilton, CT: Morehouse-Barlow, 1989) has gotten me wondering how much of the Corpus Areopagiticum Williams may have read, how early, and how indebted he may be to the various works of (Pseudo-)Dionysius.

    For example, the Rev. Mr. John Parker’s 1894 volume is entitled The Celestial and Ecclesiastical Hierarchy. And in the latter of these, in III.iii (p. 69), we read how in celebrating the Eucharist the Divine Hierarch asks “to become meet for this holy office […] by being made like to Christ Himself” and “when he has unveiled the veiled and undivided Bread […] he symbolically multiplies and distributes the unity”. The action of the “Divine Unicorn” in The Place of the Lion reminds me a lot of this.

    Parker went on to translate and publish The Works of Dionysius the Areopagite Part I. Divine Names, Mystic Theology, Letters, &c. in 1897 (also available at the Internet Archive, scanned from a copy at the Kelly Library). And Letter (pp. 164-66) relates a visionary experience of “the holy Carpus” involving a house suddenly torn asunder so that he looks down into a chasm, and involving gleaming fire and menacing serpents, as well, and a rescuing descent from the open sky above – which is interesting to compare with Anthony’s experience at ‘Joinings’ (though in Carpus’s vision, Jesus Himself descends, with angels, to rescue two sinners whom Carpus is annoyed have not yet fallen into the gulf!).

    In Divine Names, III.i (pp. 27-28), there is a discussion of prayer using the analogies of climbing a chain and drawing a boat nearer to a rock along a cable attached to it (but also noting the possibility of separating oneself and being hurled from it, by pushing away), which together remind me of a major recurring visionary image in Williams’s Descent into Hell (1937). In chapter three of The Descent of the Dove (1939), Williams refers to Dionysius quoting “My Love is crucified” from St. Ignatius, which occurs in Divine Names IV.xii (p. 47, in Parker’s translation). Later in the same chapter, he goes on to quote the whole of the fifth and last chapter of the Mystical Theology – not from Parker’s translation, but from C.E. Rolt’s, in Dionysius the Areopagite On the Divine Names and The Mystical Theology (1920), another book available at the Internet Archive.


  12. aaa says:

    Thanks for finally writing about >The Place of the Lion Part 8
    | The Oddest Inkling <Liked it!


  13. Pingback: 1931: “The Place of the Lion” summary | The Oddest Inkling

  14. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Listening to the Gospel for 7 May 2017, ‘the Fourth Sunday of Easter’ (from the Lectionary for Year A), St. John 10:1-10, it struck me that structure of The Place of the Lion has a distinct resemblance to this section. Berringer, in his mysterious meditative ‘ascent’ resembles “He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber” and is involved in an effect not unlike “a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him” (verses 1, 5: KJV) – whereas Anthony, appearing like the first Adam, resembles the Second Adam as the Shepherd, “he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him” (v. 4): perhaps because he is ‘in the Good Shepherd, and He in him’ – ?


  15. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Looking for something else online, I happily just now met with what seems a fascinating series of items on this novel and its background by Professor Emeritus Wayne J. Hankey:


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