About

About Charles Williams: Charles Walter Stansby Williams (1886-1945) was a British poet, novelist, literary critic, editor, English professor, biographer, Anglican Christian, and occult master. He was a member of the Inklings with C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien for the last six years of his life. He was charismatic, saintly, radiant, riveting, loquacious, and inspiring. According to Lewis, everyone who met him fell in love with him—including many young women who became his disciples and on whom he practiced semi-sexual, semi-magical rituals of transference to heighten his creative powers. Yet he also motivated many people to practice their Christianity more seriously and founded the Companions of the Co-inherence in order to carry one another’s burdens. His seven metaphysical thriller novels and his virtuosic Arthurian poetry place him among the greatest literary masterpieces of the early 20th century. Please take a look at this Readers’ Guide for Beginners.

 About The Oddest Inkling: This blog exists to explore CW’s life, works, and ideas. Tune in once a week for “Charles Williams Wednesdays” and more often for random posts in between. Weekly posts will cover the following topics:
1. The Life
2. His Themes
3. The Works (summaries of CW’s books, in chronological order)
4. Bibliography (Secondary Sources)
5. Influencers and Influenced
6. Arthuriana
7. Rosicruciana
8. Academic Articles (Paper Abstracts, Selections, and Links)
9. News (Calls for Papers, new links, media, etc.)
10. Guest posts about Lewis, Tolkien, and other related topics.

About the blogger: Sørina Higgins is a writer, editor, English teacher, and Inklings scholar. She holds an M.A. in English from Middlebury College, serves as Chair of the Literature & Language Department at Signum University’s Mythgard Institute, teaches English at Lehigh Carbon Community College and King’s College (New York), writes the blog The Oddest Inkling devoted to a systematic study of Charles Williams’ works, hosts the Ekphrasis arts group, and works as Reviews Editor of Sehnsucht: The C. S. Lewis Journal. Her edition of Charles Williams’ play The Chapel of the Thorn was published by Apocryphile Press in November of 2014, and she is currently editing an academic collection entitled The Inklings and King Arthur (due out in 2016 from Apocryphile Press). She has published two books of poetry: Caduceus (David Robert Books, 2012) & The Significance of Swans (Finishing Line Press, 2008). Sørina and her husband live in eastern Pennsylvania in a house they built from scratch.

 

30 Responses to About

  1. Ian Russell Lowell says:

    I like the site, Sørina, and the more on Charles Williams the better.
    Just a little quibble about about your short description of Williams, and it may be the nature of the different interpretations of English either side of the ‘Pond’. As far as I know, Charles Williams could not be described as an English ‘professor’. Within English academia at the time, and this was true specifically for ‘Oxbridge’, the professor was the top of the career tree for a dedicated academic, which Williams was not. He lectured in London, I think for the Workers Educational Association, and when OUP moved from London to Oxford during WWII he was enabled to become a lecturer through the good will and influence of C. S. Lewis. It would be wrong therefore to describe him in such academic terms.

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    • Sørina Higgins says:

      Ah, yes; you are correct. I will make that change.
      (Here in the U.S., we use “professor” as the generic term for anyone who teaches at a college or university, regardless of their actual rank).

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  2. Hi Sørina, Pleased to find your blog here. I haven’t yet read through it all but I wanted to just announce my presence since I have a humble Williams page of my own at
    http://www.whittingham.me.uk/quantock-poets/charles-williams
    He wrote a Quantock poem so he is in the gallery of Quantock poets along with Coleridge, wordsworth and EdThomas.

    Best wishes

    Tim W

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  3. Sorina

    I have firmed up my belief in the centrality of CW (and therefore not CSL or JRRT) to the Inklings – both in terms of triggering their formation and in terms of being the presiding presence and final arbiter at meetings.

    http://notionclubpapers.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/warnie-lewis-on-charles-williams-and.html

    This perspective currently lacks direct evidence! – but I hope to explore it in future blog postings – and I thought I would flag it up here in case anything relevant comes up in your ongoing explorations of CW.

    Bruce

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  4. michaelhuggins2591 says:

    A very interesting site, and I wish you well with it.

    I have read 7 novels by Williams over the past 24 years–Place of the Lion, The Greater Trumps, Shadows of Ecstasy, All Hallows Eve, War in Heaven, Descent into Hell, and Many Dimensions. As I mentioned, All Hallows Eve and Shadows of Ecstasy were my favorites, though there were memorable moments in the others. I like the scene in Descent into Hell, I believe, where the man who hanged himself slowly turns around and starts back in the opposite direction, walking toward the light once more, and at the end, he is confidently starting out on a night journey, on foot, of 35 miles. As to Shadows of Ecstasy, I have a very strong impression that if I had been a character in the novel, the moment I realized who and what Nigel Considine was, I would have felt that I ought to pull out a pistol and shoot him on the spot.

    Wasn’t it Auden who, after a brief encounter with Williams, said he was the most saintly man he had ever seen, or that he seemed to radiate a supernatural love, or something to that effect? If they made a movie about him now, he should be played by Bill Nighy, who resembles him a great deal. On the other hand, he seems to have carried on an intense but unconsummated affair for years with his secretary–is that correct? That’s human nature, but I would wish, rather, that their relations had been more like that of Valerie Fletcher and T.S. Eliot, which seem to have been exemplary.

    I have read most of Lewis’s apologetic works, as well as The Space Trilogy, Narnia, The Screwtape Letters, the Great Divorce, The Abolition of Man, and about half of the Oxford History of English Literature in the 16th Century (which, as you may know, Lewis is said to have referred to as the “Oh hell”). The scene in “Out of the Silent Planet” where Weston and Devine are brought before the Oyarsa had me falling out of my chair laughing, as did the scene in “That Hideous Strength” where Alfred Jules says to a bishop, “You may not know, my lord, that modern research reveals that the Temple of Solomon was not much larger than an English village church.”

    I’m afraid Tolkien doesn’t do a great deal for me. Contemplating LOTR reminds me of the feeling I had after reading Charles Palliser’s very cleverly done novel “The Quincunx”: “But…the novels of Dickens have already been written…why write a fake one today?”

    I feel the same about Tolkien’s stories. The great medieval epics were already written. What did he imagine he could add to them?

    I read “Fellowship of the Ring” 40 years ago and found it intensely exasperating. I kept wondering why Aragorn and Gandalf, the two characters I could appreciate, didn’t just leave Sam and his companions to their fate. I was so frustrated when Gandalf fell into the chasm at the end of the book because of some blunder on the part of the Hobbits, that I never cared to read any more.

    In any case, I know I’m in the minority in that point of view. I’m sure your blog and others attract a lot of interest from Tolkien devotées. And I hope you are able to complete your proposed project of working through the works of Williams and commenting on them all.

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    • Thank you very much for these thoughts! Yes, indeed, Auden did say that about CW. And Williams did carry on an unconsummated affair with a co-worker; not his secretary, but the librarian at OUP. Yet after a short time, she turned from him to someone else, and he set her up as a kind of spiritual muse.

      I think maybe you’re ready to try Tolkien again! Check these out: http://www.tolkienprofessor.com/wp/lectures/.

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  5. michaelhuggins2591 says:

    Thank you for the clarification on Williams’s Platonic affair. I listened to about half of Corey Olsen’s lecture until his enthusiastic, well-scrubbed-youth persona began to wear on me. His caveats about reductionistic interpretations of literary works reminded me of Lewis’s own warnings against the “anthropological approach” to interpreting Sir Gawain (e.g., seeing the Green Knight as the “Jack in the Green” figure). “Others may need such an ascesis,” Lewis wrote, “but I don’t” (or something to that effect).

    If they had made a movie of Lewis’s Space Trilogy some years ago, they should have cast Robert Hardy (Cornelius Fudge in the Harry Potter movies) as Lord Feverstone. Interestingly, as you may know, Hardy was a student of Lewis. He reflects ruefully in the commentary on some film (perhaps “All Creatures Great and Small”) that Lewis thought more highly of Hardy than he ought, simply because Hardy had a facile prose style and produced very readable essays, which Lewis greatly appreciated. That reminds me of Professor Dimble’s remark, near the beginning of “That Hideous Strength”: “There is my dullest student. I must now go and listen to an essay that begins ‘Swift was born…'”

    I see “The Hobbit” is only 250 pages or so, and the Kindle edition is priced very low, so I’ll download it and read 50 pages and see if my impression of Tolkien has improved. I remember reading “The Mists of Avalon” in 1984 and finding the whole ethos distinctly uncongenial. For a couple of days, I struggled and only got through about 30 pages. Finally, I said to myself “Either read the d@mn thing or put it down, but stop struggling.” Then, I read the entire 880 pages in about 4 days.

    I am wondering if you have an opinion of the relative merits of the two versions of “Shadowlands,” the first with Joss Ackland and Claire Bloom, and the second with Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger. Joy Davidman ought to have been played by Cathy Bates, who looks like her, and Lewis by Michael Hordern. The Joss Ackland-Claire Bloom version preserves Joy’s agonized scream, which woke Lewis and his brother on the morning of her death, while the Anthony Hopkins-Debra Winger version omits it. Also, the Hopkins-Winger version has Lewis and Joy taking an auto trip? Did Lewis own a car or drive? I thought he did neither.

    It was interesting that in the opening camera pan over the singing choir at Oxford, you see one of Lewis’s stepsons in the shot.

    I saw part of your videotaped discussion with the man, whose name I can’t recall, and you projected uncaptioned photos of the Inklings on the screen. There was a time when I could have identified most of them, though it’s been a while. I’m pretty sure one was Hugo Dyson. Isn’t he the one who used to sit quietly drinking in a corner while Tolkien read aloud from his developing works, only to rise up occasionally and exclaim “Oh, F___! Not another elf!”

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  6. Well, wow! Lots of great thoughts. I do hope you give Tolkien another try. Depending on your taste, “The Hobbit” may not be the best place to start. Perhaps you want the mythic, in LOTR, or the “historic,” in “The Silmarillion,” or some of his poetry or short stories? What’s your taste?

    Robert Hardy! Indeed. Yes, I remember he told the BBC once that Lewis and Tolkien were the best things about Oxford — that the rest of his experience there was rather disappointing.

    You don’t compare Tolkien’s work to “The Mists of Avalon,” do you? I would think they were distinctly opposed.

    I liked both “Shadowlands” movies. I don’t remember the older one too well, but I recall thinking it was more accurate. The newer one totally overexaggerates (or arguably makes up out of thin air) Jack’s anti-woman, shy, bumbling nature. He was an outgoing, sociable, friendly, talkative, loud, comfortable personage. And he had lots of close relationships with female relative, students, colleagues, and friends.

    Jack didn’t drive. He owned a car and hired a chauffeur/gardener/man-of-all work, a Mr. Paxford (on whom Puddleglum is based!)

    Yup, that’s Dyson! 🙂

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    • michaelhuggins2591 says:

      I liked the first ten pages of “The Hobbit,” which I read last night–the tone and manner reminded me of Lewis in “The Chronicles of Narnia,” a group that I read entirely through in a single week when I was 27. I think I’ll continue and see where it goes.

      What is my taste? I like books featuring memorable characters who notably demonstrate some principle or value, for good or ill, showing that actions, and the ideas on which they are founded, have consequences. It is for that reason that “Hedda Gabler” is one of my favorite plays. For me, one of the most memorable characters in literature is Phineas in “A Separate Peace,” a sort of cross between Christ and Beowulf, come to life in modern times. I consider “Mansfield Park” one of the most important books I’ve ever read; the moral calculus that animates Fanny Price is “sharper than a two-edged sword, piercing and dividing asunder,” etc.

      And as I mentioned earlier, I admired Aragorn and Gandalf in “Fellowship of the Ring.”

      One book I liked a great deal was Donna Tartt’s “The Secret History.” Henry Winter seemed to embody the same inexorable commitment to a principle, though in a dark way.

      No, I didn’t mean that “Mists of Avalon” resembled Tolkien’s world–indeed, the almost stifling miasma of pagan sensualism that hung over “Avalon” was part of the reason I found it so uncongenial though, on that point, there is a surprising scene in which there is a descent of the Holy Spirit on the inhabitants of Camelot, leaving them all trembling with a sense of awe and humble love. In any case, I cited that book simply as an example of an aversion I had to overcome merely to get through the book at all.

      Speaking of opposite worlds, how ironic that Lewis’s introduction to Arthuriana seems to have been “Connecticut Yankee” and, furthermore, that his “spiritual master,” George MacDonald, a Scots Christian mystic, should have been good friends with Mark Twain!

      I think another of your Inkling photos may have been Nevill Coghill. I’ve got his modern Chaucer rendering on my shelf, and I’m sure it’s useful, though I like the original. Chaucer describing the Prioress’s French as being

      “after the schole of Stratford atte Bowe
      For Frenssh of Paris was to hir unknowe”

      …still makes me chuckle.

      One of my former professors studied at Vanderbilt under the late, great Chaucerian Walter Clyde Curry, who claimed never to have read The Parson’s Tale at all.

      I rather preferred the earlier Shadowlands as well. Joss Ackland comes across as a tad too sinister and overbearing to be perfect in the part of Lewis, but the physical resemblance was very good. The later version struck me as the “Lewis for Americans” version: “A pert, plucky American gal lands in stuffy Oxford and shakes up all those old fuddy duddy professors with their pipes and old books and stuff and teaches them to live a little…” Joy was a remarkable woman, but there was, after all, a less agreeable side to her.

      The first time I tried to see that movie, I went to a theater where it was no longer playing, and I didn’t realize that. I asked for a ticket to Shadowlands, and the heedless clerk handed me a ticket, and I stood for a very long time in the lobby wandering when the previous showing would end, all the while holding a ticket to “Schindler’s List.”

      One of my favorite Lewis stories is the one about his tutor, Kirkpatrick, wandering into his wife’s bridge party by mistake, and hours later, he is still there, exclaiming, to his wife’s longsuffering guests, “But ladies, I beg of you to define your terms!”

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  7. Recently, Michelle Joelle kindly nominated my blog for a Dragon’s Loyalty Award for Excellence. I am not sure that in itself the award means that much but what made it special for me was Michelle’s nomination as I greatly admire her work. If you are willing I would like to nominate you for the award as I also admire your work very much. You got me reading Charles Williams again! If you would like to receive it then please check out the conditions at http://stephencwinter.com/2015/02/16/the-dragons-loyalty-award-for-excellence

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    • Thank you so much! That’s very kind. However, I know that I cannot take the time to fulfill the conditions, so I’m afraid I shall have to decline.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I understand that entirely. The privilege and the pleasure lies entirely for me in being able to express my appreciation for your work and to direct one or two more people towards reading it &, hopefully, to discovering Charles Williams for themselves.

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  8. Thom Hickey says:

    Delighted to have found your fascinating blog. Return visits in store for further enlightenment. Regards from Thom at the immortal jukebox.

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  9. Pingback: Short documentary on a member of The Inklings: ‘Owen Barfield: Man and Meaning’ | Public Work

  10. Pingback: Virgo Bright Stars | LOVE works of HEART

  11. Wow, this site is perfect! I have just been introduced to Charles Williams through the UK detective series Lewis and can already see I have been missing out on an incredibly interesting character and body of work. Thank you for creating this one stop shop for me to explore! Next step, Amazon!

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    • Oh, I’m so thrilled you found me because of the Inspector Lewis episode! That’s super cool! Do let me know what you think of CW’s work as you read it — and I’d be happy to run a guest in which you describe your reading experience of one of his books, if you like. And check out the new biography by Grevel Lindop.

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  12. Shen says:

    I nominated your blog ‘The Oddest Inkling’ to the ‘Liebster Award’, because I really enjoy each of your blog posts (listed here: https://mysherlockdiary.wordpress.com/2016/01/30/liebster-award-for-my-sherlock-diary/ ). Greetings from Germany, Shen.

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  13. megmoseman says:

    I was very excited to find this blog–I just started reading All Hallows’ Eve for the fourth (?) time, and think I’m on the beginning of a C.W. kick. I’ve loved C.S. Lewis since adolescence (well, Narnia before then) and unsurprisingly found Williams through him, and I find the two to be fascinating, both as people and as writers.

    Thank you for the follow, also 🙂

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    • Wow! Welcome; I’m glad to have you here! I’d love to hear about your reading adventure as you make your way through CW; what do you think you’ll read next?

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      • megmoseman says:

        Thank you! Descent into Hell, I believe, will be my next–though I have The English Poetic Mind checked out too. I think I prefer his fiction to his criticism, but I want to keep trying the latter. My next blog post is likely to be CW and possibly more broadly Inkling-related.

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