Charles Walter Stansby Williams (20 September 1886 – 15 May 1945) was a British poet and novelist. He was close friend of C. S. Lewis, and with Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien was a member of The Inklings. Most of his novels were supernatural thrillers that explored the intersection of the natural, human world with the spiritual world. A number of authors have claimed him as an influence, most notably Tim Powers. Williams was also a highly acclaimed literary scholar; and his study of Dante, The Figure of Beatrice, is still popular among scholars of Dante's work. Williams also authored a number of biographies, essays on theology and literary criticism, and plays.
Williams also wrote two collections of poetry based on Arthurian romance, Taliessin through Logres and The Region of the Summer Stars. It's safe to say no one would read them now, except that C. S. Lewis liked them and so wrote commentaries on them, making them understandable.
Notable examples of Charles Williams' fictional work:
- War in Heaven (1930) The Holy Grail exists and is presently in the parish church of the small English village of Fardles. This becomes known and the race is on between good guys and bad guys to get it.
- Many Dimensions (1931) Somewhere, there is a Sufi order that guards a small cubical stone. The Stone was once mounted in King Solomon's crown. It contains the Tetragrammaton, the Name of God. It grants the holder miraculous powers, but also brings divine judgment down on them. Watch it get passed back and forth between good guys and bad guys, and see the results.
- The Place of the Lion (1931) A small English village is plagued by mysterious destructive forces. This is because a retired philosopher has (accidentally or deliberately) called the Platonic archetypes into the world, and they are absorbing their ectypes. E.g. Power gets personified as the titular lion, and starts prowling the neighborhood. Everywhere it goes, it soaks up all the examples of power, starting with electrical power and the strength of buildings. Then more personifications show up, like Cunning and Speed and Beauty. What do you do when the world starts to run out of adjectives?
- The Greater Trumps (1932) A young lawyer is delighted to discover that his fiancee's father has inherited the original Tarot deck. The father doesn't know about the deck's magical power, but the young lawyer does, and is eager to get his hands on the deck and start experimenting.
- Shadows of Ecstasy (1933) Nigel Considine, an English adventurer in the British African colonies, claims to have discovered, and to teach, a way of turning all the emotional energy created by joy, love, and beauty into strength and life, a path to immortality. He has started a political movement, the "African High Executive," dedicated to overthrowing not only colonialism bu "rationalist civilization." Does he really have the power and immortality he claims? And is he good or evil?
- Descent into Hell (1937) In the prosperous London suburb of Battle Hill, noted poet and playwright Peter Stanhope helps a local theatre group put on a pretty little play. While they work at that, various living and dead people find their ways to heaven and hell, young women are terrorized by dopplegangers, a man meets the literal Girl of His Dreams, and we learn what Lilith is doing nowadays.
- All Hallows Eve (1945) Right after World War II, Father Simon le Clerk appears on the international scene, preaching a new religion or revival movement (the details never made clear). This was his cover for a bid at messiahship, energized by Hermetic Magic. His plot is discovered by a young widower, the ghost of his late wife, and their friends.
Works by Charles Williams provide examples of:
- Afterlife Antechamber: In All Hallows Eve, the City in which the recently dead find themselves. The narration explains that it is a temporary place for the recently dead while they get used to their new state before moving on into the proper afterlife, which the living and those who still think like the living can't comprehend. When the heroine decides she's ready to move on at the end of the novel, she disappears from the view of the audience.
- Ancient Conspiracy: Williams was briefly a member of the Rosicrucians, and conspiracies feature in many of his works.
- Drunk with Power: The corrupting influence of power is common theme of his fiction.
- Fictional Painting: All Hallows Eve features two fictional paintings. One is a portrait of Simon le Clerk commissioned by his chief acolyte, in which the artist has instinctively and unwittingly captured the hidden sinister aspect of the Clerk's nature; the second, by the same artist, is a painting of a sunlit cityscape, which is implied to be a divinely inspired vision of heaven.
- Gender-Blender Name: The heroine of All Hallows Eve is named Lester, which is more usually a man's name.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Lester in All Hallows Eve. Through Character Development and The Power of Love she loses the jerk part.
- Light Is Good: A frequent motif for goodness is a golden light.
- Lust Object: Wentworth views Adela as one, his lust so great that when she spurns him he creates a succubus in her form.
- MacGuffin: The Holy Grail in War in Heaven.
- Necromancer: Simon le Clerk in All Hallows Eve is a sorcerer whose powers include summoning and binding the spirits of the recently dead.
- No Such Thing as Wizard Jesus: Averted in All Hallows Eve; the Big Bad has powers resembling those attributed to Jesus, and the possibility is explicitly raised that Jesus was a sorcerer like him. The Big Bad sincerely believes it; the narration is more noncommital, and points out that the Big Bad's information on the subject comes from a biased source.
- Our Ghosts Are Different: Ghosts in All Hallows Eve are in a mirror universe Afterlife Antechamber where there are occasional overlappings with the living world (these overlappings can be used to talk with the living, or make appearances). Some ghosts wander there forever, but most eventually end up either starting to hate the light of the Afterlife Antechamber and go down into the dark shadows, or they find the golden light and ascend into that.
- Tarot Motifs: The Greater Trumps.
- Time Is Dangerous: Something the villains in Many Dimensions learn rather graphically.
- The Un-Smile: When the villain of All Hallows Eve attempts to smile, the result is a facial expression the narrator usually refers to as "the constriction".He smiled—or rather a sudden convulsion passed across his face, a kind of muscular spasm rather than a smile. It was not meant to be unkind... Nor was he even aware that what had once been a smile was now a mere constriction. One cannot smile at no-one, and there was no-one at whom he could smile.
- Urban Fantasy: All of Williams' novels are set in the modern world.