The Posts Go Ever On: Guest Post on “War In Heaven”

Just when you thought we were done with War In Heaven, I have another guest post to offer you. This is by CW scholar David Llewellyn Dodds. Enjoy!

The Corpse and Its Contemporaries

War in Heaven, published in early summer, 1930,  has, to my way of thinking, gone from a story set in the contemporary world to a classic ‘period piece’ without any loss of vitality. It was drafted, as The Corpse, four years earlier, having been finished in time to be offered to, and rejected by, Faber, by the end of May, 1926. I do not know how much or little The Corpse differs from War in Heaven as we know it. But the Twenties seem to have been a rapidly and even wildly changing literary landscape as far as ‘mystery’ and ‘detective’ stories went. And some facts about literary context at the turn of 1925-26 strike me as interesting.

In her paper “Is a ‘Christian’ Mystery Story Possible?” (2011), Sørina Higgins refers to “the inimitable, Chestertonian Archdeacon” – partly and very justly so, I take it, in comparison to (as well as contrast with) G.K. Chesterton’s clerical detective, Father Brown.  Now, when Williams was writing the novel, only the first two of the eventual five books of Father Brown stories had been published.

But in its humor, where treatment of characters, dialogue, and diction in general are concerned, Williams’s debt does not seem limited to Chesterton. There is, indeed, an intertextual clue (as well as a humorous touch of characterization) when Barbara Rackstraw introduces the retired publisher, Gregory Persimmons, to Jeeves, and her husband, Lionel, goes on to explain something about him to his old boss. At the time Williams was initially drafting the novel, only the first three of Wodehouse’s books with Jeeves and Wooster stories had been published (the most recent only in October 1925).

A more straightforward detective novel than The Corpse had already shown the influence of Wodehouse: Dorothy L. Sayers’s Whose Body? (1923), her first Wimsey novel and the only one to have appeared when Williams embarked upon his story.

James Brabazon, in his biography of Dorothy L. Sayers, says of the literary figures who were Lord Peter Wimsey’s “progenitors” as “silly-ass aristocrat with nerves of steel” (like Sir Percy Blakeney, the Scarlet Pimpernel), “being a modern silly-ass (in 1921), who does he take his cue from but Bertie Wooster? – who must of course be accompanied by his Jeeves, now transmogrified into Bunter.”

Whether Williams had read Whose Body? by early 1926, or not, I do not know, but War in Heaven, and presumably, The Corpse, exhibits a similar combination of Wodehousian verbal humor and characterization with moral and metaphysical seriousness.

Father Brown and Jeeves and Wooster were, of course, already famous by the turn of 1925-26, and Whose Body? was selling well enough for Unwin to want to publish more Wimsey, but their fictional worlds of humor of character and style and diction, combined by the two detective story writers with depth and seriousness, were still new and close by in their freshness, when Williams started his entertaining second novel. Not a Wodehouse pastiche, nor even, as Sørina Higgins observes,  primarily “a mystery to entertain”, but very much, I think, intended to entertain in various ways, and to be (may I say) seriously entertaining.

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“It’s Very Weird.” Guest post on “War in Heaven”

Here is a guest post by Medievalist Alice Deegan to finish off War In Heaven week. Drop me a line if YOU want to write a guest post on anything CW-related. Cheers.

I should start by making clear what I don’t know, which is much of anything about the circumstances of the novel’s composition or what Williams thought he was doing when he wrote it. I make this disclaimer because, while I think I’m on board with War In Heaven’s theology—or at least the theology that I find in it—part of my enjoyment of it involves a kind of indeterminacy that is only possible because it is a novel. I love the fact that I get something new from it on each rereading.

I’m a medievalist, so the Grail angle is appealing. I like the way the meaning of the Grail is handled, the neat laying-out of its significance to the different heroes and to the villains, and the fact that the most spiritually authoritative character, the Archdeacon, ultimately decides that as an object it both does and does not matter. I think that’s the perfect way to approach such a fraught and difficult artifact, and it also chimes with my own understanding (such as it is) of the meaning of the material world for Christians.

As I mentioned before in a comment, I’m drawn to the sympathetic characters in War in Heaven, as I am in all CW’s books, actually, and I don’t find myself bothered by the fact that they don’t “develop” or are somewhat schematized. In fact, I never noticed that on previous readings. I also find the main villains very compelling. I love that we see so much from Gregory’s perspective, making him simultaneously more creepy and more comprehensible (which is yet more creepy) than if he were presented strictly from the outside. It struck me as a particularly bold stroke, and very effective, to present the main antagonist as deeply religious, but for the wrong side. And Sir Giles is so wonderfully hateful, yet also chillingly believable. (Dmitri and Manasseh are disappointingly cartoonish by comparison, and on first reading I was really hoping that where CW was going with them was that one or the other would turn out to be a straight-up devil, kind of a counterpoint to Prester John. If I’d been a friend of Williams’s and read early drafts of the book, I would have lobbied for that.)

But I think more than anything it’s the slight zaniness of the plot that makes this one my favourite of CW’s novels. The fact that the Archdeacon doesn’t take himself seriously is a major factor in setting this tone. I absolutely love the wacky “Archdeacon and Duke and publisher’s clerk steal the Holy Grail and a car chase ensues” episode, and to me that seems almost like the heart of the book, or its apex or quintessence or something.

When I was coming up with a list of Arthurian novels for my students to choose from for their class presentations, a friend dared me to put War in Heaven on the list, and I did, but when a student asked about it, I said, “Well, it’s very weird. It’s one of my favourite books, but it’s very weird.” Ultimately she picked some miserable novel about Guinevere, which she hated, so I should maybe have done a better job of selling the weird Holy Grail book. But it’s the combination of the weirdness and the theological seriousness of the book that I love, and that also make it an appropriate addition to the tradition of literature about the Holy Grail.

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It’s very weird: Little Guest Post on “War in Heaven”

Here are some thoughts by Medievalist Alice Deegan on War in Heaven. Please contact me if YOU want to write a guest post on any CW-related topic. Cheers. 
I should start by making clear what I don’t know, which is much of anything about the circumstances of the novel’s composition or what Williams thought he was doing when he wrote it. I make this disclaimer because, while I think I’m on board with War In Heaven’s theology—or at least the theology that I find in it—part of my enjoyment of it involves a kind of indeterminacy that is only possible because it is a novel. I love the fact that I get something new from it on each rereading.
I’m a medievalist, so the Grail angle is appealing. I like the way the meaning of the Grail is handled, the neat laying-out of its significance to the different heroes and to the villains, and the fact that the most spiritually authoritative character, the Archdeacon, ultimately decides that as an object it both does and does not matter. I think that’s the perfect way to approach such a fraught and difficult artifact, and it also chimes with my own understanding (such as it is) of the meaning of the material world for Christians.
As I mentioned before in a comment, I’m drawn to the sympathetic characters in War in Heaven, as I am in all CW’s books, actually, and I don’t find myself bothered by the fact that they don’t “develop” or are somewhat schematized. In fact, I never noticed that on previous readings. I also find the main villains very compelling. I love that we see so much from Gregory’s perspective, making him simultaneously more creepy and more comprehensible (which is yet more creepy) than if he were presented strictly from the outside. It struck me as a particularly bold stroke, and very effective, to present the main antagonist as deeply religious, but for the wrong side. And Sir Giles is so wonderfully hateful, yet also chillingly believable. (Dmitri and Manasseh are disappointingly cartoonish by comparison, and on first reading I was really hoping that where CW was going with them was that one or the other would turn out to be a straight-up devil, kind of a counterpoint to Prester John. If I’d been a friend of Williams’s and read early drafts of the book, I would have lobbied for that.)
But I think more than anything it’s the slight zaniness of the plot that makes this one my favourite of CW’s novels. The fact that the Archdeacon doesn’t take himself seriously is a major factor in setting this tone. I absolutely love the wacky “Archdeacon and Duke and publisher’s clerk steal the Holy Grail and a car chase ensues” episode, and to me that seems almost like the heart of the book, or its apex or quintessence or something.
When I was coming up with a list of Arthurian novels for my students to choose from for their class presentations, a friend dared me to put War in Heaven on the list, and I did, but when a student asked about it, I said, “Well, it’s very weird. It’s one of my favourite books, but it’s very weird.” Ultimately she picked some miserable novel about Guinevere, which she hated, so I should maybe have done a better job of selling the weird Holy Grail book. But it’s the combination of the weirdness and the theological seriousness of the book that I love, and that also make it an appropriate addition to the tradition of literature about the Holy Grail.

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A Whole Post on One Word

“Naturally”

To close out War In Heaven Week, I am offering you an entire post about one word. The word is “Naturally.” It stands out to me in the following paragraph. This occurs when Kenneth Mornington is at home after the body was found in his friend’s office. He is trying to decide whether to go on with some trifling volunteer work he had taken on, and finds his mind obsessed with the memory of the murdered corpse:

Mornington had on various occasions argued with Lionel whether pessimism was always the result of a too romantic, even a too sentimental, view of the world; and a slightly scornful mind pointed out to him, while he ate a solitary meal in his rooms that evening, that the shock which he undoubtedly had felt was the result of not expecting people to murder other people. “Whereas they naturally do,” he said to himself. “The normal thing with an unpleasant intrusion is to try and exclude it—human or not. So silly not to be prepared for these things. Some people, as De Quincey said, have a natural aptitude for being murdered. To kill or to be killed is a perfectly reasonable thing. And I will not let it stop me taking those lists round to the Vicar’s.”

I commented in a previous post that the Archdeacon has a shockingly cavalier attitude towards murder, and on a first reading, this quote seems to indicate much the same attitude on Mornington’s part. However, a close reading reveals a very precise theological meaning to these sentences: “the shock which he undoubtedly had felt was the result of not expecting people to murder other people. Whereas they naturally do.”

People in their natural state do murder one another. It is only people who have submitted themselves to the supernatural who do not.

So I took a few minutes to look up “Nature” in C. S. Lewis’s Study in Words, and to do a word-search through the full texts I have of CW’s novels and Arthuriad. Here are some thoughts.

In his chapter on “Nature,” CSL takes the reader through several root-words and meanings of “Nature.” The first is “sort, kind, quality, or character.” One of its roots, “kind,” can also mean “progeny, offspring.” Another is “Any behaviour or state which shows a thing’s, or a person’s, kind or nature.” This is a bit closer to how CW uses it here. Sometimes it can mean almost the opposite of how CW uses it: “the proper, the fitting, the desirable” or even “duteous” or “affectionate.” Then there’s another root, which means something like “inhabit, live (at), dwell, remain.” Finally, it came to mean, essentially, everything: all created stuff, all the world besides humans, our environment: Nature with a capital-N. Lewis goes through all kinds of interesting history and analysis of uses of this word and its root-words, finally coming to the Christian usage that nature “is now both distinct from God and also related to him as artifact to artist.” Then in the Middle Ages, “nature” was relegated to only those created things and beings within the sublunary sphere—below the Moon. This might not sound important, but it is of vital importance for understanding CW’s usage here. CSL finally gets around to talking about Nature and Grace: a conception of “human nature” as “the given which ought to be conquered and whose persistence is therefore bad.” Humans are in a condition—a natural condition—grievously afflicted by The Fall, and need to be saved from their natural—i.e., Fallen—state.

And so in the CW quote in War in Heaven, Mornington is talking about fallen nature: naturally, in our unregenerate condition, we murder one another.

Here are a few interesting quotations from other parts of his work, not meant in the least to be comprehensive.

There are two moments in The Place of the Lion that appear to have an identical usage:

Religions and butterflies were necessary hobbies, no doubt, for some people who knew nothing about scholarship, but they would not be of the smallest use to Damaris Tighe, and therefore, as far as possible, Damaris Tighe very naturally left them out of her life.

Later, Damaris accuses Anthony: “Of course, if you think more of yourself than of me—a” and: “Well, naturally I do,” Anthony interrupted. “Who doesn’t? Am I a saint or an Alexandrian Gnostic? Don’t let’s ask rhetorical questions, darling.”

And here’s another similar one from Many Dimensions: Chloe made “a muddled prayer to the Stone—since, being a modern normally emotional girl she was, quite naturally, an idolater—.”

And yet of course there are places where “natural” has a very positive connotation, such as in All Hallow’s Eve: when the narrator tells the reader that “Docility and sweetness were natural” to Betty.

And finally, in “Prayers of the Pope,” the final spiritual healing means a re-union of the natural and the supernatural:

no wise their supernatural parts sundered
from their natural hearts; little shall those hearts suffer—
so much shall the healing metaphysic have power upon them—

So CW was well aware of the complex and varied meanings of “Natural,” and used them to good effect in his writing. I hope this post serves as a reminder to me to pay close attention to the words he uses when he uses them with care.

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“War In Heaven” debate part 4

Please read part one, part two, and part three of this debate before reading this final installment today. Thanks!

ME:

…I’m going to jump right in onto a quote from your letter: “Why would anyone believe something as strange and baroque as Platonic Forms?” Well, you see, I do. I do believe in the Platonic Forms. And maybe right there that’s why I love Williams: because he gives earth, bones, flesh, wings, feathers, feet, hands, and faces to those abstract Forms. So instead of seeing his characters as watered-down two-dimensional versions of “real” people (i.e., people we meet every day in all their complexities or rich characters we meet in traditional novels), I see them as vital textual representations to the imagination and to the senses of extra-sensory spiritual Realities.

But I’m not really answering your question. You didn’t ask “Does anyone believe in Platonic Forms?” you asked “Why would anyone believe in them?” Well, that’s a hard one to answer. Why does anyone believe in anything? I’m reading a good essay by C. S. Lewis right now entitled “On Obstinacy in Belief.” It is designed to answer the charge that Christians keep on believing things in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. This isn’t the place to go into that essay in detail, but even my incomplete reading of it helps me to formulate my answer to “Why would anyone believe anything?” They believe it because of a combination of factors, such as personal experience, early education, logic, evidence, and/or authority. So from a psychological point of view, I probably believe in the Platonic Forms because they were presented to me at a young age through C. S. Lewis’s fiction and later through a college philosophy class, and presented in ways that were fascinating and compelling.

Then there’s just a hint of “Biblical evidence” in Hebrews. Hebrews 8:1-6 says:

1Now of the things which we have spoken this is the sum: We have such an high priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens; 2A minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man. 3For every high priest is ordained to offer gifts and sacrifices: wherefore it is of necessity that this man have somewhat also to offer. 4For if he were on earth, he should not be a priest, seeing that there are priests that offer gifts according to the law: 5Who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern shewed to thee in the mount. 6But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises.

Hebrews 10:1 reads:

1For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect.

All these seem to be saying that the earthly tabernacle is just a copy of the real one in heaven. And that thrills me!

I’ve written a bit more about my neo-Platonic beliefs in other posts on the blog; Eurydice wrote about Lewis & Plato very eloquently here. Of course, I’m a Christian, which implies that I’m not a thorough-going Greek-golden-age Platonist—-if it’s even possible to be such a thing here and now! I believe that the World of Pure Forms exists in the mind of God, and will only exist in some external sense in the New Heavens and the New Earth. But the practical consequences of this are the endless striving of human beings after perfection, the flashes of “Joy” or “Sehnsucht” that some when we catch a glimpse of a more perfect copy through a beautiful landscape or a work of art, and my feeling when I write a poem that I am trying to copy the real poem as it exists in a more perfect sphere. So even though you are right that CW’s “characters aren’t as real as the ideas they represent,” in CW’s worldview, that makes them more real. Does that make sense?

Now, you next asked (very intelligently, I might add! This was an excellent challenge for my mind): “If the real world can lead CW to his own spiritual beliefs, why can’t a realistic world in his novel leads its readers to the same conclusion?” I think that the answer must be that it wasn’t the “real world” itself that led CW to his spiritual beliefs—if by the “real world” you mean this terrestrial/phenomenal/material/sublunary world that we can taste, touch, and live in at the moment. No, I don’t think he found his beliefs there. He would probably say, if asked, that he received his beliefs via revelation from the Other World—from God, from the world of the Angelic Beings and the Pure Forms. He could have received this revelation in the traditional way, as mediated by Scripture and the teaching of the Church and of other Christians, or he could have received it in a more direct, mystical way, through personal meditation or revelation. I don’t know which; perhaps after Grevel Lindop’s new biography comes out, we can find out! But anyway, he didn’t learn about Substitution and Exchange through the natural order of things, but through a Supernatural Order.

Now, this is not how Williams would have said it himself. He probably would not have understood the question if you asked him, “Did this earthly world teach you your spiritual beliefs, or did you learn them from some other realm?” You see, his faith was always an assumed or presupposed foundation beneath all his writing, teaching, and thinking. He simply lived and thought as if religion were absolutely necessary and everyday, yet with the supernatural always contingent and proximate. Religion was constantly, consistently relevant. Martin Browne said Williams “set the room aflame. I have never met any human being in whom the divisions between body and spirit, natural and supernatural, temporal and eternal were so non-existent, nor any writer who so consciously took their non-existence for granted.” He, whether intentionally or subconsciously, didn’t really see the difference between this life and the next, just as he overlooked the division between one person and another, or between people and Christ. He just thought that they flowed into one another and shared an identity, and so could share experiences in a way that seems miraculous or magical or bizarre to a materialist or even to a somewhat skeptical Christian like myself.

So what does this do to his characters? Well, let me make a digression. I talked to Rosie about this topic the other night, and she quoted Dorothy Sayers to me. Sayers said something along the lines of “An author has an obligation to his/her characters, once they’ve been created, to let them live their full lives, to let them develop and express themselves just as parents need to let their children develop” or something like that. Basically, once I’ve created a character, I need to let him live and not force him to represent something else or to function in some kind of symbolic fashion. But I submit for your inspection the proposition that this is one way of writing fiction; that it’s not the only way, nor the most moral way. I don’t think that authors have moral obligations to their characters. Perhaps they have artistic obligations. But even then, I think that there are innumerable “correct” or “good” ways to write characters. And Williams chose to write them in the way that he read the world: as point of correspondence between the natural and the supernatural, between God and man, between the Eternal Virtues and their human copies. What do you think of that?

So let me see if I’ve addressed the essential elements of your careful and thorough argument. You said that you think “by abandoning realistic characterization, CW’s essentially asking us to take his vision or leave it; we can’t engage with it, and the novel’s just seems artificial (Hermetic?) and, well, irrelevant.” Hum. Let me take a few points here. First of all, I don’t think that CW is really abandoning realistic characterization—or, to say the same thing the other way around, isn’t every novelist? You did mention that “a novel is by definition not real.” Yes. Even Jane Austen’s emotionally and psychologically complex characters are not “real.” They are made up, obviously, but they are also much, much less complex than any real human beings. Even the most psychologically nuanced short story that purports to narrate the thoughts of one human being during a few minutes cannot capture the complexity of the workings of the human brain; even stream-of-consciousness is artificial, because it does not express the consciousness of the writer, and is itself fabricated and (honestly) much slower than the actual speed of thoughts. It’s kind of a fractalization: each writer choose a level of complexity at which his or her characters will function, and manipulates an appearance of reality consistent with that level. CW’s level, I would suggest, is just different than the majority of novel-writers’. So the psychology and character development in his books are about as realistic as, say, conjuring earth and snowstorms with a pack of cards (The Greater Trumps) or watching a house burn and burn and not burn up (The Place of the Lion) or transporting oneself through time and space by means of a stone with the letters of the name of God inscribed on it (Many Dimensions) or walking in the land of the Dead and bringing that land closer and closer to the realm of the Living (All Hallow’s Eve) or practicing substitution with one’s martyred ancestor (Descent into Hell). This is the reason for the title of War in Heaven: the point is that every spiritual battle (and the prayer over the grail by the Archdeacon, Mornington, and the Duke against the evil designs of Persimmons et al was quite an intense battle!) is simultaneously happening on earth and in Heaven. Just like you pointed out (thank you very much!) with the connection to Ephesians. It’s all gloriously absurd! It’s fantastically unrealistic; it’s super-realistic, it’s Archetypal, it’s Platonic.

But I don’t think this makes it hermetic or irrelevant. In his own life he practiced “Substitution.” “The Doctrine of Substitution & the Way of Exchange” was one of the ways that he thought “co-inherence” (sort of oneness, or unity, between people and between people & God) can be actively practiced. Everyone participates in physical exchange (I am dependant on the farmers who produce my food; those who go to war die in the place of those who stay home and for whom peace is purchased, etc); we can choose to see these personal/social/political contacts as blessings and practice co-inherence in the strength of Christ’s resurrections. We can make compacts to bear one another’s burdens. These principles can work among the living in any space and time, and also with the dead and the unborn. The clearest explication of “The Doctrine of Substituted Love” comes in the chapter of that title in Descent into Hell, in which Stanhope carries Pauline’s fear for her, so she is no longer afraid to meet her doppelganger. Also, in chapter V of He Came Down from Heaven, Williams gives a non-fiction account of this principle. Williams claims that the mockery hurled at Christ on the cross, “He saved others, but he cannot save himself” was actually the rudimentary expression of a universal principle: nobody can save himself, but we can voluntarily substitute ourselves for others and “carry their burdens” quite literally, even though those burdens may be spiritual, emotional, or medical. Martyrs and the Eucharist are examples of Christ in us and us in Him. Evil was consumed by good when Christ suffered on the Cross, and now our lives can be united to good in Christ’s earthly life.

I have very tentatively tried to practice some form of substitution.* But the real way I have found William’s novels relevant is the beautiful tranquility, serenity. This is my personal favorite, my homing locus in all his fiction: the sheer serenity of his saintly heroes. In each of CW’s novels, there is at least one character who lives in a great serenity, whose soul has a center of calm. See my previous entry on CW’s principle themes. In War in Heaven it’s the Archdeacon, and, to some extent, Barbara. But it’s what I most admire about his characters, and it’s how I want to live my life: in active submission, volitional submission, vital tranquility, purposeful peace.

So then I would strongly disagree with your statement “And if CW doesn’t seem to care about his characters, why should he care about real people?” I think he does. In a more intense, deep, profound way than many writers. I think he cares more about Mornington than Dickens cares about Tiny Tim. That’s a huge bold claim! The fact that Mornington’s death goes unmourned is the greatest act of celebration of his life, because his death ushered him into the peace of God’s presence in which he had tried to live at one remove. His death was not a cause for sorrow, and CW could not insult him by having any of the characters mourn his passage into glory. And I mean that seriously, and so did Williams.

OK, now a few of the smaller issues you raised. I’m fascinated by your proposition that I’m approaching War in Heaven from a writer’s point of view, and you’re approaching it from a reader’s. This really interests me, and perhaps explains a lot about the variance of our approach, but I haven’t figure out how yet. I’m also not sure how to respond to your analysis of my duality: whether “whether the elements you mention are flaws in CW’s book and I like it even though it’s a poor work of literature, or whether it’s a great work that just doesn’t appeal to you.” I guess I just don’t see any way out of that polarity—although I recently decided that my old schematic of “Great Literature” and “Good Literature” was sort of baloney. I mean, I can’t really discuss Walter Wangerin, for example, on the same plane as Dante, but does that make Wangerin of lesser value? He’s just different. So I suppose you want to suggest that we should throw out the question of whether or not War in Heaven is a great work? That’s OK. And as far as the emotional nature of our responses; well, yes, there’s certainly a strong emotional component contributing to which works of art we “like” and don’t like, but I would say that there are many other components which contribute at least as much—education, family tastes, early exposure, peer pressure, reason, logic, one’s own development of skill and of aesthetic evaluation—so that the final reason for an aesthetic reaction is nearly impossibly to identify.

You said “Our responses can never be proven – but this has the corollary that as long as we’re sincere, we can both be right.” I’m not sure if you intended that statement sarcastically, because I can’t help but take it that way. I do believe that one of us is “right” and one is “wrong,” or that we each have elements of accuracy and inaccuracy in our evaluations. I do believe that on some level a book “is” or “isn’t” what any given reader may say it is. And that, of course, comes back to my fundamental belief in abstract absolutes. Similarly, if I thought we were “on an intellectual road to nowhere” I’d get off that road as soon as ever I could, not matter how much there was too see along the way! My life is set on getting somewhere, somewhere very particular.

Oh, one last comment. You asked me to expand on my distinction between “novels” and “psychological thrillers.” Oops! I meant to make a distinction between novels and metaphysical thrillers! That was a big mistake. CW called his seven works of prose fiction “metaphysical thrillers,” and T. S. Eliot called them “Spiritual thrillers.” And this is because, although these books fit the standard denotation of novels (“fictitious prose narratives of book length,” OED), they violate many of its accepted connotations. We expect novels to be realistic, to some degree, unless they’re shelved with fantasy. We expect them to have significant character development. So perhaps the whole problem about characterization could be solved by simply changing the genre-label. We don’t expect the same treatment of people and events in epics or odes as we do in novels; let’s not expect it of metaphysical thrillers, either. That’s my suggestion! What do you think?

I recommend reading The Place of the Lion if we’re going to continue this conversation, especially if we want to pursue the Platonic discussion. I’m basing most of my opinion of CW’s skill and worldview on that book as well as on Descent into Hell. They’re my favorites!

* really? I don’t remember that. –SH

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