In the first chapter of her literary criticism of Charles Williams, Agnes Sibley writes

Charles Williams led an outwardly uneventful life. He never took a holiday, and only once did he leave England, to give a lecture in Paris. It was as if he needed no external stimulus to make ife interesting; an inner excitement about ideas carried him through what same would have regarded as boring days.

Fascinating. I aspire to travel, but I also aspire to what she is describing here.

The more and more I read of William’s works and about him, the more I am convinced that about 80% of what was cool about Williams was lost when he died in 1945 at the age of 58.

All accounts of Williams are of an amazing personality. And yet… his actually writing? I’m going to step out into the light here and say that Charles William’s work are of dubious value.

I read a recent essay on how Bob Dylan can produce (intentionally maybe?) a horrible new album and people will rave over it anyway. I’m afraid people are slow to denounce Williams for similar reasons. C.S. Lewis absolutely gushed over him at every opportunity. Out of respect for Lewis, nobody is able to read one of William’s novels and say (out loud) “Hey, wait a minute. This is crap”. Well, I’ll say it. Actually crap is maybe a bit too strong. You could do a lot worse. But it’s still pretty lousy.

I’m serious!

His ideas were original. He took romantic idealism to mind-blowing new heights. Heights that I’m afraid could only be sustained as long as he was personally in the room maintaining the energy through sheer enthusiasm.

I have TRIED really hard to like Williams. I really have. It seems like I should like him. Some of his stuff has been great. His introduction to Arthurian legend was top notch. His poetry has it’s moments. But for the most part? I’m tired of trying. On to something else.

6 Responses to “Charles Williams, sigh…”

  1. Steve Hayes says:

    For me it’s just the opposite.

    I don’t find his life very interesting, but I do enjoy his novels, and keep re-reading them. I don’t often re-read novels, unless I’ve forgotten the plot, but I re-read Williams’s novels even though I’ve read them often enough that I can remember the plot.

  2. Matthew says:

    Interesting. Well, I’ve never met anyone that was that into them!

    I certainly like what he did with the Arthurian legend.

    Maybe the fact that I’m not enamored with Dante causes me to miss something important.

  3. Steve Hayes says:

    I must say I haven’t read Dante, really, though as a child i was fascinated by Gustav DorĂ©’s illustrations of the Inferno.

    Williams has a small but enthusiastic following. There’s a general Inklings forum at Neoinklings, and a specifically Williams one at Coinherence.

  4. Matthew says:

    Thanks for the links. I’ll check it out.

  5. Tim says:

    Williams’ mind must have been full of fireflies. He is a writer of the short burst of intense light — one sentence or paragraph — which he then chases with long darkness. The genius moments are higher than Lewis, but the clunkers are so bad Lewis could not have written them in the nursery.

    The steadiest work, I think, is The Figure of Beatrice.

  6. Matthew says:

    Ah, that’s a really good way of putting it. Williams is very inconsistent.

    That Hideous Strength is 10x better than any of William’s supernatural novels if for no other reason than it’s good the whole way through – not just for a passing moment here and there.
    He has his moments though.

Leave a Reply