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|War in Heaven|
by Charles Williams
Published by Pellegrini & Cudahy, 1930
Recommended by: Ross Pavlac
Note that Charles Williams' novels are not in a series, and may be read in any order. His writing style is dark and complex, and heavily laden with atmosphere and symbolism; thus, his books are not to everyone's taste.
The very first sentence of this book gives notice that the story is going to be, well, strange: "The telephone bell was ringing wildly, but without result, since there was no-one in the room but the corpse." Things get stranger pretty quickly, and the first chapter leads you to believe that the book is going to be black humour. However, the real story is a conflict between good and evil. Specifically, a group of satanists want to use the Holy Grail as a tool to destroy good.
The subtheme I find most interesting deals with one of the satanists. He considers the people around him as his playthings, to torment, drive into madness, or even kill outright, as a whim, or in the service of his dark master. He sees himself as a lord of creation, and the normal people around him as insignificant. His smug, self-centred worldview is shattered after he encounters three other characters to whom neither his threats of punishment nor his promises of reward make the slightest difference. The person who turns out to be insignificant is, in fact, him.
I should probably say that I have some theological issues with how much power the satanists wield. (Believers are, after all, sealed with the Holy Spirit. Satan can do nothing which God does not permit.) In addition, some passages made me feel "dirty" just from reading them. (I could not help but reflect upon the cultural gulf which lies between today's world and 1930, when a grown man could express inordinate interest in a four-year-old boy without arousing suspicion.) In fact, the whole book is somewhat bizarre, and won't fit neatly into any particular category. People have used terms like "dark fantasy" or "horror" to describe Williams' work, but he can't be neatly boxed. Still, good triumphs in the end, and the imagination gets a workout. — Greg Slade (January, 2004)
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