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|Descent into Hell|
by Charles Williams
Published by Pellegrini & Cudahy, 1937
Abebooks.com: various editions
Amazon.ca: paperback, audiocassette
Amazon.com: paperback, audio cassette
Christianbook.com: paperback, audio cassette
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.
Out of Williams' books which I have read so far, Descent into Hell has become my favorite. In it, Williams' concept of "co-inherence" and his oft-repeated theme that salvation and damnation can hinge upon apparently inconsequential decisions are thrown into sharpest relief.
"Give me your hand," the other said, "then come and dream, till you discover, so soon, the ripeness of your dreams." She paused, and added, "You'll never have to do anything for others anymore."
It was the last touch, and false, false because of the habit of her past and because of Stanhope's promise. The fountain of beauty had struck upward in a last thrust; it broke against the arched roof of his world, and the shock stung her into coldness. Never have to do anything and she had been promising herself that she would carry someone else's parcel as hers had been carried, that she would be what he said she could. Like it or not, it had been an oath; rash or wise it stood. (pp. 110, 111)
That is not to say that this work is any less difficult to follow or pin down than any of Williams' other works. In this one, particularly, poetry plays a central part, so since I've never really "gotten" poetry, much of the conversation goes over my head. And, as is Williams' habit, some of the conversations consist of the characters answering, not the words the other characters have spoken, but rather the thoughts which they have left unspoken. Thus, those conversations can appear to be disjointed unless you are paying close attention to what is going on. (In other words, this is a book to sit down and read with concentration, not something to read on the bus.)
Nevertheless, Williams rewards those readers who rise to his demands. His accounts of the salvation of some characters are inspiring, and the damnation of others are downright chilling. I have been told that horror is a literature of morality tales: the monsters eat the bad guys, while the good guys are spared. Surely, then, Williams' work can be considered to be "horror" by that definition, for this is a cautionary tale like none I have ever read: for the character who descends into hell most clearly does so by stages so "natural", so easily following upon one another, and (I regret to say) so familiar to me that I have found this tale to be far more frightening than more conventionally "scary" works. Greg Slade (April, 2005)
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