Friday, December 24, 2010

Many Dimensions by Charles Williams (1931)



“Many Dimensions” is Williams’ second published (but third written) novel in what could loosely be deemed a trilogy of books about the supernatural invading the natural world. In “War in Heaven,” the Grail represented an aspect of the power of God. The way it was received and used exposed the good, and more importantly evil, in human intentions. Here in “Many Dimensions,” Williams uses a relic that is unfamiliar to the reader—the Stone of Solomon. Basically, it is a stone that gives its owner whatever they wish. They can instantly be somewhere else in space. They can be in a better state of health. More perilously, they can be somewhere else in time. Once again, this supernatural power serves to expose a lot of the intentions of the characters in the book. We first see the Stone after a character from the previous book, Sir Giles, has obtained it in some vaguely treacherous way. In “War in Heaven,” Sir Giles was a secondary adversary. Here he is the main villain.

What exactly is the Stone? It is called by many names in the story: the Mystery, the End of Desire, the Unity, the Centre of Derivations, and the First Matter. Theologically, it seems to be a physical manifestation of the Tetragrammaton—the Name of God. Practically, it is a bit of the eternal shown up in the temporal. This provides Williams with the opportunity to explore metaphysical questions issues of time and space. In fact, it is amazing to think that this book was published in 1931. At one point it presents the idea of the Multiverse the way Science Fiction today speaks of it; in a quantum-mechanics sort of way well before that idea had been developed! More importantly, and true to Williams’ interests, it gives him a chance to explore the way the creature-Creator relationship should function.

In a climactic moment towards the end Chloe, the main heroine, is faced with a decision: should she use the Stone to save herself (and the Stone itself) from the enemy? Or should she avoid using the Stone because the act of using it is offensive to her? The account of her thought process at this point is illuminating:
“The she would use it; after all she was using it to save it. She was doing for it what it could not do for itself. She was protecting it. Not being a reader of religious history Chloe was ignorant what things have been done on the strength of that plea, or with what passionate anxiety men have struggled to protect the subordination of Omnipotence.”
Ultimately, Chloe decides (correctly) that God does not need her help and decides to simply pray.

This novel is a much harder story to work through than War in Heaven. The concepts are even more abstract and Williams’ style is as difficult as before at times. It is precisely in the abstract and difficult passages that the most important information is delivered, making this read less about entertainment and more about provoking thought and exploring the nature of faith. That being said, it remains entertaining enough for those who are interested in these deeper questions of life.

For those interested, this is a book that can be found completely online.

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