Monday, January 23, 2012

“All Hallows’ Eve” by Charles Williams (1945)

Williams’ last novel is a mixture of the experiences of reading his novels up to that point. It has a bit more narrative structure than his last effort, “Descent into Hell”—not as much plot as say “War in Heaven” but more along the lines of his first effort, “Shadows of Ecstasy.” In fact the basic plot mechanics here echo that first effort quite a bit. On the other hand, the philosophical digressions and in particular the exploration of Williams’ pet theology are on full display.

The story in a nutshell involves a magician trying to gain power over the world at the end of World War II by, among other things, gaining control and insight into the eternal realm of the dead through his daughter. A pair of recently deceased women who are roaming about London in that parallel realm happen to have a connection to the magician’s daughter as they all used to go to school together. The magician’s daughter is engaged to a gifted painter who has managed to paint the magician himself in a way that truly captures his evil nature. Finally the painter’s best friend was married to one of the dead women. Things come to a head on All Hallows’ Eve when the magician’s magic is turned against him and he is destroyed.

One of the main themes that runs throughout the book is seen in the two dead women. The married lady experienced and offered true, selfless love during her life, and she is able to exercise that even better in death to save the magician’s daughter. The other woman was selfish and self absorbed and in death she seeks to torment the living to fulfill that need. The later is a tool in the hands of the magician while the former thwarts his plans even as he tries to use her.

It is all a rather strange experience because it is quite readable in spite of the obvious density of the story mechanics. The symbolism this time around—either due to the six novels before it or to it truly being clearer—is easier to grasp. The ever present conflict between Williams’ compelling ideas and his problems staying strictly Biblical continues, but this is one of his more accessible novels for today’s reader.

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