Thursday, February 12, 2009

Descent Into Hell

One part horror, one part salvation and the rest the possibility for either, Descent Into Hell isn't all as ominous as the title sounds. Yes, there is at least one character who allows delusion to sweep away reason and reality. The reader watches in fearful fascination as the deadly descent begins and progresses.

This was my first ever book by Charles Williams, a friend of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis and a member of the famous Inklings, the literary pub group they belonged to. How I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall at those meetings! I can just imagine Williams reading this book to his compatriots. No blood and gore thriller produced today, no matter how fiendish, can surpass the reality of an individual succumbing to evil without a fight; it is chilling.

If the book were only about darkness, however, I don't think I could have finished it. Instead, there is a parallel story about another character who is also haunted, disappointed and apparently even more justified in following a path of descent, who does not. Descent contains many beautiful passages, hidden or double meanings, places where you want to pause and reflect on the author's full intention. It is a book worth reading slowly. Williams believed that everything which happens has an underlying spiritual meaning. It was the spiritual side of things he was interested in--the physical world was -- is -- clothing so-to-speak to dress what is really happening. That belief is not too far from Lewis' own Shadowlands concept. Again, just imagine the great conversations they had!

Read Descent Into Hell but plan to take your time with it. It can be confusing in places. I admit that I did not understand all of it. I'd love to find a William's expert somewhere who could go over the book with me because there are confusing bits here and there. Check out "Lonely...I'm Mr. Lonely" by Roger R. at The Inklings for an excellent review of Descent. I wish I'd had it while I was still trying to read the book the first time, although I definitely plan to read it again and -- God willing -- I want to read the rest of his books too.

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