Monday, December 16, 2019

Coming in the Clouds

'Send not, send not, the rich empty away.'
Charles Williams, The Prayers of the Pope


In his book The Eleventh Hour (2002) the Traditionalist scholar Martin Lings (1909-2005) claims that the nearer we get to the end of the Kali Yuga the more the light of the Golden Age to come will inevitably shine into the darkness of our times. It would be fruitful, I feel, to focus as much of our attention as we can on this aspect of eschatology - less, perhaps, on the Sturm und Drang of a dissolute world in collapse and more on the 'Eighth Day' and the holy light of the Heavenly Jerusalem, which is even now, here and there, starting to make itself manifest.

Here is a related thought. What if the return of Christ at the end of the age 'coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory' (Matt 24:30) is not something which happens all at once, as we commonly suppose, but bit by bit, a little like a light with a dimmer switch? The eschatological Christ, in this case, may already be here, but at the moment very few can see him. It is too dark. But the more people start to perceive him - those compelled into vision by the force of their longing - those rich in sorrow, loss, yearning, and the pain of living in a world shorn of Divinity - the brighter He becomes and the brighter we all become until every person, place and thing is transfigured in His light.

I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last ... He which testified these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Even so, come, Lord Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen. (Rev 22: 13, 19-21)

Monday, December 9, 2019

The Woman Clothed With The Sun

On this day in 1996, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception transferred from Sunday 8th December to Monday 9th, I attended Mass at the Oratorian church in Manchester - The Holy Name on Oxford Road as it then was.

The music was Palestrina's Missa Papae Marcelli and the priest giving the sermon was Fr. David Clemens. 'An ancient philosopher,' he said at one point, speaking of Our Lady's Heavenly beauty, 'once wrote that we become that which we contemplate.' Struck by the profundity of Fr. Clemens' thought, I popped down to Manchester Central Library the next day and found out that the philosopher was Plotinus.

It was an epiphany which I wasted in many ways, but I'll never forget it - the clear sense I had as he spoke of the continuity and relationship between classical thought and the Christian revelation. C.S. Lewis does something similar at the end of The Last Battle with Professor Kirke's references to Platonism.

What moved me most about the sermon was that it wasn't motivated by an abstraction but by beauty, by 'the woman clothed with the sun', who shines with the light of Heaven and whose love for us is at the same time deeply human and personal. Maternal, in a word.

'A terrible beauty is born,' wrote W.B. Yeats in Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen, and sometimes we can't handle that beauty and we hide from it and turn away from it. I certainly did. But that doesn't matter. What counts is that it exists. That it's there. That She's there. That He's there. Yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Resistance and Renewal: The Restoration of Logres in a Time of Dissolution

The Lindisfarne Gospels - title page of St. Mark's Gospel


A talk given at the Visions of Albion conference held at the Monastery of the Holy Trinity, Crawley Down, on Saturday October 12th 2019.

'Owain looked away past the waiting figure of the High King to the harsh grey mass of the fortress. Rutupiae, his own people had called it. It had no name now, it was just the Roman Tower. How much it had seen, the old fortress: the first invading waves of the Sea Wolves, the last Roman troops in Britain; and now ... ?

The faint sound of chanting reached his ears, carried on the light sea wind; and there was an answering stir among the waiting Saxons. Beyond the old land-gate, something was moving and he saw the blink of polished metal. And slowly, winding into view through the gates of the ruined fortress where they had lodged while they waited for the King, came a long line of figures, pied black and white like plover. At their head walked a man carrying a tall silver cross, and behind him another, bearing aloft the great many-coloured banner of Christ in Glory. Even at this distance the colours shone like jewels, and behind the standard, leading all the rest, walked a very tall man who carried himself like an Emperor.

The chanting swelled louder as the company wound out over the bridge and causeway and drew slowly nearer along the paved roads. Words began to take shape out of the rise and fall of the chanting: the stately words of the Litany: "Kyrie Eleison," Owain heard, "Kyrie Eleison."

Standing there among the Saxon warriors, Owain had all at once a strange sensation, a kind of weeping in his breast. His faith had meant a lot to him when he was a boy; it had been bound up with the Britain that had stood sword in hand against the inflowing barbarian hordes; but later it had worn thin. But now it appeared to him that a glorious and a shining thing was happening; he had a feeling of great wonder, and the shadows of the clouds over the marsh were the shadows of vast wings.'

Rosemary Sutcliff, Dawn Wind


In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Thank you Xavier for your recital; thank you Wayne for your kind words and for your vision and organisational tenacity in making this event happen; thanks especially to Father Colin and the community at the Monastery of the Holy Trinity for hosting our conference here today; and thank you all for your presence in this room this morning.

'Resistance and Renewal: The Restoration of Logres in a Time of Dissolution' is the title of my talk today. So how we'll play it, I think, is to save renewal and restoration for the end, take a look at Logres in the middle, and make a start with dissolution and resistance. So what then, to begin with, is dissolving in our society today and how do we set about resisting that dissolution?

The extract we've just heard, from Rosemary Sutcliff's 1961 novel Dawn Wind, contains all these themes - dissolution, resistance, restoration, and renewal. Sutcliff, who died in 1992 aged just 70, was a marvellous writer. She wrote historical fiction for children mainly, so many of you, I'm sure, will have encountered her before. Her stories set in Roman and post-Roman Britain ask some searching questions. What does it mean to be British? What exactly is Britain? What is our relationship to the continent and the dominant European political power? Are we part of the Empire, or do we stand at one remove from it? Can we have, or be, a bit of both? This is all very germane, of course, to where we are in our island story at the moment.

Dawn Wind is set in the last decade of the sixth century, at the end of the Romano-British resistance to the invading Anglo-Saxons. In two related Sutcliff books, The Lantern Bearers (set in the mid-fifth century) and Sword at Sunset (set at the turn of the fifth and sixth centuries) we see Ambrosius Aurelianus and his successor Arthur - or Artos, as Sutcliff calls him - repel the Saxon onslaught and, astonishingly, restore the Western Roman Empire here in Britain. After the Battle of Mount Badon in Sword at Sunset, Artos is hailed as Caesar by his troops, and this is how he responds:

'After many years, there is an Emperor of the West again. It is in my heart that few beyond our shores will ever hear of this night's crowning. Assuredly, the Emperor of the East in his golden city of Constantinople will never know that he has a fellow; but what matter that? The Island of Britain is all that still stands of Rome-in-the-West and therefore it is enough that we in Britain know that the light still burns ... Together we have saved Britain for this time, and together we will hold Britain, that the things worth saving shall not go down into the dark!'

Britain, for Sutcliff, does not stand alone. She is an integral part of the Empire and the European civilisation that Rome represents. She has a relationship with the Imperial centre, but is in no way dependent on that centre. In the civilisational vacuum left by the fall of Rome, Britain actually becomes that centre - 'Rome-in-the-West' - 'where the light still burns.'

The passage we heard from Dawn Wind takes place some 75 years after this scene, and whether it's because the British have become weaker and the Saxons stronger or both at once, the dam breaks, and the British are overrun and retreat definitively into what is now Wales. Owain survives the last calamitous battle only to become thrall to a Saxon lord in Kent, and it is here at Cantiisburg where he witnesses this scene - the coming of St. Augustine from Rome to preach the Gospel to the heathen English.

This is the 'dawn wind' of the book's title - a new springtime - barbarians baptised as Christians, the healing of harms between Anglo-Saxon and Celt, the return of our country to the fold of European culture and civilisation, and the first tentative steps towards the great blossoming of faith and learning which we saw in the seventh and eighth centuries and then again and most gloriously between the two eras of Viking attacks in the tenth.

So what Owain sees here is the end of that long dark night in which Artos and others 'keep the light burning.' In the words of Eugenus, a minor character in The Lantern Bearers:

'I sometimes think that we stand at sunset. It may be that the night will close over us in the end, but I believe that morning will come again. Morning always grows again out of the darkness, though maybe not for the people who saw the sun go down. We are the Lantern Bearers, my friend; for us to keep something burning, to carry what light we can forward into the darkness and the wind.'

So how does this map on to where we are now in October 2019? Are we witnessing a new dawn, a fresh outpouring of grace in our land, or are we more like the lantern bearers Eugenus has just described? Probably, if we're honest, the latter. Without meaning to get caught up in a declinist narrative, which is a particular temptation of these times, this is undoubtedly a tough patch for all of us, Christian or not, who have a serious vision and belief in the spiritual role, destiny and vocation of this country. I'm not going to talk much this morning about the agents of dissolution currently corroding the contemporary West. We all know who and what they are. Let's just say that they don't believe in words like vision, destiny and potential. It's important for us then to engage our minds and our imaginations as to how we change the dynamic and start resetting and reshaping the agenda.

Speaking from a religious point of view - I'm a Roman Catholic by the way - I've been very influenced these last few years, as have many, by Rod Dreher's book The Benedict Option (2015). His key tenet is that religious believers in the West tend to underestimate the strength, ferocity and sheer anti-Christian animus of the progressive, secular Credo which occupies the commanding heights of government, big business, media and academia. It's even creeping into the Churches, and that's Dreher's point, that Christians can no longer fully rely on their institutions to guard and protect them from evil. So if we want to survive, if we want to sow the seeds of future renewal, then we need to band together in what he calls 'intentional communities', to give each other the support and encouragement we need to endure and push through what he describes as the 'coming soft totalitarianism.'

The Benedict Option takes its title from the monastic community founded by St. Benedict of Nursia at Monte Cassino in southern Italy in 529 AD, just over fifty years after the final Roman Emperor in the West, Romulus Augustulus, was deposed. In stepping back from the political and military whirlpool of the time and establishing these contemplative religious centres - these spiritual powerhouses - Benedict was silently and prayerfully laying the foundations for the great European civilisation of the Middle Ages. This, Dreher feels, is the blueprint we need to emulate today, in a way that's right and fitting for our own epoch. So, a revival of monasticism might take place as a result of this, and that would be welcome and some of us might be called on that path. But it's not the only way. Those of us who haven't taken religious vows can and must form intentional communities too - whether we live together in communal life or arrange to meet a number of times a year, a month, or a week. The important thing is to take the initiative and start constructing a shared vision that can sustain and inspire us through this age of dissolution.

So, with this in mind, I want to look now at two literary examples of intentional communities which resonate deeply, I feel, with this notion of Britain's spiritual calling and where we are as a country today.


Let's take Charles Williams first, a Londoner, who was born in 1886 and died in 1945. Williams wore a host of hats - novelist, theologian, poet, playwright, spiritual director, lecturer, editor, and white magician. During the Second World War, his employers, the Oxford University Press, relocated their London office to Oxford, and it was during these years that Williams became a full-time member of the Inklings, that circle of creative Oxford Christians who met to read and discuss their writing, either in C.S. Lewis's rooms at Magdalen College or in the Eagle and Child pub. Williams was liked and admired by the Inklings. He formed a strong friendship with J.R.R. Tolkien, for instance, but it is his close relationship with Lewis - as friends and as imaginative Christians - which particularly interests us here, and especially the way Lewis's novel That Hideous Strength (1945) seems to follow on from Williams's two books of Arthurian poetry, Taliessin Through Logres (1938) and The Region of the Summer Stars (1944). There's a highly fertile exchange of images and themes here around this recurring motif of Logres - the Platonic Britain, the spiritual Britain, the real and essential Britain - and that's what I want to focus on today.

Williams's poems are strange and difficult in many respects, but they are also colourful, dramatic and vivid. They are intensely imagistic, and there's an incantatory quality to them, which means they have a way of taking root in our minds even if our intellects don't fully grasp at first what the poet is saying. They are inherently positive poems, with the emphasis on joy rather than sin, and the possibility of a fulfilment of potential - both individual and collective - in, as Williams puts it, 'love, laughter, intelligence and prayer.' His version of the Grail story leads us away from the stumblings and failures of Western civilisation, towards future achievement both in and out of this world. He gives us a far-reaching vision of divine purpose working itself out, a vision which at the same time demands and requires our co-operation here and now, according to our various gifts and capacities.

Williams does some interesting things with time in his Arthuriad. As with the historical Arthur and the Arthur of most retellings, such as Sutcliff's, it's set primarily in the era of the Saxon invasions. Yet this is not a post-Imperial Britain, as in The Lantern Bearers and Sword at Sunset, but a province of a Byzantine Empire which stretches from Jerusalem to Caucasia to the Iberian peninsula and the western edges of Wales. He makes Islam a contemporary reality as well. There are even references to the fall of Constantinople - which, as we know, actually occurred in 1453 - as if it happened towards the end of Arthur's reign, and as a direct result of his egotism and the failure of Logres to live up to its high and holy calling.

As with Sword at Sunset, where Arthur's Britain steps into the void left by Rome and becomes for a time the Roman Empire in the West, so in Williams's poetry, our country has a unique and singular role to play. Look at this map which Williams had drawn for the frontispiece of Taliessin Through Logres and the female figure - Merlin's sister, Brisen - - who represents the Empire:

Logres is the Empire's face and eyes, the seat of imagination and vision, with Camelot (London) as its mouth. In Williams's spatial mythology, Logres looks West, across the sea, towards Carbonek, the Grail City, and beyond that to the far West, the holy city of Sarras and the land of the Trinity. The Gallic-German territories are represented by the figure's breasts, suggesting the milk of theology and Christian doctrine. The hands correspond with Italy and Rome where the Pope celebrates Mass with his hands - a 'manual act' in Williams's terminology. Byzantium itself is at the navel - the central point - with Jerusalem at the genitals, symbolising the genesis of the whole Imperial vision.

The Empire's reality is by no means confined to those living within its borders at any given time. It is an eternal verity. It was, it is, it will be again. As members of the Empire - as participants and sharers in the Imperial order - we are in a relationship with those who preceded us and those who will come after. We live in a three-dimensional, multi-faceted universe. There are, to quote the title of one of Williams's novels, 'many dimensions.' This is superbly illustrated in his poem Mount Badon - so returning now to this pivotal battle which Sutcliff described in Sword at Sunset, where the historical Arthur is said to have dealt the Saxons such a blow that they gave the Britons no further trouble for three generations.

Taliessin - Williams's chief protagonist - as well as being the King's Poet is also his Captain of Horse, and here he's given charge of the cavalry reserve and has to judge the best moment to send them in. Have a listen, when I read the poem, to the way he makes his decision. Taliessin doesn't weigh the military pros and cons. He sinks deep inside himself instead in stillness and serenity, connecting across the centuries to the Roman poet Virgil at the moment when, during his composition of The Aeneid, Virgil is searching for the right word to describe Augustus's victory over Mark Antony at Actium. The two poets meet across the sea of time and at the instant when Virgil finds his word so Taliessin sees the gap in the enemy lines and sounds the charge. Virgil inaugurates the Roman Empire with his pen (his 'style') while, centuries away but also, metaphysically speaking, at the same time, Taliessin wins the battle for the King, thus enabling the founding of Camelot and the advent of the holy realm of Logres:

The king's poet was his captain of horse in the wars.
He rode over the ridge; his force
sat hidden behind, as the king's mind had hidden.
The plain below held the dragon in the centre,
Lancelot on the left, on the right Gawaine,
Bors in the rear commanding the small reserve:
the sea's indiscriminate host roared at the City's wall.
As with his household few Taliessin rode over the ridge,
the trumpets blew, the lines engaged.

Staring, motionless, he sat;
who of the pirates saw? none stopped;
they dropped and lopped Logres; they struck deep,
and their luck held; only support lacked:
neither for charge nor for ruse could the allied crews
abide the civilised single command;
each captain led his own band and each captain unbacked;
but numbers crashed; Taliessin saw Gawaine
fail, recover, and fail again;
he saw the Dragon sway; far away
the household of Lancelot was lost in the fray;
he saw Bors fling
company after company to the aid of the king,
till the last waited the word alone.

Staring, motionless, he sat.
Dimly behind him he heard how his staff stirred.
One said: "He dreams or makes verse"; one: "Fool.
all lies in a passion of patience - my Lord's rule."
In a passion of patience he waited the expected second.
Suddenly the noise abated, the fight vanished, the last
few belated shouts died in a new quiet.
In the silence of a distance, clear to the king's poet's sight,
Virgil was standing on a trellised path by the sea.
Taliessin saw him negligently leaning; he felt
the deep breath dragging the depth of all dimension,
as the Roman sought for the word, sought for his thought,
sought for the invention of the City by the phrase.
He saw Virgil's unseeing eyes; his own,
in that passion of activity but one suspended,
leaned on those screened ports of blind courage.
Barbaric centuries away, the ghostly battle contended.

Civilised centuries away, the Roman moved.
Taliessin saw the flash of his style
dash at the wax; he saw the hexameter spring
and the king's sword swing; he saw, in the long field,
the point where the pirate chaos might suddenly yield,
the place for the law of grace to strike.
He stood in his stirrups; he stretched his hand;
he fetched the pen of his spear from its bearer;
his staff behind signed to their men.

The Aeneid's beaked lines swooped on Actium;
the stooped horse charged; backward blown,
the flame of song streaked the spread spears
and the strung faces of words on a soft tongue.
The household of Taliessin swung on the battle;
hierarchs of freedom, golden candles of the solstice
that flared round the golden-girdled Logos, snowy-haired,
brazen-footed, starry-handed, the thigh banded with the

The trumpets of the City blared through the feet of brass;
the candles flared among the pirates; their mass broke;
Bors flung his company forward; the horse and the reserve
caught the sea's host in a double-curve;
the paps of the day were golden-girdled;
hair, bleached white by the mere stress of the glory,
drew the battle through the air up threads of light.
The tor of Badon heard the analytical word;
the grand art mastered the thudding hammer of Thor,
and the heart of our lord Taliessin determined the war.

The lord Taliessin kneeled to the king;
the candles of new Camelot shone through the fought field.

Williams lays out the overarching, divine plan for Logres in The Calling of Taliessin, the second poem in The Region of the Summer Stars. The land, in the time of Taliessin's youth, when this poem is set, is a welter of war and chaos. Logres has not yet been established. Two numinous figures, Merlin and Brisen, appear to Taliessin, who at this stage is an unbaptised Druidic bard. They show him in a vision the things that are to come - the ascendancy of Arthur, the flourishing of Logres, and his own future therein as soldier and poet. Merlin explains that the Parousia, the second coming of Christ, is close at hand and that the Most High has chosen this island as the meeting point - or bridge, if you like - between the Grail city of Carbonek in the West and the Imperial capital of Byzantium in the East. Before the Lord returns, says Merlin, the Holy Grail must come again, and this is the sacred task that Logres has been given - to blossom into a holy Kingdom; a Christ-centred realm; a land of prayer and charity; a fitting place for the Grail to reappear and shine its light unto all the nation's as herald and forerunner of that 'golden-girdled Logos' who has just been evoked in Mount Badon.

Merlin knows, however - human nature being what it is - that things can go wrong and that Logres may fall or fail to live up to its calling. In this event, he says, the small Household or Company that will, in due time, form around Taliessin, will survive the dissolution of the kingdom and the postponement of the Parousia and act as witnesses - Lantern Bearers, you might say - for the continued presence of the Logos in the world. And this, of course, is exactly what transpires.

This Company - the King's Poet's Household, to give it it's full title - is spoken of in detail in the poem The Founding of the Company. Here are the first four lines:

About this time there grew, throughout Logres,
a new company, as (earlier) in Tabennisi
or (later) on Monte Cassino or in Cappadocia
a few found themselves in common ...

Monte Cassino, of course, is a reference to St. Benedict of Nursia. The other monastic founders mentioned here are the Cappadocian fathers and St. Pamochius at Tabennisi. So there's a connection here with those monastic orders who, as we saw earlier, prepared the way in a time of disintegration and collapse for European Christendom. But Taliessin's Company is not an order in this sense. It's more informal than that. Taliessin is also not a founder in the way that St. Benedict was. He's a magnetic centre. He doesn't reach out to others, as such. People are drawn to him, and the Company grows from there.

The Founding of the Company is a sustained poetic meditation on the three key concepts the Household focuses its attention on - three ideas, three themes, that were of absolute centrality for Williams: Exchange, Substitution, and Co-inherence. Exchange is simply an awareness of giving and receiving and recognising this exchange as a sacred act. So I'm talking at the moment and you're listening. In a few moments William will be talking and I will be listening, and so on. It's like a dance. We give and receive all the time, and this giving, this accepting, this mutual sharing - is what the divine economy is all about.

Substitution takes this to a higher level. Williams took inspiration here from St. Paul's injunction to 'bear ye one another's burdens.' So let's say, for instance, that I've got an operation coming up and I'm worried about it. I might ask Wayne here, or Wayne might volunteer, to do the worrying for me, to pick up the cross of my anxiety and carry that burden, as Simon of Cyrene does for Christ on Good Friday. Co-inherence takes these ideas of Substitution and Exchange and unites them in a higher synthesis, a mystical awareness of the Holy Trinity and the eternal give and take of reciprocal love flowing between the three Divine Persons.

What is extraordinary is that all this actually happened in Williams's life, from around 1938, the year Taliessin Through Logres was published. He did not, I need to stress, set out to found a Company. He was asked to do so by his students, colleagues and friends. 'The Companions of the Co-Inherence' it was called, and it followed exactly the same template as Taliessin's Household. Grevel Lindop's 2015 biography Charles Williams: The Third Inkling makes it very clear just how seriously these Companions took Williams's ideas. There are some fascinating quotes there recounting how Substitution worked in practice and how it consistently yielded positive results.

Williams genuinely believed in this Company. As time went on, the line between the mythical and the everyday began to blur in his mind and he came, for better or worse, to identify himself more and more with Taliessin and his Household. The Company, for him, was engaged in a mission of high import - to bring an extra dimension to Christianity and take it in a new and vital direction - both contemplative and imaginative, orthodox and maverick - particularly well-suited to the needs and demands of modern, urban life.


Let's look now at C.S. Lewis's novel That Hideous Strength (1945) and how it develops these notions of Logres and the faithful remnant representing it in a time of darkness. Dr. Dimble, a historian, who is part of this books equivalent Household or Company, explains it like this. 'We gradually came to see,' he says, 'that the Arthurian story is mostly true history. There was a moment in the sixth century when something that is always trying to break into this country nearly succeeded. Logres was our name for it and gradually we began to see all English history in a new way.'

So Dimble starts to perceive that what we call 'Britain' is always shadowed or haunted by something called 'Logres' - a higher, deeper, national Platonic Ideal or Form, constantly seeking to break into tactile reality. 'Haven't you noticed,' he goes on, 'that we are two countries? After every Arthur, a Mordred; behind every Milton, a Cromwell: a nation of poets, a nation of shopkeepers; the home of Sidney - and of Cecil Rhodes. Is it any wonder they call us hypocrites? But what they mistake for hypocrisy is really the struggle between Logres and Britain.'

The 'Britain' that 'Logres' contends against in That Hideous Strength is a powerful lobby of researchers, politicians, scientists, and bureaucrats, known as the NICE - The National Institute for Co-ordinated Experiments. This body intends to first conquer Britain, then the world, not with military might - not at the start anyway - but with technology, officiousness, bureaucracy, and a form of proto-Orwellian Newspeak. There's a polished surface veneer, with much talk of planning, efficiency, rationality, making the most of our resources, and so forth. But that's all a front. The NICE's intentions are demonic, and that's a literal thing in That Hideous Strength, not metaphorical.

I think that as time goes on people are starting to see just how prophetic Lewis was in this book and how similar the ideology and mentality of the NICE is to much of what we see around us today. They're transhumanists basically. They want to override the physical and mental limits the human condition lays upon us. They want to scrap the moral law and any sense of objective truth and reality. These, to them, are mere backward anachronisms which stand in the way of progress. The human race needs to be reconditioned, reprogrammed, so that things we instinctively recoil from in disgust become quite normal and even admirable. Elwin Ransom, the Company's Director, sums up this outlook succinctly and perceptively:

'Despair of objective truth had been increasingly insinuated into the scientists; indifference to it, and a concentration upon mere power had been the result. Dreams of the far future destiny of man were dragging up from its shallow and unquiet grave the old dream of man as God ... The very experiences of the dissecting room and the pathological laboratory were breeding a conviction that the stilling of all deep-set repugnancies was the first essential for progress ... You could not have done this with nineteenth-century scientists. Their firm objective materialism would have excluded it from their minds; and even if they could have been made to believe, their inherent morality would have kept them from touching dirt ... What should they find incredible, since they believed no longer in a rational universe? What should they regard as too obscure, since they held that all morality was a subjective by-product of the physical and economic structures of men? The time was ripe. From the point of view which is accepted in Hell, the whole history of our Earth had led up to this moment. There was now at last a real chance for fallen Man to shake off that limitation of his powers which mercy had imposed upon him as a protection from the full results of his fall. If this succeeded, Hell would be at last incarnate.'

Opposing this abominable conceit is a succession of what Lewis calls 'Pendragons' - a line of secret kings, an alternative monarchy - active still in the twenty-first century and stretching back to Arthur and even beyond Arthur, all the way to Brutus the Trojan, the legendary founder of Britain, and beyond him again to Aeneas himself, who was also, of course, the founder of Rome. So quite some lineage there. Some of these sovereigns, the book tells us, are known to history, others are not. What matters is the way each Pendragon draws a Company around himself to 'hold Britain' as Artos says in Sword at Sunset, 'so that the things worth saving do not go down into the dark.'

It falls, therefore, on Ransom, as reigning Pendragon, to play the role Taliessin plays in Mount Badon and lead the counter-attack. The Company which forms around him does not appear all that impressive in human terms - an elderly historian and his wife, a sociologist and his wife, a sceptic, a housemaid whose husband is a convict, a bear, a handful of other animals, plus Jane Studdock, a young woman troubled by turbulent dreams whose marriage is crumbling and whose ambitious but naive husband, Mark, has been seduced and hooked in by the NICE.

This fair to middling crew - not even that really - is all Logres can offer in the face of godless, technocratic power. This is Camelot, Carbonek, and the Round Table. This is Taliessin's Household; Williams's Companions of the Co-inherence. These are ourselves today - fallible, brittle and weak - certainly in my case anyway - but facing, we hope, the right way; turning from evil - taking a stand against it - and looking towards the Sun. This is the resistance which Ransom moulds, shepherds and guides, trusting not in his own wisdom and strength but always in God and the high angelic powers. So when MacPhee, the epitome of that honest nineteenth-century materialism we have just heard Ransom mourn the passing of, suggests that the Company might as well dissolve given how little it seems to be doing in the face of the enemy, Ransom responds, 'I have no power to dissolve it.' 'In that case,' demands MacPhee, 'I must ask what authority you had to bring it together?' 'I never brought it together,' replies Ransom. 'Were you all under the impression I had selected you?'

So the Household, the remnant, the Company - Logres, in short - is not brought to birth by a charismatic genius - though Ransom, Taliessin, and Charles Williams are each figures of power at the centre of an order. Instead, a divine hand works invisibly behind each particular Company in its shaping, orientation and focus.


So where do we find this divine hand at work in our land today? How is it prompting us to respond to the dissolution we see and feel around us - this diminution of the sacred in our lives and in society, this hollowing out of the spiritual, this stripping down of everything once held holy - God, country, the human person - to a dreary materialism and forced equality? Where, then, is meaning to be found, and once found, nourished and preserved, so that 'we can keep something burning' as Eugenus says in The Lantern Bearers, 'carrying what light we can forward into the light and the wind'?

The Benedict Option is a response to exactly this question, of course, but I think that in terms of the UK it might be best to approach the issue in a big-picture way first. It's interesting, for instance, that in all these books we've looked at there is a clear and distinct international dimension in play. Whether it's post-Imperial Britannia, the coming of Roman Christianity to England, Williams's Byzantine Empire, or the interplanetary struggle between good and evil in That Hideous Strength, Britain does not stand alone in splendid isolation, as it were, but is, on the contrary, deeply embedded in a wider European and global order.

So perhaps in our time it's not so much a question of the extent to which Britain belongs in Europe but more about finding, connecting with, and building the right kind of supra-national polity to belong to. This country, after all, is where Europe, the Commonwealth and the Anglosphere meet and intersect. So there's a lot of potential here, but Dreher is right; we can't rely on our institutions to help us fulfil it. But what excites me now, from a Logrian perspective, is this very necessity placed on us to set things in motion ourselves. So we can certainly be a link - a bridge - between civilisational spheres, but could we be even more? What if the Households and Companies we form here shine a light into Europe and beyond so that they ignite a response in the hearts of like-minded individuals? What if these men and women become inspired by the renewal of values taking place in this isle and begin their own grass-roots restoration projects? If the EU, for example, is ever to be reformed and reshaped from within, then this is how it will happen - from the bottom up, not the top down.

Christ tells us in the Gospel that if we have faith the size of a mustard seed then we can move mountains. Faith is the most important element of all - far more than any head-based strategising or planning. It's difficult, because the anti-religious, anti-traditional currents of contemporary life claim the opposite, but we have to believe in ourselves, in each other, and in our country. All three levels - the personal, the communitarian, and that of the country or homeland - were conceived in the mind of God and have a divinely-imprinted destiny to fulfil.

Countries are real. They are living, concrete entities, not abstractions or so-called 'imagined communities'. Lewis shows us this brilliantly at the end of the final Narnia story The Last Battle, where, from the vantage point of eternity, we see all the countries in all the worlds - including England, including Narnia - jutting like spurs from the mountains of Aslan's country, shining like jewels, more solid and real than we ever perceived them down here in the Shadowlands.

Each country has its own inner essence - its charism, its individual gift - which needs, for the good of the whole world, to be drawn out and championed. As Ransom puts it, 'When Logres really dominates Britain, when the goddess reason, the divine clearness, is really enthroned in France, when the order of Heaven is really followed in China - why, then it will be spring.'

The Imagination - with a capital 'I' - is what we're especially blessed with in Albion, I feel. We see it in William Blake, of course, in Shakespeare, Milton, and Traherne, and, in more modern times, poets such as Kathleen Raine, George Mackay Brown, Edwin Muir, and David Jones. Tolkien, Williams and Lewis, as is well-known, conveyed profound Christian truth through the media of poetry and story. How right Williams was then, to portray Logres as the eyes - the visionary hub - of his reimagined Byzantine Empire.

Imagination, however, is not exciusively or primarily concerned with the writing of novels and poems. These are the fruits of our Imaginative labour but they are not its most essential aspects. What is absolutely key is the ability to see through and beyond the Sturm und Drang of daily political and social life and dig down deep to what is truly real. This is just what Ransom does in That Hideous Strength. To MacPhee's annoyance, he doesn't react to the grubby power-plays of the NICE. He doesn't launch a raid on their premises or expose them to the government or call in help from overseas. He refuses to be drawn. He declines to play the game on this tactical, newspaper-headline level. He knows that he is engaged in a spiritual conflict and that the real war goes on in Heaven. He waits, therefore. He watches and prays. He sits at the Lord's feet with Mary, while Martha (MacPhee) complains. Like Taliessin in Mount Badon, he sinks into contemplation and receives the help he needs from planetary angels who operate at a level far above that of the parry and counter-parry of political strife.

The problem, as I see it, is that all these figures - poets, novelists, fictional characters, ourselves too - have been swimming against the tide for a long time now; since 1066, in fact. My contention is that King Harold's death at Hastings was the moment when this country lost its spiritual bearings, and this turning away from the Good has become increasingly pronounced ever since. The Normans brought an expansionist mentality with them and a certain rapaciousness, which had previously been absent in England's ruling class. However noble - jumping forward a few centuries now - the motives behind the Reformation and the challenge to Charles I's authority might have been, the net result, in my view, was to encourage and exacerbate this mindset, flinging open the door to that mercantilism, industrialism, and mechanistic thinking, which Blake railed so mightily against and with which we continue to contend with today.

It hasn't always been this way though. In the last few hundred years before Christ, as Blake well knew, Britain, through the strength and influence of the Druids, was a centre of great spiritual power, with a reputation for the numinous which stretched far beyond Albion's rocky shore. This age came around again - on a higher, deeper, baptised point of the curve - in the Anglo-Saxon era, after the arrival of St. Augustine at Cantiisburg. The island then became a land of genuine saints and scholars, with monastic founders like St. Aidan, St. Hilda, and St. Cuthbert, and missionaries to Europe such as Willibord of Northumbria, Boniface of Wessex, and Alcuin of York, who became Charlemagne's chief adviser. We had high class historians and writers, St. Bede of Jarrow being the shining example here, who penned the highly influential History of the Church in England, plus artists of the highest calibre, as can be seen, for instance, in the wonderful patterns and pictures of the Lindisfarne Gospels.

King Alfred the Great, after the depredations of the Danish invasions, rebuilt our schools, had old books copied out, rewrote the law, and established excellent relations with the Pope and other European monarchs. His sons, Edward and Athelstan, were warriors and statesmen who created the conditions for political and national unity, while the reign of Edgar the Peaceable (959-975) saw a remarkable reform and revival of monastic life across the country.

This is the best of Britain, I feel. This, deep down, is what we're all about. These are the saints we need to pray to and the sovereigns we should strive to emulate. This is the mentality and worldview to tap into if we are to see the dawn of a third golden age - a synthesis of the previous two - a harmonisation and taking up of Britain's Christian and pre-Christian patrimonies. Lewis, again, shows us the way in That Hideous Strength, where Christ (Maleldil, as he calls Him) stands at the centre of the universe like the Sun, with the old gods - Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter - circling around Him in the guise of the planetary angels, working in concert with Him for the transfiguration of our fallen world.

Let us imagine then, a night where such things come to pass. Let us think of York, for example, that ancient, storied city. It's seven in the evening and gradually getting dark. The lamps are coming on in the streets and squares. The bells of the Minster ring out over the city. We see men, women and children pouring into that great Cathedral and also into the Roman Catholic church of St. Wilfrid of York next door - St. Wilfrid, of course, having been another noted Anglo-Saxon missionary to Europe. But it's not just the churches that are packed. The pubs are rocking too. And that is as it should be. There is no dividing line any more between the sacred and the profane. Everything has been made holy.

We climb to the highest tower in the city and look out over Yorkshire and the whole realm of Logres. And what we see are the time-hallowed pilgrim pathways - to Glastonbury, Walsingham, Lindisfarne, Iona, St. Michael's Mount, and more - lit up like shards of silver fire in the night. And not just these but the ancient ley-lines too and the sacred sites of deep, primordial Britain - Stonehenge, Avebury, West Kennet Long Barrow, Silbury Hill, and countless others.

Then all these lights blend into one and something like a golden star or a mighty comet blazes out over Logres, the Empire, Asia, Africa, America, and the whole wide world, bringing comfort and hope in a time of darkness and the promise of restoration and renewal on a deep and lasting level. All this - maybe, who knows? - from this little Company, this tiny Household gathered here today.

Lord Jesus Christ, whose death brought life to the world, out of the chaos and confusion of this time, renew our hearts and minds so that we may know how to restore Logres in this restless, strife-torn realm. May we sow together some seeds that matter this weekend and may those seeds, in due time and season, bloom and spring forth across the land, rejuvenating Britain, Europe, and the world with the height and the depth, the joy and serenity, and the unparalleled, unsurpassable peace and holiness of God.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Reclaiming Ancient Verities - 'The Inklings and King Arthur', edited by Sørina Higgins

The Inklings and King Arthur: J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, C.S. Lewis, and Owen Barfield on the Matter of Britain, edited by Sørina Higgins.

Apocryphile Press, Berkeley (2017) 555 pages


'Myth is not entertainment, but rather the crystallisation of experience, and, far from being escapist, fantasy is an intensification of reality.'

Alan Garner


This book was released in the UK on January 1st 2018 yet it took me until March 2019 to order a copy. The idea of a collection of essays on the Inklings and their relationship with the Arthurian mythos certainly appealed, but I had doubts regarding the suitability of an academic approach to such imaginatively charged literature: both the original Arthurian corpus and the Inklings' own writing. I was conscious too of what the Humanities have become in many universities today. I feared the dead hand of critical theory and the encroachment of academic jargon and progressive ideology onto books which have engaged and warmed my heart for over forty years. I was worried, in short, that The Inklings and King Arthur project would suffocate the magic.

How wrong can one be? My anxieties were groundless, and it seems extraordinary now that I gave them such credence, given what I know of the editor, Sørina Higgins. Her Charles Williams blog The Oddest Inkling has been a vital stimulus these last seven years in encouraging fresh approaches to Williams' life and work. Higgins' passion and enthusiasm for her subject shines through in everything she writes. She is aware of his faults, but seems less concerned with fending off his critics and more absorbed in exploring the depths of his poems, plays and books, and showing the world just why and how Williams was such a rare and special writer.

Higgins brings the same dedication and intellectual rigour to her editing of this volume. The 19 essays, bookended by her introduction and a conclusion from the poet and priest Malcolm Guite, are serious forays into that fertile terrain where literature meets mythology, then takes wing to inform the surrounding culture. Charles Williams - whose poetry revolves exclusively around Arthurian themes - receives proportionately the most attention, followed by Lewis, then Tolkien, then Barfield. But there is also an emphasis on how the Inklings dovetailed creatively and how the ideas of each member fed into and inspired their companions' 'works in progress'. Brenton D.G. Dickieson illustrates this brilliantly in his "Mixed Metaphors and Hyperlinked Worlds: a Study of Intertextuality in C.S. Lewis' Ransom Cycle." His paper shows how Tolkien's 'Numenor' and Williams' 'Logres' became not only dominant motifs in Lewis' novel That Hideous Strength but also 'hyperlinks' to wider literary and legendary realms:

'When we as readers click on the symbolically rich use of "Logres" in That Hideous Strength, we are drawn into the rich and complex world of Williams' Arthur, which is a subsequent evocation of the historic Arthurian legend in Layamon, Malory, Wace, the Vulgate Cycle, and the rest. In this sense, "Logres" is ... a word that contains entire symbolic universes.' (p.108)

The Inklings and King Arthur seeks throughout to situate Lewis, Tolkien, Williams, and Barfield in the wider context of twentieth century culture and society. "'Lilacs out of the Dead Land': Narnia, The Waste Land, and the World Wars" by Jon Hooper is particularly illuminating in this respect. Hooper carefully picks out the Arthurian currents flowing beneath the narrative stream of the Narnia tales. Here, he says, is Lewis's riposte to T.S. Eliot's The Wasteland and what he calls the 'wasteland mentality', which emerged in the aftermath of the First World War and blamed traditional, high-minded expressions of courage, chivalry and honour for 'duping a generation into sacrificing itself.' (p.280) Hooper claims that Eliot and other Modernists 'asserted that because such values had been appropriated to justify war, the values themselves must be corrupt: a lapse of logic that was fatal in the view of a stern logician like Lewis.' (p.284) In rejecting time-honoured evocations of beauty and nobility - in poetry, visual arts and prose - the Modernists had 'cut people off from the entire western tradition' (p.286) and manufactured a barren, soulless world without meaning or purpose and shorn of glory or divinity.

This is the mentality which Lewis contends against in his Narnia books. 'The Chronicles,' Hooper writes, 'are concerned with healing the disenchantment and despair that the Great War and The Waste Land had left upon the modern mindset, which not even the revived sense of chivalry that arose in the Second World War could lift. To do this, Lewis frequently uses the Arthurian symbol of the blighted land and the theme of the Grail quest.' (p.279) His stories restore and reclaim the ancient verities for the children of the 1950s onwards.

This essay highlights Higgins' central thesis - that the Inklings were in no way driven by nostalgia, wish-fulfilment or escapism, as critics often claim, but on the contrary were deeply involved and engaged in the 'hot button' issues of their time. Their focus, she argues, 'was not on a revival of the past, but on the present's need for redemption: as soldiers, office workers, and creative professionals, the Inklings wrote Arthurian works that contain incisive critiques of their own times and visions of utopian or dystopian futures evolving out of contemporary decisions.' (p.2)

This brings us to the prophetic element in the Inklings' oeuvre. It has been said of Dostoyevsky (by Nicholas Berdyaev, I think) that much that now appears obscure in his novels will become clear in the light of future events. The same, perhaps, applies to the Inklings. The intentional community formed by Taliessin (The King's Poet's Company) in Williams' poems and the little circle which gathers around Ransom in That Hideous Strength are of particular relevance, I feel. With Rod Dreher's The Benedict Option in mind, there are bold and original models here for traditional Christians caught between the Scylla of corrosive liberalism and the Charybdis of declining - collapsing even - religious institutions.

Taliessin's Company, small though it is - a mere 'remnant' - keeps the connection to the Divine that Logres loses. Williams himself attracted such a 'company' in the 1930s and '40s, and this reveals the contemporary relevance of his and his fellow-Inklings' work. In a world in which spiritual values are rapidly being lost, it might still be possible for like-minded people, here and there, to maintain the vision, weather the storm, build anew, and reclaim one day the ancient verities, as Lewis did so memorably in his Narnia stories. Arthur, after all, is a once and future king, as Guite underlines in his conclusion:

' ... Lewis imagined a succession of "Pendragons" of whom Ransom is the latest, who in some sense keep the vision of Logres alive. Whichever way one might choose to imagine a return of Arthur, the contents of this book make it clear that, for the Inklings at least, he had never really gone away ... In the story of Arthur, in both his rise and fall, in both the forming and betrayal of the Round Table, the Inklings found material not only for escape and consolation, but more profoundly, for recovery: a recovery of vision that they believed to be vital for their own generation and that has proved to be prophetically relevant for ours.' (p.504)

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Free Fall - Charles I at Little Gidding

... And what you thought you came for
Is only a shell, a husk of meaning
From which the purpose breaks only when it is fulfilled ...

T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding


The King - head bowed, eyes closing - came to Little Gidding at nightfall. His horse plodded loyally on; he knew the way well - off the rough road and behind the pigsty to the dull façade and the tombstone. Charles glanced up, and through a squall of May rain caught the gladdening gleam of candles and lamps. 'It is good to be back,' he thought. John Ferrar, the master of the place, stood on the threshold and greeted the King, then led his horse to the stables, as Charles looked about him - for the last time, he was sure - at the chapel and house and the hedges surrounding the demesne, white now in spring with voluptuary sweetness.

They shared a meal of bread, cheese and wine - the King, John Ferrar, his sister Susanna, her husband and their many children. Knowing now that his dream of a ship from King's Lynn was futile and that soon he would have to surrender, Charles abandoned his schemes and told stories instead of previous visits here, long ago before impious hands rose up against him. He had high hopes for this place then, and for his Kingdom, that both might reflect and shine forth the divine light of Heaven. Nicholas Ferrar, John's brother and the founder of the community, was alive in those days, and he was a man so soaked in prayer and so nakedly holy that it seemed in his presence that all things might be possible. 'I should have been more like your brother,' the King told his hosts. Nicholas was a prodigy of the age, a businessman and parliamentarian on the highway to success in this new mercantile world. And he had thrown it away to set up home here at this remote site - like the monks of Skellig Michael of old - and establish this House of God. 'Your brother,' said the King, 'knew what was true and what false. He saw through illusion and pretence and stored up treasure in Heaven, whereas I, too often, have failed to discriminate between the two and have fallen between stools and so lost my treasure.'


There was time aplenty for the King to dwell on these things in the chapel that night. The community sang the Psalter, ancient songs of praise and lamentation from another king, David, who had likewise been laid low by fate, the obduracy of his enemies, and his own moral and spiritual failings:

Attend unto my cry; for I am brought very low; deliver me from my persecutors; for they are stronger than I. Bring my soul out of prison, that I may praise thy name.

Charles bowed his head, buried his face in his hands, and wept. How had it come to this? What could he have done differently? Why had he been chosen, fragile vessel that he was, to take a stand for hierarchy and the things of the spirit when from one end of Europe to the other the crass commercial tide was drowning everything singular, precious and rare? Had he vowed to God, before his birth, that he would save his realm from the surging forces of Mammon? If so, then he had failed in his commission, dazzled and distracted by conflicting advice and deceived by vanity and hubris. What would God say to him now, having let spill both his own life and that of his country? What was the price of such high-stakes failure?


After four hours the chant was completed and the community retired to bed. But the King stayed where he was, kneeling on the ground, a halo of candlelight circling his weary head. As was the practice of Nicholas Ferrar, the King, he decided, would remain in the chapel all night and spend the hours until dawn in prayer and contemplation.

The tears flowed on - sobs of bitterness, rage, impotence and loss. They dried up, and a barren emptiness pressed down upon the King. His spirit passed aimlessly through vast, untenanted, derelict cathedrals of the mind. Then out into the desert, a parched land of drought and jagged rocks. Shattered glass. Rusty knives. A heap of broken images. The whole great world ground down like dust to nought.

Then out of the debris one image, one memory, welled up in his mind. A travelling scholar - a Welshman - whom he had met years ago while journeying through France and Spain, had told him how the Greeks of ancient times believed that at the heart of every labyrinth - physical, mental or spiritual - lay a monster who had to be faced down and slain before the return to the light of the sun could begin.

The memory itself was monstrous to the King - the realisation that after all this time and all this waste and pain he had not even arrived at the beginning. For the first time in his life he felt, saw, and heard the monster coiled twitching at the heart of his own labyrinth. He flung himself forward onto the cold stone floor and stretched out his fingers as if grasping for a handhold on a high mountain ledge.

But there was no hold. And no bottom to the King's fall. The veil between the past and the present was torn to pieces and he lived again in every awful detail the vacuity of his life and saw the truth of it as never before. It reflected badly on him, this rending pain of re-enactment of all he had been and done, the shame of hidden motives now revealed and the awareness of things ill done which once he took for exercise of virtue. And still his fall continued - sheer, vertiginous, no-man fathomed.


Charles knew he was no Jacob. He could not fight this thing alone. It was too strong. It would overmaster him now as it had always done, only this time he would be conscious of it and that would make the agony worse. So he called on Christ to help. 'Save me, Lord,' he cried out, and the stones rang with the sound of his plea. He had prayed to God on countless occasions before and in many different contexts, but this time was different. This time was real. It was the first time he had called on God in fear and desperation; the first time he had trusted in the Divine rather than himself; the first time he had been so pummelled and stripped and pulled into pieces. So he called on the Most High like a child or a peasant or that humble, though bold, fisherman who realised in panic and shock that walking on water was beyond his human frame. 'Save me Lord, for I am drowning.'


The King did not hope for an answer. He was long past hope. He had spent his whole life hoping for solutions and fixes of one kind or another. Always hoping for the wrong thing. And then, he knew not why nor how, he was somehow falling up, not down, and there was a light dawning in his mind and a music stirring his heart. He was swimming up through deep blue water from the bottom of the sea. Then the waters broke and gold and silver flooded his brain. 'Do not be afraid,' said a voice. 'It is I.' The King stood up and looked around but there was no-one there. And the chapel was transformed. It shone in innocency and joy. The stones and candles sang out in hosannas. Though it was blackest night outside, the altar sparkled with new-minted freshness, as if blessed by the dawn sun after a night of pelting rain.

Charles lit a candle and stood before the statue of St. John the Evangelist. He closed his eyes and prayed. But not for himself. He had no need, for strong hands had lifted him out of the labyrinth of self. He prayed instead for the place - for Little Gidding - the chapel, community and house - that the Holy Spirit might descend upon it as in the days of Nicholas Ferrar and light up the hearts and minds of all who came this way. He prayed for everyone connected to it these last twenty years - those in love with the life here and those repelled by it - Puritans, Royalists, poets, priests and politicians. He looked into the future, shuddered, and begged that Little Gidding might one day be a shrine - a place where motives are purified in the furnace of prayer and grace continually bestowed - a place where prayer will always be valid. He asked that pilgrims might find refuge here in dark times to come of materialism and decline, and that poets find words to convey its essence to a world almost wholly denuded of sacred sites and numinous terrain:

A legacy of images, symbols and ideas,
Flowers of restoration and renewal,
Seeds planted in the dark night of disenchantment and the exile of the gods,

A midwinter spring.

Icon by Chad M Krause

Monday, July 29, 2019

Lit By a Different Light - 'Charles Williams, The Third Inkling' by Grevel Lindop

'Saints are not typically balanced, well-rounded people,' writes Benjamin Myers in his study of Rowan Williams Christ the Stranger (T & T Clark, 2012). 'They do not necessarily possess exemplary virtues or a notable degree of psychological integration. They are, Williams says, typically "pretty uneven, not to say confused characters," whose lives have been "knocked off balance" by the strange world of God.'

Charles Williams (1886-1945) wore a host of hats - poet, novelist, theologian, dramatist, lecturer, occultist, editor, critic, friend, colleague, confidante and spiritual director. He was a husband and father too - primal, archetypal roles which, for large swathes of his life, he failed to prioritise. Herein, I feel, lies his chief - but not his only - moral failing. But could he still be considered a saint? That is the question echoing in my mind after reading Grevel Lindop's biography. In 427 pages Lindop paints a compelling portrait of a flawed, intense individual, full of blind spots, contradictions and odd compulsions, who nonetheless radiated goodness and kindness and brought hope and a touch of holiness to those he encountered.

How did he do this? Charles Williams, The Third Inkling (Oxford University Press, 2015) does not ultimately answer this question, but that is no fault of the biographer. It is a testament rather to Williams's depth and complexity. It is a biography which asks more questions than it answers, and that is as it should be given the strangeness of its subject and his many-sided, multi-layered personality.

Lindop's original title for the book was Charles Williams, The Last Magician. One can never be sure, but it is probably safe to assume that the change to The Third Inkling was instigated by the publisher (also Williams's former employers) who may have been looking to capitalise on his friendship with the better known C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. The front cover suggests as much. Even so, Lindop does a fine job of establishing Williams as an artist and thinker in his own right, not just a 'third Inkling' hanging onto the coat-tails of Tolkien and Lewis. It builds on the impressive work conducted this decade by the U.S academic Sorina Higgins, particularly her blog The Oddest Inkling and the book of essays she edited in 2018 The Inklings and King Arthur (Apocryphile Press), which features Williams prominently.

One thing that book and Lindop's biography do very well is put Williams's occult involvement in perspective. His career as a practitioner of magic has unsettled many Christians over the years, who would otherwise have likely become some of his keenest admirers. As Lindop shows, Williams was a very keen magician throughout the 1920s. He was friends with the esotericist A.E Waite and a member of his Christ-orientated occult group The Fellowship of the Rosy Cross. The surviving documentation is uncertain, but he may also have joined the Fellowship's famous, less Christian parent order, The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.

To my mind there is nothing extraordinary or alarming about Williams having such an active interest in this field. In any case he appears to have outgrown the magical worldview in his later years, though it continued to inform his poetry and fiction and also, more problematically, his relationships with the younger women in his life. It seems understandable that a questing, spiritually hungry character like Williams should have felt undernourished to a degree by the rites and teaching of the Church of England. It is natural, perhaps, that he looked elsewhere to supplement what he received from the official Church. He had a deeply ritualistic, symbolic turn of mind, and anything that enhanced those elements was grist to his creative and imaginative mill.

What is harder to accept is the way he carried this over into his personal life and the lives of his female admirers, of whom he had many due to his charisma as a lecturer and the deep attention and respect he paid to those who turned to him with private concerns. His long and turbulent liaison with his Oxford University Press colleague Phyllis Jones is well documented here. But there were others too. Joan Wallis, for instance. According to Lindop:

Joan would visit him in his office; and sometimes, after their discussion, he would ask her to go to the cupboard. There would be an umbrella or a stick - or a sword. She would bring it, and he would make her bend over and would gently spank her with it. There would be no explanation. (p.334)

In his discussion of the letters between Williams and another devotee, Lois Lang Sims, Lindop sums up the situation succinctly. His summary can be applied to all the women Williams played petty sado-masochistic games with and deserves to be quoted in full:

The correspondence shows how deeply erotic fantasy and spiritual direction were blended in Williams's mind. Much of the advice he gave was good and even traditional, and certainly well-intentioned. Yet it was framed within a fantasy of sexually charged control, and by asking Lois to reply in ritualized form Williams was ensuring that she felt psychologically committed to the relationship as he defined it. Moreover, there can be little doubt that he expected her to use the relationship as a source of energy for his creative work. From any point if view this was wrong. Yet Williams was far from being a cynical man. The fact that he could not clearly see the damage he was likely to cause indicates the depth of confusion which he had reached. (p.384)

This raises deeper questions. Why did Williams engage in such activity? What was missing in his life? Why could he only find inspiration this way? Lindop refers to how fundamentally unhappy Williams often was, but again we are left wondering why. His childhood, like that of many, was marked by poverty, but there was no great emotional or familial distress to scar him. He started attending church at the age of three and enjoyed it all his life, which leads us to ask why his faith in Christ seemingly brought him so little joy or fulfilment? It is all connected, one feels, with his workaholism, which took him away from his son Michael in his formative years when the boy needed him most. Towards the end of his life Williams made a conscious effort to reconnect with Michael and assist him in every way he could - emotionally, practically and spiritually. He also grew closer to his wife and who knows what the future might have brought had he lived, but it all feels a bit 'too little too late', especially given Michael's subsequent mental health issues and his lifelong difficulties in forming relationships.

Lindop suggests that Williams's addiction to work was driven by the need to provide for his family. Williams corroborated this in many of his letters, yet no matter how many hours he put in at the Press or how much lecturing or writing he did he was perennially short of money. Williams enjoyed his work at the OUP, but it would be interesting to know if he ever considered a different, perhaps more financially rewarding line of work - teaching, for example? It is also intriguing as to whether at any point he comtemplated becoming a priest or monk? Might a conventional religious vocation have suited his temperament better than the whirligig of family life, office work and evening lecturing?

The biggest question of all, however, is where did the spiritual light which shone around him come from? How, with all his faults and oddities, did he manage to radiate such hints of holiness? How was he able to have such a transformative effect on his students, colleagues and friends?

His magical training undoubtedly played a part. But the impact he had on those around him went much deeper than mere charisma or enchantment. It was a matter of a fundamental goodness allied to an ability to transcend the narrow metaphysical assumptions of mid-twentieth century England. Joan Wallis, not in the least put off by Wiliams's proclivities, put it like this:

He remains the most remarkable and good man I've ever met. I've never met anyone who honoured goodness more than Charles. He prepared me for recognising strains of goodness in people, and the strains in Charles were pure gold. (p.337)

''To listen to him,' wrote one of his most devoted disciples, Anne Renwick, 'was like finding oneself in a place where everything was a different colour and shape and size, lit by a different light. I came away from the talk quite clear that the only thing I wanted to do was listen to him again.' (p.338)

Charles Williams, The Third Inkling is peppered with such remarks and they are worth the price of the book alone. Because the world needs its Charles Williams's. Especially today. He brought depth, height, and wide, spiritually-charged horizons to those he met, and it is the absence of these dimensions which lies, I feel, at the root of the difficulties assailing the West today - alienation, confusion, loneliness, addiction, despair, and the polarised, antagonistic politics they engender.

Williams's insights into the interconnected nature of the world are exactly what we currently need as they expose the excessive individualism of social and economic liberals and also those 'One World' cheerleaders, who see humanity as an amorphous, homogenous mass and show no appreciation of cultural differences and the importance of locality and homeland.

In Williams's work, we are all dependent on each other, but this dependency is active, not passive. In his world everything we do, say and think has an impact on the web of creation and we can change our own or another person's life with just a single thought or a moment of focused attention. Human beings are actors and participants in life's great drama, not pawns or blank slates to be scrawled upon by the powers that be.

There is something intensely liberating at the heart of Williams's message and it extends beyond the restricted parameters of the here and now, embracing the living, those yet to be born, and those gone before us. We see this in his poem Taliessin on the Death of Virgil, where the lovers of Virgil's poetry, in the twenty centuries since his death, reach out through their prayers to the pre-Christian poet and lift him from his precipitous post-mortem fall:

... In that hour they came; more and faster they sped
to their dead master; they sought him to save
from the spectral grave and the endless falling,
who had heard, for their own instruction, the sound of his calling ...

Would it be heretical then to pray in a similar manner for Charles Williams? To ask that the God he served in his own idiosyncratic way may dwell less on his peccadillos and more on his thirst for the Divine and his kind and generous heart? My sense is no. Williams died in 1945, yet to him past, present and future were an instantaneous and co-inherent reality. One prayer from us, therefore, could make all the difference to him in Eternity. It is a momentous conception and a mighty responsibility and we should be grateful to Williams for reminding us of the immense spiritual dignity as sons and daughters of God which we possess. It is the kind of thing the saints remind us of. As Myers suggests:

When we speak of sanctity ... we are not talking about 'wholeness' but almost its opposite. George Herbert compared the preacher to a panel of stained glass in an English chapel; by itself the glass is dim and fragmented, but by daylight it is resplendent. In the same way, saints may be damaged and unmended, but through the 'brittle crazy glass' of their lives, the whole Church is startlingly transfigured, washed in the light and colour of the bright shining world of God. (p.78)