Shadows of Ecstasy
Shadows of Ecstasy by Charles Williams, 3/5
Brimming with Williams’ trademark brand of semi-plausible bizarreness, this story depicts the “Second Evolution of Man,” a physical and spiritual take-over of Western civilization, centered in Africa and led by the charismatic Nigel Considine. The author (not very convincingly) pits Christianity, spirituality and agnosticism against a cult of super-humanity which, having re-focused the most powerful human emotions to unlock the secret of perpetual fulfillment and eternal life, is on the cusp of mastering the act of self-resurrection as well.
The plot moves along well and Williams refrains from too many of the tiresome and esoteric flights of spirituality that characterize many of his other works. However, I felt ambivalent about the main characters and a bit exhausted trying to distinguish any potential racism amongst the 1930s vocabulary.
Why I read it: the fifth in Williams’ set of supernatural thrillers.
The Place of the Lion
The Place of the Lion by Charles Williams, 2/5
This is the fourth of Williams’ supernatural thrillers that I have read, and by far my least favorite, since it consists mostly of hallucinatory spiritual ramblings and very little plot. This is all the more disappointing because what little story exists is very interesting: philosophical Ideas (Strength, Beauty, Subtlety, Wisdom, etc.) from the angelic realm emerge into the sleepy English countryside via their representative animals, consuming people with varying effect depending on each person’s tendencies.
Why I read it: I’m working my way through Williams’ novels.
War in Heaven
War in Heaven by Charles Williams, 3/5
I’m not going to pretend that I understood the more esoteric implications of this bizarre spiritual thriller, but I certainly did enjoy its zany plot, humor, and original take on the ever-popular search for the Holy Grail. It’s not a particularly well-crafted novel, but it’s hard to fault a story that opens thusly:
The telephone bell was ringing wildly, but without result, since there was no-one in the room but the corpse.
Why I read it: After my introduction to Charles Williams via All Hallows’ Eve, I wanted to read some of his other “novels of the supernatural,” of which War in Heaven is the first.
All Hallows’ Eve
All Hallows’ Eve by Charles Williams, 5/5
I had very little idea what to expect from this slim book and that, perhaps, is partly why I found it to be so absolutely astonishing (though pure novelty cannot account for that fully). I don’t want to give away too much, but think Gothic thriller meets supernatural romance in the interest of exploring highly-developed and unconventional theological beliefs. I was not at all surprised to later learn that Williams was a regular member of the Inklings, enjoying the friendship and literary criticism of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.
This book demands to be re-read, but I would avoid this edition (Oxford Reprints) at all costs. The binding has that ubiquitously cheap, self-published feel and the text contains a baffling number of typos. Most egregious of all is the use of hyphens in place of em dashes. I know how pedantic that complaint sounds, but Williams used em dashes often and in very long sentences. The relentless and incorrect use of hyphens disrupted visual flow in addition to hindering comprehension.
Why I read it: another entry on the list of 10 Forgotten Fantastical Novels You Should Read Immediately.
The Boats of the “Glen Carrig” and Other Nautical Adventures
The Boats of the “Glen Carrig and Other Nautical Adventures by William Hope Hodgson, 3/5
Taken singly, these stories are fun in a kitschy way, but overall, the effect is repetitive and hackneyed. Maybe the editor’s introduction about Hodgson’s writing career tainted my perspective, but I got the feeling throughout that the author was writing more for a financial inlet than a creative outlet. There were a few brief moments when I thought “Oh, he is capable of higher quality writing and insightful observations when he cares to be,” but they were lost in the endless “weeds” that the ships in his stories all-too-inevitably encountered.
Why I read it: one of the few remaining entries on the list of 10 Forgotten Fantastical Novels You Should Read Immediately that I have left to read.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, collected by Alvin Schwartz, drawings by Stephen Gammell, 3/5
It is clear that children are the target audience for this book, but the simple layout and child-friendly writing style provide a disturbing contrast with the extremely dark and gross stories it contains. I wouldn’t have wanted to read such terrifying things as a kid and certainly wouldn’t want my own children to be exposed to these ideas at a young age. As an adult, I found the stories to be entertaining, if a bit simplistically retold, and the artwork in particular is outstanding.
Why I read it: a thrift store find. I’ve always been interested in fairy tales and myths, so paranormal stories are not that much of a stretch.
Ghost Stories of Canada
Ghost Stories of Canada by Val Clery, 4/5
This collection of short stories does not get off to a great start, opening with a stale tale that features a cliched haunted doll. Luckily, the rest of the book has a fun, Canadian flavour and shows off the author’s respectable story-telling skills and personal enthusiasm for the topic.
Why I read it: a thrift store find.
The Runagates Club
The Runagates Club by John Buchan, 3/5
The twelve short stories in this collection rely a little too much on the supernatural for my taste, but are still good fun and feature such familiar friends as Sir Richard Hannay, John Palliser-Yeates, Lord Lamancha and Sir Edward Leithen.
[Why I read it: I love Buchan and added this book to the pile by my bed after I saw a family member reading it.]