Subscribe to Christianity Today
Charles Williams: The Third Inkling
Oxford University Press, 2015
464 pp., $34.95
For the last decade, fans and scholars have been waiting for Grevel Lindop's biography of "The Third Inkling," Charles Williams (1886-1945): poet, editor, novelist, biographer, Anglican Christian, occult master, friend of C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and T. S. Eliot. Due to many factors, his writing has not been as well known and widely read as his friends'. External factors include film adaptations of works by Lewis and Tolkien, better management of their writings by their literary estates, and the tireless and brilliant efforts of Douglas Gresham and Christopher Tolkien. Internal hindrances to Williams' fame include the lack of any children's books, his labyrinthine syntax, and the obscurity caused by the layers of occult symbolism. He has been not only the oddest Inkling, but an overlooked Inkling.
Yet Williams was a highly skilled and very distinctive writer, and there are many readers who would adore his books if once they found them. He was rather famous in his time, hobnobbing with Kingsley Amis, T. S. Eliot, Christopher Fry, Philip Larkin, and Dorothy Sayers, and being published by Faber and Oxford. He was a highly influential editor at Oxford University Press, doing much to shape the taste of the times via anthologies, introductions, and editions—including the first English translations of Søren Kierkegaard. He was a passionate, powerful teacher at evening literary institutes and later, despite not having a college degree, at Oxford University, where students clamored to have him as their tutor. He was a significant literary force in the 1930s and '40s; perhaps the time has come for a renaissance of his reputation.
Indeed, his name has been much in the presses recently. I recently published an early play of his (The Chapel of the Thorn) and am editing an essay collection entitled The Inklings and King Arthur; David Llewellyn Dodds is working on publishing Williams' Arthurian Commonplace Book; Lindop is talking ...