Descent Into Hell ★★✬☆☆

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Title: Descent Into Hell
Series: ———-
Author: Charles Williams
Rating: 2.5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Christian Fiction
Pages: 178
Words: 73.5K


From Wikipedia

The action takes place in Battle Hill, outside London,[1] amidst the townspeople’s staging of a new play by Peter Stanhope. The hill seems to reside at the crux of time, as characters from the past appear, and perhaps at a doorway to the beyond, as characters are alternately summoned Heavenwards or descend into Hell.

Pauline Anstruther, the heroine of the novel, lives in fear of meeting her own doppelgänger, which has appeared to her throughout her life. But Stanhope, in an action central to the author’s own theology, takes the burden of her fears upon himself—Williams called this the Doctrine of Substituted Love—and enables Pauline, at long last, to face her true self. Williams drew this idea from the biblical verse, “Ye shall bear one another’s burdens”[2]

And so, Stanhope does take the weight, with no surreptitious motive, in the most affecting scene in the novel, and Pauline, liberated, is able to accept truth.

On the other hand, Lawrence Wentworth, a local historian, finding his desire for Adela Hunt to be unrequited, falls in love instead with a spirit form of Adela, which seems to represent a kind of extreme self-love on his part. As he isolates himself more and more with this insubstantial figure, and dreams of descending a silver rope into a dark pit, Wentworth begins the descent into Hell.

The book ends with Wentworth reaching the bottom of the rope and realizing all understanding has been taken from him and that he is truly alone. There is no way for him to climb the rope back up. He is lost.

My Thoughts:

I had to think long and hard about what to write about this book. Unlike the other Williams’ book I read, this came across as poetic, mystical bushwah. The closest thing I can accept for poetry is Patricia McKillip’s writing. Anything else, I toss it out the door as useless trash.

A poet and playwright forms the bones of this book and I should have known from the get go that it was going to be half-finished sentences, unspoken thoughts, all that kind of garbage that people seem to think is mystical and too wonderful for words.

It also didn’t help that I am strongly against some of the theology presented by Williams, namely that Hell is some sort of internalized thingamajig instead of a literal lake of flame and eternal fires and that people can affect events in the past or future directly from their timeline. While God may encompass all of time, we certainly don’t and while Hell might be described stylistically, it is most definitely a real place with real utter torment.

Overall, I just waded my through this, wondering if I should read any more by him. I’m hoping to do a buddy-read with one or two people from Librarything in a couple of months on one of Williams’ books, but after that, I’m done. Williams puts his mysticism on full display here and I won’t be bothering to look anymore. Tell me what you mean as plainly as possible, don’t dance around in circles and avoid the point.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

25 thoughts on “Descent Into Hell ★★✬☆☆

  1. As a self proclaimed failed poet I see what you mean with half finished sentences. Some times we do it just to see what a reader will make of it. In many of my own writings I would do the very same thing as I just did not know how to round the thought of so I start a new line of thought. My poetry was for myself though and probably not meant to be shared. Even though I would love to know what the world would make of angsty Dave…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yeah, Williams is a bit too far on the Mysticism side of the scale for me to be really comfortable with.
      However, I suspect how Southpark portrays hell would have me raving and ranting 😀

      Liked by 1 person

    1. And St Paul address you better than I ever could 😉
      I Corinthians 1:18:
      For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I have a hard time with Charles Williams. His breathless mysticism gets on my nerves. I’ve tried to read him a few times since he’s one of “The Inklings” (he heavily influenced Lewis’s “That Hideous Strength”). However, I’ve only managed to make it through one of his books (War in Heaven) and, while I appreciated some witty turns of phrase, I found the whole thing underwhelming.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. War in Heaven was the previous book of his that I read. I’m hoping to read one more with some people on Librarything, but if it doesn’t work out this will probably be my last book by him. I don’t believe in “good” magic, of any sort. Miracles aren’t “magic”….


  3. Interesting. I have heard of Williams and read one of his books (about a stone inscribed with the tetragramaton), which wasn’t bad. In it, somebody gets caught in a time loop for a while before being freed, which reminds me of this novel.

    I actually agree that being so completely self-absorbed that you lose your sanity is one aspect of hell. As long as we are alive in this world, such a mental state isn’t absolute, because we have the physical world around us to throw us a lifeline. But if a person were completely isolated inside their own sinful heart, filled with wicked desires they can’t fulfill, frustrated desires to justify themselves but no one will listen, and bitterness that eats away at you like acid … yes, that would be hell indeed, and basically indistinguishable from being physically consumed by literal fire. I do think that many people experience a kind of hell here on earth, whether it’s in drug addiction/withdrawal, nightmarish abusive relationships and Stockholm syndrome, or in dictators’ prisons.

    OK, that got dark.

    Anyway, I think this concept is important to understand because many people think of hell as a doctrine that God assigns torture arbitrarily, in a way that is unconnected to our own mental state and to the nature of our sins. It’s equally biblical to see hell as something we create for ourselves, individually and collectively, unless stopped.

    Ah yes, trailing off sentences. I once read an excellent little book about poetry which said that this is something beginner poets do, in hopes that the reader will fill in something profound. I do sometimes have my characters trail off in my novels, but I always know exactly what they are avoiding saying, and if the reader has been paying attention, it should be obvious. Rule of thumb, don’t leave a sentence unfinished for stylistic reasons unless you know what goes in the blank and it’s more powerful not to say it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wouldn’t worry about getting dark. The very subject matter is pretty dark :-/

      The thing is, while I agree that all those things you mention (wicked desire, frustrated desire, bitterness, etc) can be like that, I’m also firmly in the camp that hell is a literal place of fire. Lewis and Williams can try to dance around the issue all they like but I don’t agree with them. Where I disagree the most with them is about the inherent eternalness of the soul.
      I do agree that most non-Christians are experiencing hell on earth in one form or another. How can they do anything but?

      I think that the popular vision of hell, as stated by Fraggle above in the tv show South Park, is so off base that it almost doesn’t help to talk about the subject because their views are so twisted and messed up.

      As a reader, my rule of thumb is “don’t accept unfinished sentences, period” 😀


      1. As my preacher said: For believers, the earth is as close as they will ever get to hell. For unbelievers, the earth is as close as they will ever get to heaven.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I have read a number of Charles Williams, including this one. I mean. No the guy didn’t take hallucinogenics, but wow.

    He is hard for me to understand, but his imagery is quite vivid. I didn’t even know that he was denying hell in this. Was he some sort of universalist?

    I am meeting more and more professing Christians (or should I write “Christians”) who cannot believe God would send people to Hell. To me, this connotes an ignorance of God’s character. And also a lack of gratitude or understanding as to what Salvation actually means.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Are Williams books ALL like this? I’ve only read 2 but boy howdy, are they doozies.

      I am not an artsy, poetic guy so I know I’m missing out on a lot of stuff. Plus, I was talking with someone over at Librarything when I was reading the first book of his I tried and they were explaining all this minuteia of stuff about anglican theology and other stuff that made for a much richer story but I’m not sure how you’d acquire that knowledge without being part of that denomination.

      To be honest, I’m not sure he’s denying hell here. But he’s skirting close enough to the ideas as presented by Lewis in The Great Divorce as to how hell might be that I’m calling them out for my own sake.

      Because, as you note, too many today are saying that there isn’t a hell. I concur completely with your sentiments of that denoting an ignorance and ingratitude.

      Which is why christians need to be reading their Bibles every day, for their whole lives.


      1. My people die for lack of knowledge. Hosea 4:6

        People don’t understand that people start off condemned. What separates the saved from the unsaved us that believers trust Christ’s righteousness to cover their guilt. Unbelievers are left to stand before God on their own.

        I didn’t know that Lewis didn’t believe in hell. I thought the Great Divorce was a hypothetical situation he created to show that unsaved people of their own accord would not want to go to heaven.

        “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it.” The Great Divorce

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I didn’t say Lewis didn’t believe in hell. but the ideas presented in both the Great Divorce and in the Last Battle both give credence to the idea that Lewis would entertain alternate forms of hell. I don’t entertain any such thoughts.

          I concur that no one is going to hell who doesn’t want to.


  5. I haven’t read any of Charles Willems books yet. I know Willems writing is dense. Afore reading The Man Who was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton, I learn to go slowly and take my time with books that require a lot of thinking.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My next Williams book is going to be some sort of group read with a couple of people on Librarything, so I’m hoping that will help.

      I just started a “Complete Works” of Chesterton 🙂


    1. The problem is that upon reflection, I’m not sure exactly WHAT Williams is trying to say. He refuses to spell things out and I’m not so good with that kind of thing.


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