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Title: War in Heaven
Author: Charles Williams
Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars
War in Heaven is a novel concerned with the struggle over possession of a chalice that the characters believe is the Holy Grail, the cup from which Jesus drank at the Last Supper. A cup that could be this holy relic turns up in England in the twentieth century. Julian Davenant, the archdeacon of the Fardles village church, tries to protect it and prevent it from falling in to the wrong hands. In contrast, Gregory Persimmons, a retired businessman, strives to possess it and uses its power for black magic. Ultimately, the forces of good prevail, and Gregory is punished.
Two possibly unrelated events begin the novel. First, an unidentified corpse is found at the publishing firm that Gregory owns. Second, the contents of a manuscript at the firm are revealed, suggesting that the Grail is in the Fardles church. Gregory begins to obsess over the Grail. Renting a house in the Fardles area, he tries to buy the chalice and then pays to have it stolen; during the theft, Julian is attacked. Gregory also lures the Rackstraw family to his new residence, with the plan to kidnap their four-year-old son, Adam, and use him in black magic.
Aided by the Duke of North Ridings and Kenneth Mornington, Julian locates the chalice in Gregory’s home and steals it. Taking it to London, Julian hides in the Duke’s home. His prayers protect it from the evil spells that Gregory’s accomplices, Manasseh and Lavrodopoulos, are putting on it to destroy it. Gregory injures Barbara, Adam’s mother; poisons her; and brings in a “doctor” Manasseh, who will worsen her ill health while pretending to cure her. Julian agrees to exchange the chalice for Barbara’s health, for which they pray all night. A mysterious stranger, John, arrives in Fardles just as she is cured; he is Prester John of Arthurian myth.
In London, occult forces kill Mornington and threaten Julian, who is captured and tied up to be ritually killed. The combined positive forces emanating from the Grail and the actions of Prester John, who arrives in the nick of time, save Julian. Moreover, Gregory is arrested after confessing to an unsolved murder that had set the novel in motion. Back in Fardles, Prester John celebrates mass at the church; both he and the Grail disappear, and Julian dies in peace on the altar.
Christian Mysticism. What C.S. Lewis is with his Narnia and Space Trilogy to Fantasy and Science Fiction, that is what Williams is to Mysticism. Not being an advocate for, a believer in, or even a fan of, mysticism, this was a hard book to get through.
I was discussing this with Pilgrim over at Librarything and ended up saying this about the book part way through:
I guess part of it is that the idea that God’s Power can imbue an object and then be used willy nilly, by anybody. While there are a few instances that spring to mind of that happening in the Bible (Elisha’s bones raising the dead man and Peter’s hankerchief healing people) most of the miracles were directly tied to a prophet on a mission. Gahazi couldn’t use Elisha’s staff to raise the dead woman’s son, the river didn’t heal all the lepers only Naaman, etc.
I guess I reject mysticism because I view it as a way to use God’s power through our own power (incantations, etc) instead of it being something that God’s does through us. I certainly do believe in miracles and I do believe in magic. I just don’t see how a Christian can think of miracles in the same vein as magic.
I reject with every fiber of my being the idea of there being White and Black Magic. God’s Power is not magic and the power of Satan and the fallen spirits is corrupted and its final goal is the damnation of the user and recipient.
While Williams makes it impossible for Persimmons to use the Grail himself, Persimmons manages to get around that by using the child Adrian. Of course, it backfires, but still, the idea that an evil person can use an object of Holiness for the “power” contained therein just rubs me completely the wrong way. Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark is a perfect example of this idea in our popular culture. The idea that Nazi’s could harness the power of the Ark, the very seat of God on Earth, for themselves is simply abhorrent to me. It also displays a shocking lack of understanding on the subject. Williams understands the theology behind what he’s writing, it is just that he and I disagree on the interpretation.
That led me into my other main issue. The boy Adrian. Persimmons makes it his mission to win the child so he can use him as a conduit for the Graal (everybody referred to it as the Graal instead of the Holy Grail. I have no idea why) and in the back of his mind is that Adrian would also either make a pefect Disciple of Satan or a fantastic sacrifice after being used by Persimmons. I had to stop reading and ask Pilgrim if Adrian was going to be ok before I could go on. Thankfully, everything WAS ok, but the leadup to that was very ominous and not something I enjoyed contemplating. Kids in danger, physical or spiritual, is something I don’t handle well.
At the same time, I thoroughly enjoyed reading a book about Christians and the working out of everything through a Christian world view. While I gave it the Fantasy tag, it is way closer to real life than I’d ever be truly comfortable with. I’ve got several more of Williams books available to me and I think I’ll add them to my tbr, just further down the line.
I realize my complaints got more time than the positives, but this books deserves those 3.5stars. The fact that I plan on reading more Williams cements in my mind that this WAS a good read.