Credit: Donna Beales, Lowell, MA
Charles Williams (1886-1945) wrote novels, poetry, plays, theology, and biographies.
Unlike that of any other writer in the 20th century, Charles Williams had an uncanny grasp on the sublime and the spiritual, and an unusually sharp insight into the mystical realm. Williams grew up in a particularly questioning age, an age which shook the foundations of the Christian Church. It saw the invention of the motor car and the telephone, and it hurtled toward a rationalistic and scientific approach to learning. As almost a backlash against such dry science, interest in the occult and spiritual flourished, fueled, perhaps, by the very body of knowledge it sought to offset. Williams spent a period of his life involved with one branch of what he personally termed the "Golden Dawn," but was technically an offshoot of that order called "The Fellowship of the Rosy Cross" founded by A. E. Waite.
Accounts of Charles Williams by those who knew him indicate that he was deeply intellectual, but did not possess the financial means to pursue university education. During his lifetime Williams served briefly in a Methodist bookshop, then became a proofreader and later an editor at Oxford University Press, where he worked until his death.
Though his writings might be referred to as visionary, Williams saw himself as too cynical and pragmatic to label himself a mystic. He considered himself primarily a poet. He is, however, best known for his seven spiritual thriller novels, and for his detailed nonfiction works on the history of the Church.
Around 1938 in an odd coincidence, Williams exchanged a correspondence with C. S. Lewis about a work Lewis had submitted to the press. Lewis had just read one of Williams' novels, and had also written to him. Their letters crossed in the mail. The result was a profound friendship which lasted until Williams' death, a friendship which opened Williams to the Inklings. Charles Williams' works went out of publication partially due to economic conditions caused by the war. His works have since come back into print, and they are sharp, fresh, and original, and still pertinent to our age.