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Descent into Hell: A Novel Paperback – 1980

3.8 out of 5 stars 38 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In Charles Williams's novel Descent into Hell, Hell turns out to be nothing other than a refusal to see things as they really are. Arguably his finest novel, the "descent" in the title happens to an ordinary (if extraordinarily selfish) historian named Wentworth, whose daily choices to cheat on the truth slowly but surely lead him into a terrifying state of isolation and egotism. Heaven, by contrast, is increasingly inhabited by the novel's heroine, Pauline Anstruther, who as the book proceeds learns to face her fears (and her ancestors!) and to love the truth exactly as it is. The plot turns around the latest production of fictional playwright Peter Stanhope, but for Williams Pauline's realization of the divine glory incarnate in all of life is the deeper truth that sustains this and every other drama. --Doug Thorpe

About the Author

(1886-1945) An intense, imaginative, magnetic person, Charles Williams was a member of the Inklings, the group of creative Oxford Christians of the 1930s and 1940s that included C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. Though he excelled in many literary genres, Williams is best remembered for his poetry and his original fiction—contemporary religious novels filled with suspense, mystery, and supernatural conflict.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 222 pages
  • Publisher: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company (1980)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802812201
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802812209
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.5 x 7.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #443,895 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I have heard it said that one either finds Charles Williams' novels repellingly strange or utterly fascinating. I have found this to be untrue: I find Descent Into Hell both repellingly strange and utterly fascinating. All of Williams' novels are difficult reading: the depth of his thought baffled even C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien (good friends of his, and no mean intellects themselves).
Williams' writing style and content will seem highly unorthodox to many modern Christians, but this is perhaps his greatest strength. Admittedly his works are strange, very strange (Descent Into Hell is perhaps the strangest), but at their core, beneath all the gothic style and occultic atmosphere, they are almost scintillatingly orthodox. Williams takes biblical Christianity, strips it of all the trappings and additions imposed by our culture, and dresses it up entirely different. This is not to say he regards Christianity as merely a creed; anyone who has read his books can tell you he does not "demythologize" Christianity--the books are steeped in the supernatural. Rather, he believes in a Christian cosmos, bound by both natural and supernatural laws, and subject at last to the will of the I AM.
Although Williams' style is not entirely to my Chestertonian tastes, every time I read one of his novels I can hardly stand to put it down. At times they indeed seem like "clotted glory," but rest assured that the Williams' meaning will hit you at a later date with the power of a bolt of lightning. He's just so intelligent it takes the rest of us a while to catch up....
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Format: Paperback
Charles Williams is probably the least known of the four great Mythopoeic Masters--C.S. Lewis, George MacDonald, and J.R.R. Tolkien being the other three. There is perhaps no better introduction to the works of this remarkable man than "Descent Into Hell."
Williams did not write "easy" books. His work is full of obscure allusion and even more obscure vocabulary. His prose is possibly even worse than that of MacDonald. "War and Peace" probably reads more quickly than a 200 page novel by Williams.
Bearing all this in mind, there are probably a million better authors than Williams on his best day. Where Williams stands out is in his thought. I doubt there have even been a handful of authors who have ever expressed an idea over the whole course of a novel as well as Charles Williams did.
"Descent Into Hell" showcases two pillars of Williams' thought: Co-inherence and Substitutionary Love. To simplify, these terms respectively mean (or suggest) that humanity is fundamentally, mysteriously linked and that it is possible to literally bear the greatest burdens of another.
"Descent Into Hell" is also about the pitfalls of being self-absorbed. Williams shows what a great danger this self-centeredness can be on both the physical and spiritual level.
Charles Williams is a truly eye-opening author. All that I have read of his work has changed me in some way. I give "Descent Into Hell" a strong recommendation.
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Format: Paperback
Ask any minister what part of the Apostle's Creed elicits the greatest number of questions from parishioners. He or she will say without hesitation, "He descended into hell."

This is a puzzling phrase for us. If we want to have a Biblically accurate and theologically sound understanding of the most difficult phrase of the Apostle's Creed, we may wish to turn to The Book of Confessions. Or John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion. Or we might want to read this novel, by one of the most dazzling Christian novelists of the past (Twentieth!) century.

Charles Williams should be better known that he is, as a brilliant scholar, inventive writer and faithful Christian of modern times. A forceful, inventive and compelling person, Willams was a member of the famous "Inklings"-the creative Oxford University Christian writers whose company included C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien.

The setting of the book is an affluent suburb of a large city where a group of interesting residents have prevailed upon one of their most famous neighbors, a world-renowned playwright, to produce his newest play. We meet them all as the rehearsals are taking place-and we learn that each person is on a spiritual journey fraught with dangers, toils and snares. There is love and lust, loss and confusion, the meaning of life and the meaning of work, all wrapped up in the preparations for performing the play.

If Shakespeare is to be trusted, all the world's a stage... Williams uses the metaphor of the play to portray life, in this world and the next. So we have the world of "The Hill" (their neighborhood-but could it be any suburban enclave), intersecting with the world of the play. We also have a larger challenge.
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Format: Paperback
Among the writers associated along beside C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien with the "Inkling" writers, Charles Williams' voice is arguably the most curious. Williams' seven novels discuss the triumph of a vibrant, mystical, rather unorthodox Christianity over the forces of occult despair.
Williams was by instinct a poet with more than a bit of Tennison among his influences. His books are fairly easy reading, even though he alternates between rather vivid literary allusion and an idiosyncratic stream of narrative consciousness. In this book, he personifies salvation and damnation in characters who, despite all the odd phrasing and high flown prose, seem eminently human. The passage in which a character meets a final damnation is extremely effective, neither preachy nor filled with that sort of "tacky Mr. Scratch and his horrid fire" sensibility that some writing about the afterlife can have. This, along with the other six novels in the series (the series is linked thematically and stylistically rather than by plot), is certainly worth a read.
In our time, we see a lot of Christian fiction which seeks to tell stories of salvation and damnation through the use of fantasy characters (Peretti and his imitators come to mind). Yet, Williams' work, consciously literary, willing to risk heterodoxy to make a point, and infused with a victorian poetic sensibility, consistently takes the reader to places that the modern works fail to glimpse.
In short, Charles Williams is the real thing, and well worth a read.
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