All Hallows’ Eve, by Charles Williams, Inkling

Charles Williams in the 1930s

Happy Halloween! ‘Tis the season to remember Charles Williams, especially his novel All Hallows’ Eve, set as it is on the night before All Saints Day. All Saints Day, aka All Hallows Day (saint=holy=hallowed), is the day the Church sets aside to honor her special heroes. But All Hallows Eve, the night before, carries a very different odor. All Hallows Day is celebrated on Nov. 1st. That puts the celebration of All Hallows Eve on Oct. 31st. That’s right. All Hallows Eve is Halloween (“een”=evening=eve). And All Hallows Eve, Halloween, is the last day all the evil-doers are allowed to come out to play–ghouls, goblins, witches, warlocks, succubi, incubi, demons of all sorts–before they are chased back into their crypts, tombs, graves, cemetaries, columbaria, coffins by the heroic saints.

A novelist, editor, and student of spirituality, Williams wrote ground-breaking fantasy fiction from the 1930s until his death in 1945, often on occult themes. J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Williams, and a number of other literary friends met frequently at an Oxford pub, The Eagle and Child, fondly known to them as the Bird and Baby. Their group, informally called The Inklings, shared their fantasy writing after their day jobs were done (Tolkien: the most prestigious professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford; Lewis: the most prestigious professor of Renaissance literature at Oxford; Williams: an editor at Oxford University Press; etc.). Photo of Williams, right, taken from the George Macdonald web site, http://georgemacdonald.info/williams.html.

Of the three Inklings most well known for fantasy fiction, Williams is the least well-known. Everyone knows about Tolkien even if they haven’t read him; many know about Lewis–if not for his fantasy Narnia series or his ground-breaking scholarship, then for his Christian apologetics, which have ironically turned him into a virtual saint of the Religious Right. Williams is rarely read today, though. His novels are a heady (some would say loopy) mixture of theosophism, Anglicanism, and the occult. I personally find them too preachy, but they are always interesting. All Hallows’ Eve, written in 1945 and shared with fellow Inklings just before Williams’s death, is no exception, having to do with ghosts, black magic, suffering, and divine love.

So. . .happy Halloween! Happy All Hallows Eve, Charles, wherever you may be.

John Henry Fuseli (Johann Heinrich Füssli), THE NIGHTMARE, 1781, on exhibit at the Institute of Fine Arts, Detroit.
This is a faithful photographic reproduction of an original two-dimensional work of art. The work of art itself is in the public domain.

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