BookTalk is a new series of blog posts, where I discuss non-Tolkien books in concise and honest reviews. Read on dear reader …
Having focused my reading habits on the works of Tolkien and Lewis for years now, not to mention acquiring a book or two about the Inklings, I thought it was the right time to dip into some of the works by other members of that literary group.
And what better way to do this than by exploring the somewhat obscure figure of Charles Williams himself?
I was encouraged to tackle The Chapel of the Thorn: A Dramatic Poem, following several visits to the blog (The Oddest Inkling) — created and maintained by the book’s editor and Inklings scholar, Sørina Higgins.
This work is a two-act verse drama that centres around the conflict of a number of characters (whose beliefs are primarily Christian and pagan), as they contend for control over the Crown of Thorns, stowed away in a chapel on the southern coast of England.
The play was composed by Williams around 1910/12 and has now been published for the first time in a simple, yet beautifully presented paperback book.
I was not sure whether I had opted for the most appropriate work as a beginner, it being my first time tackling Charles Williams. Thankfully, Sørina Higgins’s introduction is insightful, staggeringly-detailed and eye-opening. I was instantly drawn into the world of Williams, gaining an understanding of his motivations and the development of the poem itself. It also serves as a great essay to accompany the work itself — offering details on the structure of the poem, its characters and storyline.
I knew from having done some generic reading about Williams that he was not the easiest of authors to read, compared to others whose works are more clear and straightforward. Yet, the introduction gave me enough information and confidence to tackle The Chapel of the Thorn.
Having said that, the content is rather dense. The play itself is not too long, being split up into two acts and the dialogue shifts around to different characters at a fairly rhythmic pace. However, the tone and overall style, together with certain archaic terms and modes of discourse, might be daunting to some.
Still, it is a remarkable piece of work that explores themes of faith and human motivations. As I was reading, I was struck by the complexity and thoughtfulness that must have went into its composition. Considering the author would have been only 24 years old at the time of writing, the verses that make up the entire poem are astonishing.
There are some lines that really pack a punch. In certain verses, constructed with a simple arrangement of words, Williams manages to delver a highly-thoughtful and philosophical message which resonates throughout the reading.
The book also contains some extensive notes following the presentation of the two acts. It is both a remarkable feat by the editor, as well as an informative look into the author’s revisions, as he attempted to perfect the verses and shift words to fit better the overall scope of the poem. Truly, although the notes are exhaustive, they offer a tantalising glimpse into the human aspect of the finished work, and provide for an excellent opportunity to gleam at the poem’s development.
The Chapel of the Thorin also includes a fascinating essay by biographer David Llewellyn Dodds, who further complements Higgins’s stellar editing and adds further insight into this rather sidelined Inkling, overshadowed by the more popular figures of C.S. Lewis and Tolkien.
I share the same interest for Arthurian literature as Williams did, and so I ended up purchasing a copy of Taliessin through Logres and The Region of the Summer Stars, which I have heard is a magnificent piece of work by Williams but also contains some of his most complex verses.
I approach its reading with excitement and a dose of trepidation. Expect a review for this book sometime soon …