Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Descent Into Hell

The Bear thinks he mentioned he is reading Charles Williams' 1937 novel Descent Into Hell.

It is a challenging book, but one of the scariest the Bear has read. It is about the small ways people send themselves to Hell.

One character is a military historian who has had a scholarly feud with a peer over the position of some troops in a single battle during the War of the Roses. It means nothing, really, except that his position is his, and the other historian's position isn't.

On one particularly disappointing day, the scholarly gentleman opens the newspaper to see that his rival has received a knighthood! Just at that moment, he could have rejoiced in his friend's good fortune. At the very least, if he couldn't manage that, he could have willed the intention of joy. That's all. But no, he gives himself utterly over to envy and hatred and self-pity. Such petty decisions are the stuff of damnation in Descent into Hell. Titanic battles are waged in the small precincts of everyday life.

The Bear has always thought headlines in Heaven are much different from ours. Instead of great affairs of state, they blare that Sidney Settlemeyer wanted to ask for seconds, but didn't.

This being a fantasy novel, there is a doppelganger, a succubus, the ghost of a suicide, places where the past is uncomfortably near to the present, and more. The prose borders on the poetic. It is not a book that would be published today, but makes an excellent Halloween read for the patient and carries a profound spiritual message.

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