If Tolkien and C S Lewis were the Lennon and McCartney of the Inklings, then Charles Williams was the George Harrison. (And their Ringo? Possibly Owen Barfield. Another story.) Williams’s considerable, highly idiosyncratic achievements have long since been overshadowed by those of his two world-famous Oxford pals, and no doubt always will be, even in the unlikely event that some insane Hollywood executive decides to make a CGI blockbuster inspired by, say, Williams’s Arthurian verse epic Taliessin through Logres.
And yet the least well known of the Inklings was also the most wide-ranging and versatile. Williams made a distinguished mark in at least half a dozen different fields: as poet, popular novelist (with metaphysical thrillers such as War in Heaven and Many Dimensions), innovative verse dramatist, critic, scholar, theologian, historian and editor. In the daytime – he did most of his writing late at night, smoking furiously – he was a full-time publisher at Oxford University Press. On many evenings he was a lecturer, first in London and in his later years at Oxford University, where wartime students regarded him with awe.[1pass]
Nowadays, Williams’s forty-odd books are out of print save in shoddy, small-press editions and it is perfectly easy to glide through an undergraduate course in English literature without so much as noticing his name, let alone studying any of his work. Is this just another case of harsh literary Darwinism