Dylan Thomas once said to Charles Williams, “Why, you come into the room and talk about Keats and Blake as if they were alive.” That’s how I want to talk of Charles Williams—novelist, poet, dramatist, essayist, critic, biographer, and theologian.

But who is he? Few people know him, little is written of him, and his books are hard to find. Yet he was a major influence on C. S. Lewis, who edited Essays Presented to Charles Williams. T. S. Eliot counted him as a friend, and wrote an introduction to one of his novels. Dorothy Sayers wrote of Williams in The Mind of the Maker.

As soon as we mention Lewis and Eliot and Sayers, we think we know Williams—his geography, his interests, his theology. We can label him an “Oxford Christian,” a member of the Inklings, a lover of literature and beauty and debate. All that is true to an extent. But to name his associates does not name Williams, for in nature and thought he was unlike any of them. There is something elemental and root-like about Williams; he saw into the heart of God’s things; he understood the deepest implications of some of Christ’s enlivening, yet solemn sermons. Williams tells great tales while he teaches us the nature of the Christian life. He does not need to take us to other planets or worlds to give us new insights and experiences, as does Lewis, for example. (The third member of Lewis’s trilogy, That Hideous Strength, which takes place on earth, is not as effective as the otherworldly two, Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra.)

His biography can be briefly summarized. He was born in London, September 20, 1886, and was educated at St. Albans Abbey School, St. Albans Grammar School, and University College, London. In 1943 Oxford University awarded him an honorory ...

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