Summary: Platonic archetypes begin to appear in a small English town, drawing their symbols to themselves. Some men react with terror and some with joy, but not all men understand the powers they witness, causing them to lose their identities either in fear or in the arrogant belief that they can control the archetypes for their own ends. Anthony Durrant follows the path of wisdom and begins to realize that man has a special place in creation and perhaps can choose to set the world back to the way it once was. He hopes to send the archetypes back to their own place before they reach his beloved Damaris and destroy her.
Review: I have long wanted to read a book by Charles Williams because of his relationship with C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. Many believe Williams’s work strongly influenced the final book in Lewis’s space trilogy, That Hideous Strength, and Lewis speaks with great emotion about the impact of Williams’s death in The Four Loves. Williams belonged for a time to the Inklings, an informal literary group where members read their work aloud for comment and criticism. The group boasted Owen Barfield, Hugo Dyson, Roger Lancelyn Greene, and Warren Lewis among its members, as well as both C. S. Lewis and Tolkien. Williams’s close association with some of the greatest literary men of his time gives his work added interest as readers can compare his thoughts and style with those of his contemporaries.
Books I had previously read about the Inklings led me to expect difficulty in reading Charles Williams. Williams was, I understood, strangely obscure and not many people would appreciate his work—surely not nearly the number of people who love and admire Lewis and Tolkien. Once I began The Place of the Lion, however, I realized that the book both met and defied my expectations. I struggled to understand some parts, but Williams also frequently interrupted the story to describe in detail the events taking place and their significance. My difficulty with the work, I realized, did not stem primarily from the text, but from my lack of familiarity with Williams’s beliefs.
Anyone familiar with the concept of Platonic archetypes will have enough knowledge to understand the gist of The Place of the Lion. However, these forms interacted with the world as godlike beings and this confused me, since I had had the impression that Williams was some sort of practicing Protestant and therefore expected Williams to portray God as the primary supernatural agent in the lives of men. The Place of the Lion does suggest that the archetypes are subordinate to God, but I had trouble reconciling the chaos which the archetypes cause with my expectations of how God would respond to such activity. Only research into Williams’s specific beliefs on God, the nature of God, and the nature of other supernatural beings can clarify the plot for me.
Other knowledge that I would have found helpful when reading The Place of the Lion includes an understanding of Abelard and other medieval philosophers, William’s thoughts on the nature of philosophy and wisdom, and Williams’s understanding of the nature of romantic love. Familiarity with the beliefs of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien did little to help me understand the beliefs of Williams, even though I expected to see some sort of influence in the works of the Inklings. Before I read more of Williams, I plan on reading some biographies or some criticism in order that I can truly appreciate his work.