The ancient Celts had a saying that went something like this: “The wall between the worlds is very dark but very thin.” Certain times, such as dusk, and places, such as the edge of a forest, were held to be specially thin since they were physical manifestations of the borders between one realm and another. In “The Place of the Lion” Charles Williams uses this idea as a springboard to a somewhat muddled discussion of philosophy.
As I explained a couple of weeks back, the story examines what would happen if “between a world of living principles, existing in its own state of being, and this present world, a breach had been made.” In other words, what if Plato’s ideals and Jung’s archetypes found their way into our world? Interesting premise, no?
Unfortunately, wooden characters, weak plotting and overly long interior and exterior discourses on what’s happening ruin any chance the book has of keeping the reader’s attention. As Anthony, the main character, thinks to himself, “Why did he always ask himself these silly questions? Always intellectualizing, he thought. . .” Indeed.
It’s not that Williams is a bad writer. He isn’t. I mean, you didn’t belong to the Inklings by writing junk. He makes some very good observations, such as,”They also probably like their religion taken mild – a pious hope, a devout ejaculation,a general sympathetic sense of a kindly universe – but nothing upsetting or bewildering, no agony, no darkness, no uncreated light.”
It’s just that, maybe, some people aren’t meant to write fiction, although it seems that Williams wrote 6 other novels. I’m guessing that this wasn’t one of his best. On that basis I’m willing to give him another chance later on.
In the meantime, if the concept of “thin places” intrigues you at all, try the Celtic fantasy novels of Stephen R. Lawhead, particularly his Song of Albion trilogy or the more sweeping Pendragon Cycle. You won’t be disappointed.
As for “The Place of the Lion,” on a scale of 1 to 4 bookmarks, I give it a 1.