Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 744
To Lester Furnival, standing on Westminster Bridge at twilight, the lights of the city and the drone of a friendly plane overhead are symbols of the peace, a return to the natural order of life. Lester slowly becomes conscious, however, of a silence that is unnatural. Lester realizes that she is dead.
A vital and passionate young woman killed in a plane crash, she first finds herself alone in the city with Evelyn, the friend who is killed with her. She realizes that theirs was never a true friendship. As the two dead women try to establish a genuine relationship in the afterlife, they become involved in the affairs of the living. Lester’s husband Richard has an artist friend, Jonathan, who is in love with Betty, a school friend whom Lester and Evelyn never liked. Betty is completely dominated by her mother, Lady Wallingford, who is a disciple of a mysterious faith healer who calls himself Simon the Clerk.
Lady Wallingford and Betty call to see a portrait of Father Simon commissioned from Jonathan. A Christian, Jonathan, without realizing it, reveals in the portrait the essence of evil, which Simon represents. Lady Wallingford, infuriated, calls off Betty’s engagement to Jonathan and takes Betty away. Jonathan calls on Richard for help. The conflict between mother and lover for possession of Betty becomes the conflict between the God of love and the power of darkness for the human soul.
Surrounded by a band of zealous converts, preaching to a mesmerized audience in his shabby back-street headquarters, Simon is the reembodiment of Simon the Magus, the Jew who rejected Christ. Simon is, in fact, the Antichrist. Exploiting the devotion of Lady Wallingford, he conceives Betty to be his agent and fears that his power over the daughter is threatened by her love for Jonathan. Simon decides that the time comes for the final magical operation that will separate her human soul from her body and substitute his will in its place. He is thwarted by love in action. At each crisis, he makes a mistake, because his magic powers cannot perceive what love can do. When Simon goes to Betty’s bedroom to perform the final operation of magic, Lester is there, having gone to ask Betty’s forgiveness for rejecting her friendship. Betty’s forgiveness of Lester releases Lester’s spirit; Lester’s love sustains Betty and becomes Betty’s substitute to receive Simon’s magic. Lester is already dead, so Simon’s magic has no effect on her, and Betty is released from his spell to rebel against her mother and rejoin Jonathan. The defeated Simon then turns his attention to the wretched soul of Evelyn, who sought his aid to regain her power of persecuting Betty. Lester tries to rescue Evelyn, as she rescued Betty, by joining her within Evelyn’s miserably deformed physical body, which Simon creates for her with his magic powers. Simon attempts to control Evelyn’s body and use it to trap Betty, Jonathan, and Richard. Lester, however, exercises a greater control through the power of love and warns them in time for them to expose Simon and bring his work and his house to ruins.
The climax of the action takes place on a gray, rainy Halloween, All Hallows’ Eve, when the deformed body, containing the souls of Lester and Evelyn, moves through the streets of London and keeps a rendezvous at Jonathan’s flat. The engaged couple invites the bereaved Richard to join them for dinner. When Lester wants to warn Richard of the approach of the magical body, she thinks of the telephone. Having begged two pennies from a passerby, she goes into a telephone booth opposite the Charing Cross underground station. When Richard comes to the phone, he hears Lester’s voice as clearly as he saw her form several times in the last few days. She gives him the message that they have to wait at the flat until the old woman comes. Instead of going out to dinner, they spread a meal of bread, cheese, cold cuts, and wine, and thus prepare themselves for the crisis of All Hallows’ Eve. After meeting, the three living friends take the deformed body with them in a taxi through the rainy midnight streets of London to the darkened house where Simon and Lady Wallingford are stalled in their last desperate act of magic. Love triumphs over evil; Lester disappears in a blaze of white light.