Descent into Hell

by Charles Williams

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Analysis

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The Descent into Hell also contains an ascent into heaven. It takes place on Battle Hill which is symbolic of the spiritual struggle of human life in the material realm. Time in this book is not linear but rather a setting where past, present, and future intersect and can interact, and where human intentions and desires have profound meaning and consequences. The author uses a play at an English country house as a vehicle to reveal his mystical philosophical position through his characters and narration.

The book rejects postmodern nihilism in its insistence that productive engagement with the world and especially with others has redemptive and lasting spirititual value. Willingness to bear the burdens of others is a core concept, as those characters that turn away from the world and the needs of others to pursue their narrow selfish desires are shown to be on the path to spiritual damnation. The characters that reject the temptation to turn away from the world and continue to engage and struggle purposefully with life and in meaningful relationships with others are the ones that begin to resonate with the eternal although the purpose and ultimate meaning of these things remain partially obscured.

The author presupposes familiarity with the Western canon including the Gospels, Dante, and Milton. His outlook is intellectual, mystical, aristocratic, and Anglican in a time when faith, tradition, the past, and even meaning itself were losing their relevance to more and more people. It is a challenging and serious work that recapitulates a worldview where life and our choices in this world are pregnant with meaning and consequences.

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