War in Heaven is one of Charles Williams’ early novels. As in two other early works, Shadows of Ecstasy (1933) and Many Dimensions (1931), Williams weds elements of folklore and myth with Christian belief to effectively convey specific principles central to Christian dogma. In War in Heaven, Williams portrays the Holy Graal as a tool to be used in the service of either heaven or hell. The chalice becomes the focus of a power struggle between the forces of order and chaos.
The Graal has not always possessed such moral associations. The Graal myth has been perceived by some scholars as pagan, either representing a vegetation myth or with the chalice viewed as a Celtic cauldron of plenty. By the late twelfth century, Chrétien de Troyes, a French poet in the court of Marie de Champagne, linked Christian theology with the pagan elements of the Graal story to form Arthurian myth. The Graal retains its Arthurian connections in Williams’ novel and is primarily a Christian object. The characters in War in Heaven believe that it is the chalice used by Christ at the Last Supper. Because of this association with Christ, the cup represents God’s spiritual presence in the material world as well as the Christian doctrines of sacrifice, atonement, and redemption.
The Graal is an unremarkable object. It is an ordinary looking, tarnished cup, and the archdeacon constantly reminds his companions that the Graal...
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