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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 350

In his modern retelling of the Arthurian legend, Charles Williams creates both a Gothic tale and an allegory of good and evil. The author’s emphasis on the sinister underside of normal daily life gives the story a pervasively macabre tone. Both the ordinary business of publishing in London and the small-town life of a simple village, Fardles, seem more suited to a straightforward realistic story. Initially, nothing about Gregory Persimmons’s character suggests the demons that have steered him toward black magic. Similarly, Julian Davenant seems a mild-mannered, ordinary country parson, not a bold hero. The author encourages the reader to believe that the inner resources of a person, strengthened by their faith in God, are the essential components in overcoming the forces of evil. Although Julian ultimately sacrifices his own life, his achievement in saving the Grail was worth it. Rather than a worldly hero, Julian comes to seem a Christlike figure who gave everything in service to his God.

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The horrific aspects of the story are concentrated in material symbols—primarily the Grail—and human ones, namely the characters of Barbara Rackstraw and her young son, Adam. As most of the characters are male, the focus on Barbara as a female and a mother is significant; she symbolizes the Virgin Mary in her protective role over her innocent son, who is only four years old. Gregory’s efforts to abduct Adam, with the plan of corrupting his innocence through black magic, are accentuated by the injuries he inflicts on Barbara as well as the false healing that contaminates her. The rituals involving the misappropriation of the chalice likewise emphasize the evil that has possessed Gregory. Not only does he try to misuse Julian, a devout man of the cloth, but he incorporates one of Christianity’s most powerful relics. Causing the deaths of several innocent men is additional evidence of Gregory’s irredeemably corrupted character. Bringing in the legendary character of Prester John to save the innocent and conduct the final, blissful Mass further emphasizes the otherworldly environment, clinched by his vanishing along with the chalice itself.

The Plot

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 494

The title War in Heaven is symbolic of the earthly battle between the opposing forces of good and evil as they attempt to gain possession of the Holy Graal, the cup used by Jesus at the Last Supper. The Graal is the focus of the power struggle between Gregory Persimmons, Manasseh, and Dmitri on the side of hell and the archdeacon of Fardles, the duke of North Ridings, and Kenneth Mornington on the side of heaven. The Graal is finally won through the sacrifice and faith of the archdeacon and his companions. Prester John, a representative of heaven, eventually claims and is entrusted with the chalice.

The battle for the Graal begins when Gregory Persimmons—a publisher who is involved in a black magic cult—and the archdeacon of Fardles each read a manuscript that suggests that the Holy Graal is located in the archdeacon’s parish church at Fardles. Gregory realizes that the Graal is an object of power that he can use in the service of Satan. He steals the Graal three times.

During the first attack, he assaults the archdeacon, takes the Graal by force, and transports the relic to his house in Cully. The archdeacon and his friends, Mornington and the duke of North Ridings, visit Gregory and retrieve the Graal by trickery. They flee with the cup to the duke’s house in London. While they are staying at the duke’s house, Gregory and his conspirators, Dmitri and Manasseh, make a second attempt on the Graal. They attempt to destroy it through a magical spell, but the archdeacon, Kenneth, and the duke block their spiritual assault...

(The entire section contains 1008 words.)

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