Charles Williams is my favorite Inkling.
That statement is sure to raise many legitimate questions. “What the hell is an Inkling?” springs to mind. “Who is Charles Williams?” is also a reasonable response. “Why is Charles Williams your favorite Inkling?” is probably the most pertinent question in terms of what I’m going to be doing on UnexploredHorizons for the next few months, but I’ll address each question in turn, then get to the point of this post.
The Inklings were sort of an ad-hoc literary group made of up people who worked in and around the University of Oxford in England. They met from 1933 to 1949 and among the regular members was a guy named C.S. Lewis and another guy named J.R.R. Tolkien. I hear both of them managed to build something of a reputation for themselves in certain niche fiction markets, but I don’t want to speak out of turn.
I grew up reading Lewis and Tolkien, of course. And when I was in high school I was dimly aware that they were members of a reading group called the Inklings. But it wasn’t until I had my first real, honest-to-God job as a technical writer that I was introduced to another member of the Inklings named Charles Williams.
Charles Williams was a contemporary of both Lewis and Tolkien, and a sometime mentor to Lewis. His fiction was never as popular as either, and his style of writing was perhaps a bit old fashioned even for the 30s and 40s, but his books blew my mind.
My two favorites are Descent into Hell and All Hallows Eve. In Descent into Hell, remnants of the destroyed city of Gomorrah invade a quiet English countryside village. In All Hallow’s Eve a young woman is killed during the London Blitz, and her ghost stumbles upon a plot to control the world through a powerful and insidious cult practicing black magic. He wrote seven books in all, which he described as “Supernatural Thrillers” but what would today likely be called “Urban Fantasy.”
He can be a difficult read, but he’s one of my favorite authors. Definitely in the Top Five.
So back when I finished loading the final chapters and podcasts of Pay Me, Bug! on to my web site, I had to decide what I was going to do next. PMB! ends October 21, and something was going to have to take its place. So I looked at the rest of the stuff I had, in various stages of completion, and I saw two possibilities:
- Northlander, a semi-traditional blend of fantasy and horror, but not exactly
- The Points Between, a modern fantasy set in the South, that was written as a tribute to Charles Williams
I was going to go with Northlander because of the two it was the most complete and would probably be an easier “sell” for potential readers–it’s a pretty good story and the world it’s in is interesting. The Points Between has been difficult to write, and has the disadvantage of not actually being finished. Both were strong arguments in Northlander’s favor, and my initial plan was to post Northlander, finish The Points Between, and then post The Points Between.
… and then I realized that September 20 is Charles Williams’ birthday.
I hate making realizations like that, because it immediately inspires me to do things that are both ambitious and stupid.
“How great would it be,” I thought, “if I published the first chapter of The Points Between, a story that was inspired by Charles Williams, on his actual birthday?”
“Well,” I thought back, “it would be pretty great. Really, astoundingly great. Amazingly great.”
And then I thought “IT WOULD BE BEAUTIFUL.”
The phrase “it would be beautiful” is a pretty dangerous one for me. When I hear those words come out of my mouth it’s as if I’ve double-dog-dared myself to do something, and I’m compelled to do it, regardless of the consequences.1
So here I am, trying to get you all interested in my writing, trying to build up some sort of reputation as a guy who can really deliver on telling good stories, trying to draw you all in to this new venture of mine… and I’m suddenly obsessing over trying to serialize a story that is an homage to one of my all-time favorite-yet-obscure authors with a story that isn’t actually finished.
It’s not exactly what you would call “a good example of long-term strategic thinking.”
It would, on the other hand, be BEAUTIFUL.
So it’s settled. Next week, on Tuesday, September 20 — Charles Williams’ birthday — I will publish Chapter One of The Points Between, a modern fantasy set in a fictional town in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The prologue to the story is already up and as the months progress you can watch me struggle with a story and a style that I find confoundedly difficult to write. It may in fact prove to be a train wreck of monumental proportions, something akin to the publishing of The Eye of Argon. Crowds of giggling con-goers may turn it into a game where they try to read as much of each chapter as possible without breaking into fits of delerious laughter. The ghost of Charles Williams may visit me in the middle of the night to say “honestly chap, I suppose I should be flattered, but I’d be much obliged if you’d cut it out, just stop, please, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD.”
Or I might manage to pull it off.
Either way it should be interesting.2
- For example I have managed to get in trouble with my wife at least twice when I was in the store trying to buy her a gift that would be deep and meaningful, and instead I found something that made me say “that’s beautiful.” I’m lucky she still talks to me.
- By “interesting” I mean “by mid-February I fully expect to hate my life.”