Published in 1945 and still in print, this is the last of the novels of Charles Williams, who along with J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis was one of the Oxford literary group the Inklings. The recent increase in popularity of his fiction, initially boosted by his association with the Inklings, is probably due to the current success of the Frank Peretti thrillers, and the LaHaye-Jenkins 'Left Behind' series. However, in contrast to the current populists Mr Williams is intellectually quite a demanding read.
All Hallows Eve is another Williams ghost story, gently told in his own highly unorthodox style. Two young women have been killed in an accident in the aftermath of the WWII air raids on London, but their ghostly participation in the story is as real as that of any of the living people. It is probably fair to say that this novel, as with most Charles Williams fiction, is not recommended for the overly sensitive person, and could easily be misinterpreted the overly hasty.
Simon LeClerk is a powerful mage, more a Saruman than a Gandalf, and his plan is domination of this world and - more worryingly - any other that he can access. His adoring acolytes form the powerbase of his support for a new world religion. Betty, daughter of one of these acolytes, is the unwilling dupe of the magician, and the key subject in his most daring and horrible experiment. An artist is the bereaved husband of Evelyn, one of the ghosts, and a civil servant is Betty's intended husband.
The characters have depth and robust individual style. While many an author can paint real villains doing convincingly bad things, Williams is unusual in that his good characters and their goodness are equally if not more convincing. Their goodness is genuinely felt and is strongly attractive. There is no hint that the villains have all the fun or that the author really has little idea of how to portray true goodness, or even what it is.
From this novel I also gained a valuable insight into the true nature and function of art. Rather like 'The Picture of Dorian Gray', two of the artist's paintings play a pivotal part in the story. The artist manages in one picture to catch and portray something of a hidden truth about the city of London, and in the other something about the magician himself (who approves of the picture). As these things could not be captured by any mere photograph, the art has to say what can best be said, or perhaps only be said, in a painting.
This report prepared by Michael JR Jose