Published in 1931, this fascinating story is one of Charles Williams' early 'metaphysical' novels (also referred to as theological or spiritual thrillers). Set in London, Sir Giles, the nefarious cousin of The Chief Justice of England, Lord Arglay, has obtained by not entirely fair means the ancient gold Crown of King Solomon the Wise. The White Stone of the Tetragrammaton, embedded in the crown, was the key to his wisdom and riches and fame. Sir Giles means to research it and unlock its powers, but lacking the courage to take all the risks himself, he must include others in his plans.
The power of the Stone is much like that of Tolkien's One Ring: its powers -tremendous, but not limitless - must be mastered by the skill and willpower of the user. Made of the First Matter from the Garden of Eden, its power grows with the experience of the user. Its power is to transport the user at a thought; to heal all sicknesses; to travel in time; and to see the minds of others (like a Palantir). Incredibly, the Stone has the power to multiply itself without loss although this has incalculable consequences. It goes without saying that is beyond mortal man to wield this power safely.
Also like the Ring, it has deep effects on the user. Those disposed to use it in anger, or for ill, are quickly subject to _its_ laws over them. They cannot understand or gainsay its effects as their mental makeup is the both the thing that leads them into danger, and the thing that prevents them seeing their errors. Conversely, those who use it for good, and in fact in a sense surrender themselves to it, may also unleash forces beyond their control. However, this will be to their ultimate good.
The dialogue (being, I imagine, true to its setting) is fairly hard to follow in places, and is quite mannered. The plots: chases, confrontations and fights with violent and gruesome deaths; love slow-blossoming; the development of a new theory of jurisprudence ('Organic Law'); and generally obscure metaphysics. This is not technically one of Williams' best novels. I have to admit some of it is beyond me, but at the same time, it is worth every bit of the effort required. (The dialogue is fairly easy the second time through, and it is the sort of book you re-visit.) The plots are virtually all sub-plots, and intertwine like a serpent climbing a vine. As a historical specimen, and possible forerunner of Lord of the Rings, it may also be worth a look. Try it.
This report prepared by Michael JR Jose