Yesterday I finished watching the two part episode of the Oxford-based TV detective series Lewis which was themed around the 'third Inkling' Charles Williams - and a series of ritual alchemical murders of members of a modern revival group based on the Companions of the Coinherence.
My verdict was that - aside from the novelty value of having Charles Williams discussed on mainstream television, the show was a load of old rubbish: it had nothing good about it except for being filmed in and around some attractive buildings.
Aside from its being just a poor piece of drama (poorly structured, unevenly paced, implausible characters with contradictory motivations, confusing, dishonestly misleading...); there were two aspects that seem worthy of notice.
One is that Charles Williams came out of it very badly indeed! What the viewer took away, I think, was that Williams was some kind of pretentious, megalomaniac guru who had devised a ritual - supposedly based on Williams' advocacy of 'substitution', or one person carrying another's 'burden' - that totally removed feelings of guilt.
In other words, CW was the purveyor of a type of sinister spiritualistic psychotherapy, or a specific tranquillizer, that made people feel good when they had done bad: made them feel good without need for repentance.
However, I do indeed think that this is a reasonably valid criticism of what Substitution became when Williams removed it from its original Christian context - and this was also the opinion of William's original biographer and disciple Alice Mary Hadfield. Williams would presumably have been appalled at the distortion of his views - but I hope he would also have been shocked into recognizing that this distortion is not a big reach from what he actually said.
The other aspect was the sordidness of Williams's enthusiasts - in this small group of Williamsites we had a lot of argumentative and promiscuous drunkenness, a lot of tattoos, casual sex and extra-martial love affairs, a sado-masochist club which was affectionately portrayed, and the police bursting in on two of the male suspects who were at that point revealed as supposedly bisexual, and had just embarked on a passionate liaison (having met at the S & M club)...
All this regarded as a matter of course, and in a 'tolerant' spirit as adding to the general fun and colourfulness of everyday Oxford life.
Not that this is in any way exceptional for mainstream British television - even at what is supposed to be the high-quality, expensive/ high production values end as represented by Lewis.
But it is a Gedankenwelt - a thought-world, a lifestyle; that I much prefer not to dwell in and spiritually partake-of - especially not in this inclusive and celebratory mood.
The show is, in microcosm, a perfect example of the corruption and incompetence of the society which modern British elites admire, advocate and increasingly enforce.
I wonder, regarding this negative portrayal of Williams, if the forces of dissolution have cottoned on to the Inkings as potential harbingers of a Christian Renaissance and decided to 'take them down'?
@JF Actually, that has been going on for decades,,,
Your description, " a ritual - supposedly based on Williams' advocacy of 'substitution', or one person carrying another's 'burden' - that totally removed feelings of guilt", makes me think of the vivid "Sins of the Fathers" segment written by Halsted Welles for the 23 February 1972 episode of Night Gallery - my first encounter with the idea of a 'sin-eater', which I later read another version of in The Sin-Eater and Other Tales (1895)by 'Fiona Macleod' (pseudonym of William Sharp). Williams certainly knew some 'Fiona Macleod', and 'sin-eaters' could be something that contributed somehow to his ideas about 'substitution' and 'exchange', but - the idea of 'sin-eating' is that it really takes sins over (with them 'going on existing and burdening'), while 'C.W. substitution' so far as I can see could never do anything of the sort. "Feelings of guilt" is also nothing that I've seen C.W. contending could be 'exchanged' or 'substituted for', and is a very creepy idea - ignoring the reality of guilt and getting rid of the feeling which is there to work toward your facing that reality!
Your sketch of plot details make me think I may never want to find out for myself what the Williamsy bits of the episode are like.
One hopes "the novelty value of having Charles Williams discussed on mainstream television" might help get people to read him, critically, and benefit from the very good bits... If they just go away thinking they know all they need to know about him, and deplore or welcome according to their existing tastes (etc.) - that would be s disservice all around.
David Llewellyn Dodds
@David - Off topic - I wonder if you would mind providing me with a potted biography of yourself so I know something of with whom I talk! I can't find anything much on the internet, except a couple of your books.
Thank you - an intriguing invitation! For on- or offline? (If the latter, how would you prefer it sent?) And, how big a pot, emphasizing which ingredients?
David Ll. D.
@David - Thank you. Since I am asking out of sheer 'nosiness' maybe you could e-mail? firstname.lastname@example.org. As for detail - things like where you were born, lived, educated, jobs, books etc - and a few lines about your engagement with the Inklings?
Thanks for the address! I'll toy around with casting this in a commodious form - without, I hope, taking too long about it!
David Ll. D.
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