This week’s weird fiction is from Charles Williams.
He wrote several fantasy novels infused with Christian theology. He was admired by his fellow Inklings J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis. Modern writer Tim Powers is a fan.
He wrote seven novels — none of which I’ve read though I have a couple in the house. This is the only piece of short fiction he wrote. It’s main — and only character — Lord Arglay shows up in Williams’ Many Dreams though I’m told there is little connection.
Review: “Et In Sempiternum Pereant”, Charles Williams, 1935.
The title translates from Latin as “and may they be forever damned”, and the ending Latin phrase, is from the conclusion of Dante’s Inferno and translates as “and thence we issued forth to see again the stars”.
The story is rather simple in events though their portent is not clear.
The protagonist, seemingly the only human in the story, is Lord Arglay.
He is walking a country road to visit a friend and his collection of unpublished legal opinions of Lord Chancellor Bacon. The road is somewhat strange. Arglay, who prides himself for his good sense of duration (though that was when he was younger — fleeting thoughts about aging figure in the story’s beginning), is puzzled that his sense of time doesn’t match what his watch says. The grove he passes also doesn’t seem to be receding as fast as he expected. Is he just slower now that he’s older?
Then he sees a house in a passage through a hedge. Massive amounts of smoke is pouring from its chimney – though he didn’t see it in the sky earlier.
Inside, there’s no fires in any room or any of the fireplaces. He encounters an amazingly gaunt man who scurries about in a frantic way and gnaws his wrist. When he confronts the man, he feels incredible heat and hate (he earlier indulged his hate for his brother-in-law on the way to the cottage).
He feels the urge to be of use to the man and “make a ladder of himself”. Then the man is gone, and the heat increases. Arglay bolts from the house crying “Now is God; now is glory in God”.
It’s a strange story whose intended Christian meaning I haven’t quite deciphered. I think the strange way time behaves, seemingly slowing on the road, and that cry of “Now is God” is the key that Arglay has entered into the presence of the eternal – if not God then eternal damnation as symbolized by the man. I think that we are to think he went to Hell as signified by the last words from Dante.