Ex Libris Kirkland

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First Written 1945
Genre Drama
Origin UK
Publisher Edinburgh House Press
My Copy green clothbound hardback, second impression 1945. gold stamp lettering on front and spine. ex library.
First Read October 24, 2013

The House of the Octopus

This is a verse play, a weird form that Charles Williams used sometimes, and always has a strange feel. It's set on a fictional Pacific island, where the native population has been converted to Christianity by a lone missionary. They are under a threat of invasion by the evil empire P'o-l'u, which Williams always said was never meant to be a real place but has an uncomfortably 'oriental' ring about it. He used the concept of P'o-l'u in his Arthurian poems as well, setting them in opposition to King Arthur's Britain.

The lieutenants of the militaristic P'o-l'u serve a Grand Master and his pet cephalopods, whose innumerable grasping tentacles devour and torture their enemies. They invade the island, capture Anthony the missionary, and work to reconvert the islanders and to seduce Anthony to apostasy.

All the best parts of the play are when the character of The Flame interacts with and comments on the action. Serving much the same role as The Skeleton in Williams' play Thomas Cranmer of Canterbury (a favorite of mine), The Flame has an omniscient view, like a Chorus, but also interacts directly with the other characters. He is essentially the Holy Spirit, but not always the 'comforter' as the HS is often portrayed. The Flame seems to take pleasure in tricky words, double meanings, and pointing out the not-quite-hidden motives of the actors - including poking fun at the missionary and undermining his subtle self-righteousness and sanctimony.

Now that I think about it, this is actually a device Williams uses in other books, too. That kind of double-edged wordplay is used by the Archbishop in War in Heaven, and that's entirely the role that Prester John plays when he appears in that book.

Noted on October 24, 2013

ANTHONY. [praying]
Give me therefore grace--

This is the grace --
this distraction that disturbs your prayer, lest the prayer
prove to you - poor child! - an unfair burden.

Quoted on October 24, 2013

you are children still; your very sins are childish,
unadult. If now an adult evil--

O peace, peace! there are no adult evils.
Devils can never mature: only our Lord
grew and knew more. Mystery of perfection,
to make a way to grow even in itself!

Quoted on October 24, 2013

Ex Libris Kirkland is a super-self-absorbed reading journal made by Matt Kirkland. Copyright © 2001 - .
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