“Many Dimensions”

Many DimensionsMy discovery of Charles Williams’ work continues, with his second novel Many Dimensions.

The Stone of Solomon — said by legend to have been set into the Israelite king’s crown, inscribed with the Tetragrammaton, and possessing the power to transport a person through space — surfaces in modern London. Experimentation reveals its ability to copy itself perfectly and infinitely (into what are called Types), and the frightening metaphysics of time travel are delved into. But when chance makes apparent that the Stone and its Types can heal the sick, it becomes impossible to keep them a secret — and everybody wants one.

Although it deals again with the central premise of an ancient mythical object, much like his first book, Many Dimensions treats things in a very different way, especially when it comes to the characters. War In Heaven featured clear-cut heroes and villains with clear agendas. But while in this story we are given to sympathize with particular people, it’s hard to assign straight definitions of good and evil. And in a strange twist for a Christian novel our sympathies are with a couple of agnostics.

It seems to be less about who is good and who is evil, but about what relationship they have to the Stone. There are those who try and control the Stone: whether by using it to do their will (for healing or for other wonders), or by trying to gain power through it (commercially and materially), or by trying to suppress it altogether. And there are those who instead choose to submit their wills and desires totally to the Stone.

The Stone is a fictional invention by Williams. Though there are many legends of King Solomon (the book uses his Arabic name Suleiman), a stone like the one described in the book doesn’t seem to be one of them. It is said to be made from the First Matter, the original stuff of God’s creative act in forming the universe, and so it is able to shape and remake the universe. But it also becomes many things to many people, who see in it either salvation or ambition or danger. It takes on many dimensions.

There are many things in this book I didn’t quite understand, such as the role that the recurring theme of justice is meant to play in the story and how that’s meant to relate to the Stone. It can make for a dense and mystifying first read, but I suspect the second time through will be more illuminating.

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