Feb 11, 2013

Posted by in C.S. Lewis, Literary Apologetics, Literature | 886 Comments

Charles Williams and C.S. Lewis: The Influence of Descent into Hell


In November, 2012 I had the pleasure of giving a talk in Madison, WI for a conference called “The 10 Books that Most Influenced C.S. Lewis,” hosted by the C.S. Lewis Society of Madison  The theme came from a list that Lewis had provided for The Christian Century in 1962, of the books that had most influenced him. The books were as follows:

1. Phantastes by George MacDonald.
2.The Everlasting Man by G. K. Chesterton.
3. The Aeneid by Virgil.
4. The Temple by George Herbert.
5. The Prelude by William Wordsworth.
6. The Idea of the Holy by Rudolf Otto.
7. The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius.
8. Life of Samuel Johnson by James Boswell.
9. Descent into Hell by Charles Williams.
10. Theism and Humanism by Arthur James Balfour.

At the conference, each of the speakers addressed one of these books; mine was Charles Williams’ Descent into Hell.

Descent into Hell

Incidentally, a lot of the discussion amongst the various speakers had to do with the selection criteria. Were these books that all influenced him personally? in his writing? were they books that Lewis thought worth recommending? We concluded that we did not know!

Here is the recording of my lecture.

I hope you find it interesting, and I highly recommend reading Charles Williams’ Descent into Hell. (And Lewis’s Ransom Trilogy, of course!)


Dr. Holly Ordway is a poet, academic, and Christian apologist. She is the chair of the Department of Apologetics and director of the MA in Cultural Apologetics at Houston Baptist University, and the author of Not God’s Type: A Rational Academic Finds a Radical Faith. Her work focuses on imaginative and literary apologetics, with special attention to C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams.

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  1. Just Passing By says:

    Was rereading Descent after many years, and stumbled across this. Nicely done, and helpful. I may re-read Hideous Strength next, just for comparison.

    Thank you.


  2. Holly Ordway says:

    Thanks, JPB. I definitely recommend re-reading That Hideous Strength as well. I found that after reading Descent into Hell, I discovered new depths in THS (which I already liked very much!).

  3. Holly,

    Enjoyed this greatly! Have you ever found or are you aware of anything in print on Charles Williams lectures on Milton while at Oxford. I find references to them but nothing in print. Thanks for your help. Kind Regards, Kevin

    • Holly Ordway says:

      Thanks, Kevin!

      I haven’t seen anything on the content of the Milton lectures, unfortunately. The closest I’ve come is that in a pamphlet on CW, John Heath-Stubbs comments that he attended lectures by Williams; I think it was the Milton ones, but I’m not entirely sure.

  4. Hello, Ms. Ordway

    I look forward to listening to your lecture.

    I started referring to “The Ransom Trilogy” instead of “The Space Trilogy” after hearing Peter Kreeft mention that “The Chronicles of Aslan” is a more fitting designation than “The Chronicles of Narnia.” You’re the only other person I’ve seen or heard do that, and it’s much appreciated, for what it’s worth. After all, those main characters point us to Christ; setting is rather incidental to the exploration of Him and His character, I think.

    Thank you for the insightful website.


    • Holly Ordway says:

      Thanks, Scott. I hope you enjoy the lecture.

      I took the habit of calling the books the “Ransom Trilogy” from Michael Ward, who pointed out that only two of the books involve space travel, but all three feature Ransom. (I do think that the Chronicles of Narnia is a fitting name, and that the setting actually does a great deal to point the reader toward Christ; speaking again of Michael Ward, he makes an excellent case for this in Planet Narnia; well worth reading if you haven’t come across it yet.)

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