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The Greater Trumps

3.90  ·  Rating details ·  585 ratings  ·  74 reviews
Charles Williams had a genius for choosing strange and exciting themes for his novels and making them believable and profoundly suggestive of spiritual truths. The Tarot pack, the ancestor of all playing cards, is first mentioned in history in 1393; the origin of the deck is not known. Tradition has it that the gypsies brought the Tarot from Egypt and that the cards were u ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published April 1st 2003 by Regent College Publishing (first published 1932)
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3.90  · 
Rating details
 ·  585 ratings  ·  74 reviews

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Jul 29, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: inklings, fiction
Here is a summary and review of this novel on my Charles Williams website:
Jul 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing
"The Greater Trumps" is a powerfully conceived work brilliantly constructed on the basis of the ancient Tarot Card Deck. Williams studied the works of A.C. Waite and his novel is apparently using the images created for the Rider Deck designed by Patricia Coleman-Smith under the direction of Waite.

The images of this deck were a perfect focus for the imagination of Charles Williams who was able to transfigure their already powerful iconic meanings into transcendental images of profound spirituali
Sep 29, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: general-fiction
This and the following books by Charles Williams are not like any other books I have ever read. They bent my mind out of shape and sort of gave it a new shape, if that makes any sense.They are very well written and very good mystical stories with real meaning.
Sam Schulman
May 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing
It's hard to describe Charles Williams high Anglican fantasy religious novels of manners without sounding like a character in a Charles Williams novel - I pick them up, find myself falling into another world, finish it, recommend it to someone else - and then I look at the book again, and find it unreadable and the experience I had undiscoverable - sometimes I can't even find the words I remember so well. Imagine a novelist engineered by grafting CS Lewis onto Henry Green rootstock - with a cros ...more
Feb 15, 2016 rated it it was ok
I really wanted to like this one, but it just doesn't work as a story. And, stylistically, it was a little too self-conscious. (I imagine Williams at his writing desk looking over his shoulder at the works of Virginia Woolf on the shelf.) As for his theology, a bit too fuzzy, a bit too romantic for my taste; and, regrettably, marked with that smug self-satisfaction typified in the theological writings of his fellow Inkling C.S. Lewis.
Feb 21, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: inklings, fantasy
Summary: An legacy of a singular pack of tarot cards that correspond to images of the Greater Trumps arranged in a dance on a platform of gold in the retreat of a gypsy master drives his grandson to risk love and life to uncover the powers of the cards.

Charles Williams is known as one of the members of the Inklings who wrote supernatural fantasy thrillers. Lesser known was his interest in the occult arts, particularly through the influence of A. E. Waite and his Fellowship of the Rosy Cross. Thi
Chris Zull
A couple of weeks ago my Dad and I went to John K. King Rare and Used Books in downtown Detroit (a remarkable place, I highly recommend it) for the express purpose of seeking out the novels of Charles Williams. For those familiar with the name, he is mostly remembered as "The Third Inkling." The Inklings were an informal early to mid-twentieth century Oxford literary group that famously included C.S Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, and Owen Barfield, amongst others. I recently read a ste ...more
Dave Maddock
Jun 25, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy, inklings, novel
Williams could have done so much more than he did with the raw material of the novel's premises, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. The "original" Tarot deck is rediscovered by a Gypsy family who are guardians of its companion set of magical figures. Supernatural mischief ensues when they attempt to steal it and wield their combined powers. CW's Romantic Theology heavily informs the plot.

What I enjoyed most about this novel in comparison to the previous four, is that it is the least overtly Christian
Sep 24, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Christians and others interested in a unique take on esoteric subjects
Williams is the least known of the Inklings, the group of writers who met weekly in a pub in Oxford. (The others are C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Dorothy Sayers.)

Like Lewis, he was a devout Christian, and all his novels, adult fantasies, are written to teach something. His background is complex, though. He was active in several esoteric groups for years before committing to Christianity and I find the influence those teachings as dominant as the Christian themes in his books.

The Greater Trum
Kilian Metcalf
Oct 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I don't have the vocabulary or the depth of intellect to analyze the attraction I feel for the novels of Charles Williams. I've each one at least four times, and I nurture the hope that if I keep reading them, eventually I will understand them.

Part of the problem is that his writing is deeply imbue with Christian theology, and yet he was a friend of the occult as well, a member of the Order of the Golden Dawn. His understanding of Tarot is as deep as that of Christianity. In this book he merges
Aug 14, 2008 rated it did not like it
This was assigned reading in one of my college courses, presented, in the words of my professor, as a graphic example of how not to write a book. My professor was right. This is NOT how a book should be written. I resented the time I had to spend reading this dreck.
Jun 26, 2009 rated it it was amazing
My favorite of CW fiction.
May 04, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Once again I am stunned by Charles Williams's strange - but so very real - creations. He writes about Real Things, the True Things that we cannot see with our human eyes, the unseen reality behind everything that is seen. What is so strange - and attractive - in his stories is that everyday people are able to see what is behind the physical world, and that is when everything becomes wild and bewildering to me, the reader.

This might not be my favorite of the 4 or so that I have read so far, but h
Oct 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
It is hard to describe a Charles Williams novel. It is a supernatural, indeed, occult thriller, engaging a Christian moral principle at its center. His style is not one which would be called high literature, but it is also not like cheap pulp novels either. He creates a fascinating selection of characters which places them in a rather difficult supernatural event to deal with; the characters, as in this book, have mixed motives (love, pursuit of power, hate, pride) which have to be worked out be ...more
Yvonne Aburrow
Jun 30, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: gave-up-on
I'm not sure if I didn't finish this because it was the third Williams book I was reading in a row, or because I didn't really warm to any of the characters, or because I couldn't visualize what the moving Tarot figures were supposed to be. Were they tiny people with a will of their own? How big were they?I liked the characters of Aunt Sibyl and the Romani sister they meet on the road. They were interesting. The other characters were either ruthless or conventional, and therefore not sympatico. ...more
Sean Meade
Dec 11, 2017 rated it liked it
I think I enjoyed this book the least of Williams's novels I've read so far. The supernatural aspect was ok (Tarot cards). But most of the action took place in one locale, and that didn't really succeed. The characters were mostly unlikable, which is not my preference. I found myself skimming to the end for plot because I stopped caring about the esoteric descriptions.

I really liked the character of Sibyl and what Williams did with her, but it wasn't enough to redeem the rest of the book.

Worth r
Adrian Fulle
May 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Great read. Very mysterious and the writing creates a unique mood. Williams is a master craftsman. It's hard to believe thiswas written so long ago,
Jason Walsman
Jun 12, 2017 rated it liked it
Somewhat strange, slowish plot. One really cool character makes this a 3-star instead of a 2.
Apr 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: own, 2018, fantasy
Fascinating. Reminded me more of T. S. Eliot than anybody else. Definitely the kind of book that will stand up to (in fact needs) re-reading.
Steven Tryon
Mar 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Very fine. The wonder and power of simple, unaffected love. The earlier of Williams' works are celestial conflict revolving around antagonist, protagonist, and and one solitary human being in the middle with extraordinary choices forced upon her. The Greater Trumps contains all that, but the resolution is of a different sort but, to me, quite satisfying.

The entire book is, as expected, surreal.
Jun 29, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012, kindle
I wanted to like this so much more than I did, though I seem to be defending it against the two-star rating that's probably more accurate. Today, Williams is remembered, if at all, as one of the lesser-known Inklings, after Tolkein and Lewis, his spiritual themes distinguished by a rather mystical bent. This is the first of his works I've read and the one that piqued my interest most of all, its title referring to the major arcana of a very unusual deck of tarot cards. One unexpected side effect ...more
Glen Grunau
How come I keep coming back to the novels of Charles Williams? As one of the lesser known of the infamous "inklings" that included J.R.R. Tolkein and C.S. Lewis, his wrings have not captured the imagination of nearly so many as have these. I do not return because of the ease of reading Williams; I often get bogged down in his awkward descriptions and meandering writing style.

But I can think of three reasons: 1) His mastery of mystical theology and his prioritization of inner transformation over
Paul Dinger
Aug 21, 2011 rated it really liked it
I did enjoy this book despite it's very real flaws. I have to admit that I have a grunging admiration for Williams. I have long searched for this book since I was first introduced and then mesmerizied by All Hallows Eve way back in college. Since then, piece by piece my love for his work was built not just by his strange novels, but by his theology. What is there not to admire? Williams went his own way and created his own theology, even recreating the word theology in a way. This book is about ...more
Aaron Heinly
Mar 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Charles Williams is a weirdo. But he's still the shizzy!
Upon an ancient golden table, golden figurines perpetually move "by some magnetism of the Earth" to the "Great Dance" - that is, the rhythm of all things that happen in this world. The table and figurines are half of a set. The other half is the original Tarrot cards. Together, it is believed, they have the power to explain eachother's mysteries, and maybe even manipulate time, space, and the elements. By some great coincidence (or movement
Lauren Noel Ottwell
Mar 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: re-read
Charles Williams to me, in his own words:

If it was Love that the old woman
was praising now, the shrill voice didn't quite sound like it. But it
might be; with the sweet irony of Perfection, one could never tell. It
was never what you expected, but always and always incredibly more.


That sovereign estate, the inalienable heritage of man, had been in her, as
in all, falsely mortgaged to the intruding control of her own greedy
desires. Even when the true law was discovered, when she knew that she
Karla Huebner
I've always admired Williams' work, and while this one had never been at the top of the list for me, I was curious to see what I thought now. Certainly no one else has ever written quite like him either in terms of style or ideas, which is part of his appeal.

This time around I concluded that the first half of the book was the most successful--that is to say, before the supernatural aspect becomes dominant. Since Williams could quite brilliantly convey mystical and supernatural states and ideas,
Aug 29, 2008 rated it liked it
"Whether we understand every line of a Williams novel or not, we feel something deep inside us quicken as Williams tells the tale." ( i )

"Williams is one of those rare authors one longs to know and query in person about important things." ( ix )

"'Some by cards and some by hands,' he said, 'and some by the stars.'" (10)

"She enjoyed everything - and he, he enjoyed nothing." (39)

"She looked down at the hands that lay in her lap. 'Hands,' she said. 'Can they do it?' 'They can do anything,' he said.
Keith Davis
Nov 29, 2009 rated it liked it
A very strange Fantasy novel with cryptic religious elements. The plot involves the attempts by a few characters to get control of the original set of tarot cards from which all other decks are copied. With the original deck the user cannot manipulate the future rather than just foretell it, also each suit bestows a degree of control over one of the classical elements: earth, air, fire, and water. The description sounds like the plot of a classic quest fantasy, but in execution it is more like a ...more
May 10, 2012 rated it liked it
Definitely one of the strangest novels I can recall reading. It centers on a mysterious set of golden figures which moves across a golden table, and a set of Tarot cards which matches the figures and holds the key to understanding the movement (dance) of the figures. The dance represents the activity of all things in the universe. The golden figures are held by an old gypsy but the cards are owned by the father of the gypsy's grandson's lover.
Suffice it to say that things get completely out of c
Jul 29, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: lovers of theological fiction
Charles Williams, like all the Inklings, was weird as hell. He worked at an academic publishing house, which he regarded as a kind of knightly devoir, and conducted more-or-less courtly love affairs with a little bdsm glitter sprinkled over them, while taking part in an Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn-y church thing. His novels are surprisingly entertaining, suspenseful, and well-written--how Clive Lewis must have hated him for that, after the disaster that was the Perelandra books!

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Charles Walter Stansby Williams is probably best known, to those who have heard of him, as a leading member (albeit for a short time) of the Oxford literary group, the "Inklings", whose chief figures were C.S. Lewis and J.R.R Tolkien. He was, however, a figure of enormous interest in his own right: a prolific author of plays, fantasy novels (strikingly different in kind from those of his friends), ...more
“Nothing was certain, but everything was safe - that was part of the mystery of Love.” 13 likes
“They're beautiful hands," he said; "though they've ruined the world, they're beautiful hands.” 6 likes
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