DELINQUENT
OBLIGATIONS

Dear
Charles
Williams

Thanks for writing such weird books, Charles.

They're so weird. And I mean this in a good way: they're obtuse and off-putting and dense and a little bit offensive sometimes. And I mean that in a good way! I like weird books. They are also funny and challenging and lovely and include really beautiful portraits of people that I can learn from.

Many people have written about why your books are good and interesting. But today I feel thankful for how weird they are, because it created such an opportunity for attention arbitrage.

Attention Arbitrage (it's a term I made up but should be be widely adopted) is when paying attention to something that's overlooked creates opportunities that are out of proportion to your effort. It's arbitrage based on attention.

This happened to me with your books! I was interested in reading them and started back in 2006 or so. I came across the Charles Williams Society, which at the time had an all black-and-white website that looked like it was from some early DARPA experiment. For a few years I corresponded with the society, begging them to let me make a new one pro bono.

Eventually they said yes, and added: We can't pay you. But you could be on our board, and help out with things! So: I got to be on the board of a literary society. Not bad for an art major in his twenties.

And then I got to travel to Oxford to meet the society a few times! I got to see a side of that city that wouldn't have been accessible to me as a tourist. I love travel, but it's still a luxury enough that I don't just pop over to the UK very often. This was a great opportunity. And more importantly, I made interesting friends, well outside the possible orbit of people I would normally meet.

And THEN I got to publish your books! I was pretty disatisfied with the editions of the novels and so made the pitch that the Society could spearhead a reprint, in nice collectible hardcover versions. Nobody at the society was particularly interested in doing all the work, but they supported the idea and didn't mind if I tackled it - and even gave some seed funding for printing the first novel. I used the sales from that to publish the second, then those two funded the third, etc, until I'd republished all seven.

But all those experiences wouldn't have happened without your weird books. They're weird enough - with enough mystery and enough complicated plots and frankly enough overwrought sentence structure - that they haven't found huge audiences the way your pals Tolkien and Lewis did.

But they're also great enough! Great enough that people still love discovering them, and reading and re-reading, as I did. Intellectually rewarding to grapple with, and the occaisional heroic character. And funny, in a very chilly English way. And maybe pretty wise? Your unorthodox version of Christianity might be like, sort of right? Who knows.

So: thanks.

Matt
February 3, 2024

UM WHAT

This is Matt Kirkland's corrective project for 2024: learn how to write thank you notes.