The Stone of Suleiman and the Multiplication of MacGuffins

The Nazis want it. The Allies want it. But most importantly, Indiana Jones wants it. It might be the Ark of the Covenant. It might be the Holy Grail. But whatever it is, it drives the plot of the movie. It is the object that the the major characters desire to possess for themselves and which they must, at all costs, keep out of the hands of their enemies. Alfred Hitchcock famously named this object the MacGuffin.

The MacGuffin is a nothing, Hitchcock tells us, because the audience really does not care about the object itself. It does not make a difference. Instead of an ark or cup, it could just as well be some other artifact of ostensible power, say … a crystal skull or one of the five fabled Sankara stones. What is important is the quest, the conflict, and the revelation of character. In Raiders of the Lost Ark the Allies finally take possession of the sacred chest, but it ends up in a sealed crate in a giant warehouse; in Last Crusade the Grail falls into an abyss. (As far as the other two Indiana Jones movies, we shall maintain a discrete silence—a crystal alien skull, really?)

“There are no lions in the Scottish highlands …”

In Charles Williams’s metaphysical thriller Many Dimensions, the characters are also searching for a sacred artifact of magical power—the Stone of Suleiman. Hajii Ibrahim, one of the Stone’s Islamic guardians, recounts its history:

It is said that in the Crown of Suleiman ben Daood there was a strange and wonderful Stone, and it is said also that this Stone had belonged of old to the giants, to Nimrod the hunter and his children, and by its virtue Nimrod sought to build Babel which was to reach to heaven. And something of this kind is certainly possible to those who have the Stone. Before Nimrod, our father Adam (the Peace be upon him!) had it, and this only he brought with him out of Paradise when he fled before the swords of the great ones-Michael and Gabriel and Raphael (blessed be they!). And there are those who say that before then it was in the Crown of Iblis the Accursed when he fell from heaven, and that his fall was not assured until that Stone dropped from his head. For yet again it is told that, when the Merciful One made the worlds, first of all He created that Stone and gave it to the Divine One whom the Jews call Shekinah, and as she gazed upon it the universes arose and had being. But afterwards it passed from Iblis to Adam, and from Adam to Nimrod, and from Nimrod to Suleiman, and after Suleiman it came into the sceptre of Octavianus who was called Caesar and Augustus and was lord of Rome. But from Rome it came with Constantine to New Rome, and thence eastward-only in hiding- till our lord Muhammed (blessed be he!) arose to proclaim the Unity. And after he was received into the Mercy it belonged to seven Khalifs, and was taken into Spain when the Faith entered there, and some say that in his wars Charlemagne the Emperor found it and set it under the hilt of his sword, which was called joyeuse because of it, and from that the Franks made a war-shout and cried Montjoy St. Denis. And because of its virtue and his will the Emperor made himself lord of the world. After him the world became very evil, and the Stone made for itself a place of repose and remained therein until to-day. This is the tale of the Stone of Suleiman, but its meaning is in the mind of him who hears it. (p. 44)

The small milky white cube, in which is inscribed the Tetragrammaton, confers upon the user the ability to travel both from place to place and backwards in time (travel into the future remains unexplored). Ibrahim goes on to explain that the Stone is the First Matter made by the divine Creator and from which all other things have been made. “That is why,” he says, “it will do anything you ask it—with all your heart. But you must will truly and sincerely” (p. 56). Ultimately the Stone effects the “end of desire.”

The Stone also has one other curious characteristic: it can be indivisibly divided. When divided, an exact replica, or Type, of the original is produced—hence the plot challenge of a MacGuffin that is multiple MacGuffins.

But is the Stone of Suleiman a MacGuffin?

P.S. I didn’t figure out who King Suleiman was until after I finished the novel. I got confused by all the talk of djinns, flying carpets, and magical talismans. King Suleiman = King Solomon! Doh!

(Go to “When the MacGuffin …”)

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4 Responses to The Stone of Suleiman and the Multiplication of MacGuffins

  1. Bilbo says:

    Many Dimensions was the first Charles Williams novel I read, over forty years ago, and it is still one of my favorites. I’ve never been sure, but I think the Stone somehow represents Jesus. Williams’ thoughts were and are very often too profound for me to comprehend. But that’s never stopped me from enjoying him.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Many Dimensions is a good introduction to Williams’s novels, I think. After re-reading it on the plane last Sunday, I too can say it remains one of my favorites.

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  2. “The Nazis want it. The Allies want it. But most importantly, Indiana Jones wants it. It might be the Ark of the Covenant. It might be the Holy Grail.”
    It’s probably the primer. Monty Python also wants the latter.

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  3. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    I am just getting caught up with your posts of the past month, and will probably be in danger of scribbling your eyes weary (the textual equivalent of chatting your ears off) about this novel in the comments after the second installment…!

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