That Hideous Strenth – Chapter 2 – Dinner with the Sub-Warden – Part 2

SUMMARY

Mark arrives home to find Jane distraught. It seems her fear and anxiety have increased since returning home and really taken hold of her. She had walked home from the Dimbles but became anxious enough that afternoon to call them and ask for the name of the person they wanted her to see. It was a Miss Ironwood and Jane was put off by her being a woman. Jane kept thinking and worrying about her dream and a strange quality to “Mother” Dimble’s voice so that she became worse and worse and greeted Mark in a very unguarded way, with which he was unfamiliar.

DISCUSSION

What we have here is not a picture of a thriving marriage. When Mark arrives home he is met at the door by his “frightened, half-sobbing” wife. “There was a quality in the very muscles of his wife’s body which took him by surprise. A certain indefinable defensiveness had momentarily deserted her” (42). This would be something we would call openness or vulnerability. This is something that should be common in a marriage. But, we learn, for the Studdocks, it is “rare.”

Previously in the Trilogy, Lewis has touched upon masculinity and femininity quite a bit. Even the symbols for certain planets (symbols Ransom noted while on Malacandra) conveyed the qualities of gender. Specifically the symbol for Perelandra – Venus – was very feminine. You have excellent pictures of gender with the King and Queen of Perelandra. These qualities have their ultimate display in marriage. I think Lewis appreciates gender and wants to show it. I think he appreciates marriage and wants to show its importance. He does this at first by showing a marriage that is not in good repair. We’ve already seen Jane’s unhappiness on the first page (page 11 in my book – yippee!) We’ve seen that Jane does not want children, or at least thinks she doesn’t. When asked about physical affection by Mother Dimble, she breaks down crying.

Marriage itself is a fundamental building block of society – not just ours but all society. The NICE desires “a new type of man” (40). Strong marriages are traditional and antiquated. They go against what the NICE is striving for – selective breeding, prenatal education and biochemical conditioning (40). A weak failing marriage plays into their hands but a strong marriage – the Dimbles – are a problem.

Let’s consider Jane’s “spiritual” state as well just for a moment. Written by a devout Christian, of course, the Space Trilogy incorporates the Christian God as well as an actual Jesus Christ who was crucified, dead and buried, then resurrected, all as an atoning sacrifice. Lewis doesn’t get overly explicit with that history, nor does he need to for the purposes of the book. The “divine” is understood a little bit differently here than we commonly understand it. It (He) has a physical presence. Angels and the spiritual realm are basically (oversimplifying here) another aspect of our physical realm. Knowing God is different in the Space Trilogy than in real life, but it is not less important.

With that in mind, lets consider a couple of illuminating bits about Jane. First his her response to the Dimbles with how they seemed to have handled Jane’s problems and dream. They have cared. They have tried to help. And maybe that help has been imperfect. Maybe they could have done better in how they spoke, but they’ve done no wrong by her. And yet she is unsettled by it all. Her response: “Damn the Dimbles!” (44). She quickly takes this back but more of “fear” (of what? some revenge from the Dimbles or this Miss Ironwood?) than in remorse (44). And then she begins to pray “though she believed in no one to pray to” (44). Now it is good that her fear and anxiety is driving her to the God she doesn’t yet know (somewhat reminiscent of A Horse and His Boy). Maybe she has a small bit of faith yet. The size of a mustard seed?

That Hideous Strength – Chapter 2 – Dinner With the Sub-Warden – Section 1

SUMMARY

Mark Studdock, Feverstone and the Bursar – Busby – have dinner at Curry’s house. During the course of the conversation Feverstone challenges Curry on what the NICE even does or plans to do. Curry really doesn’t know, but is excited about the nuts and bolts of the thing. Busby takes a similar line. Curry must leave to speak with Bracton’s Warden – Charles Place. Once he’s left, Feverstone takes Studdock into his confidence and tells him that he thinks Curry and Busby are hopeless and will never really get what the NICE is all about. He says that they are aiming at solving three main problems – Interplanetary travel (here he mentions Weston by name and says that he was “murdered” by Ransom who he does not name), conquering “our rivals on this planet” (essentially those who would oppose the NICE; people such as Ransom), and finally taking charge of mankind, using science to direct man’s evolution into “a new type of man.” Finally Feverstone tells Mark he could have a place at NICE, which would be a big step up from his place at Bracton, publishing what we might call propaganda (though Feverstone avoids the term) for the government’s consumption.

DISCUSSION

First I want to again note Mark Studdock’s constant desire to be a part of the inner circle. He previously felt that he had arrived, but now there’s a new inner circle. This one includes Feverstone but not Curry or Busby: “Mark was silent. The giddy sensation of being suddently whirled up from one plane of secrecy to another…” (38). He now sees them as underlings to the real inner circle. They are useful as “pawns.”

Secondly there is this thing of the “war.” Feverstone is initially a bit perturbed about the death of Weston (39) – we know much about this which is covered in Perelandra. But then he turns around and discusses the problem of man. He uses no such term as murder here, but speaks of mass murder, the “liquidation of backward races,” forced sterilization, re-education(40). And these other people, the other side – Ransom and his lot – are in the way. Obstructionists, getting in the way of “a new type of man” (40).

Third, note that there is a desire to take control of the language – that’s what Mark’s roll is to be. Feverstone likes the way he writes and thinks it would be useful to the cause. He’s careful not to cast Studdock as merely a useful pawn, but his description of what he sees Studdock doing is obviously that at its core. And that’s part of his use of language. No one wants to be a merely a pawn, but if you dress it up, then it may become quite inviting to fill a need. Feverstone spells out quite simply that the way language is used, the way the message is given to people, will determine whether or not they accept it: “odd thing is – the word ‘experiment’ is unpopular, but not the word ‘experimental.’ You mustn’t experiment on children; but offer [them] an experimental school attached to the NICE and it’s all correct” (41).

And Feverstone constantly comes back to questions of money. He assures Studdock that he will get a modest salary and reports that a man named Jules attached to the NICE “draws a whacking salary” (42). You may recall that in OOTSP, Feverstone was mixed up primarily for the purposes of getting rich quick. That he keep jumping to salary may be that same impulse. Is he associating with the NICE because he thinks it will make him rich? Does he think that is the motivation of the others? He talks more like a true believer. Maybe he is just going to salary to skirt around the real question of what Mark will do at the NICE long-term when really he is just a pawn writing for them. At this point I’m unsure about his motives.

That Hideous Strength – Chapter 1, Section 5

SUMMARY

Jane, previously seen as disquieted by her dream and loneliness, goes to town and buys a hat. Soon she runs into Mrs Dimble (who is married to Dr Cecil Dimble, a professor at a nearby college) who invites Jane to lunch at her house. There, Jane discusses her loneliness with Mrs Dimble, as well as the sale of the “college property,” Arthurian legend, and her recent dream with the couple. They suggest that IF Jane decided to speak to someone about her dream (meaning some type of counselor/therapist/psychoanalyst) she would speak to someone they recommend.

DISCUSSION

One thing Lewis really does in THS is to pick at Arthurian legend, how British it is anyway, (which I will agree with despite my limited knowledge) and tries to “claim it” as Christian (I will leave that question alone because of my limited knowledge. I will merely say it is interesting to think about and makes a good back-drop for the story.) Merlin’s was previously mentioned in association with Bragdon Wood. Here we have further mention coming through Dimble. He relates how Arthur really ties together the wild pre-Christian British spirit, its wild danger and mystery, with Christianity coming up from the area of Rome – that which is “courtly” and not “particularly British,” “all those dark people.” (29)

This is similar to Lewis’s Aslan who is at once “good” and yet “not safe.”

All that danger and questionable wild and pagan side of ancient Briton, with its witches and druids, magic and bloodshed, is tied into Christianity, which at first seems much more civilized. But when you think about it, Christianity is also based on ancient bloodshed and danger. Christ’s crucifixion is of course an example of bloodshed, but look further back at ancient Israel – the Passover, the wars and the wild untamed lands that were the subject of the conquest.

Then there is that short bit: “talking a Celticised Latin – something that would sound to us rather like Spanish,” (29). Recall Jane’s dream: “The old, buried man sat up and began talking in something that sounded vaguely like Spanish” (13). Lewis notes that Jane misses this but, in so doing, insures that we do not.

Then Merlin turns out to be the most interesting of the lot: “not evil; yet a magician… obviously a druid; yet he knows all about the Grail” (29). Mrs Dimble notes that Merlin is “dead and buried under Bragdon Wood,” but her husband responds that he’s “not dead, according to the story” (30). Legends of Merlin vary but some hold that he was sealed into a magic tomb while still alive and left there to die.

Jane finds this Arthurian discussion seemingly interesting, then admittedly “puzzling” and finally “too ridiculous” (30). She then recounts her dream to the Dimbles and Dr Dimble is rather taken by something in the dream that he doesn’t elaborate on, something other than Jane’s good health, which she finds “disconcerting.” Something about the dream, however, really captivates Dimble though he never gets do elaborate due to interruptions.

On the Dimbles themselves: Their last name seems regrettable though maybe it was a perfectly good name to Lewis. We know that he used names, at least at times to try and say things about the characters. (Recall the opening line from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, “There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.”) Are the Dimbles dim? This Dr Dimble seems possibly a bit clumsy in his thoughts and ways but to be a good man. His wife likewise, at least in Jane’s opinion (though I don’t see the same clumsiness myself.) They are childless and saddened by that fact. Yet they use their objective loneliness as a means to get to know and try to help the students in their college – Northumberland – where Jane had attended.

Jane, we find, “was not going to have a baby” (28). I mention it because it is mentioned at least once later in the book, by my recollection, in a rather shocking manner.

That Hideous Strength – Chapter One: Sale of College Property – Section 4

SUMMARY

This section chiefly concerns the sale of the college property. It catalogs the meeting of the fellows of Bracton and how the Progressive Element managed to work their will to sell Bragdon Wood, including Merlin’s Well, to the National Institute of Co-ordinated Experiments (abbreviated NICE from here on out). NICE is designed to be the “fusion between the state and laboratory” (21). Financially backed by the government, they would move to Edgestow but only if they can have Bragdon Wood. Once NICE comes to Edgestow there is doubt as to whether “Oxford and Cambridge could survive as major universities,” so great is this organization.  The Progressive Element, lead by Curry and Feverstone (previously Devine) strategically move through the day long business meeting by beginning with introducing certain major problems and ending by posing the solution as the sale of “college property” which consists of the majority of Bragdon Wood. A few “Die-Hards” are against the sale, but in the end, “the motion carried” (26).

DISCUSSION

Again, striking is the mundaneness of this degree of hashing out a college business meeting to describe the sale of some land. But this is really the introduction of a major plot point – the coming of NICE into the story – and, on top of that, a lot of commentary.

And yet, I think that is something Lewis would like for us to take a keen interest in. Of course at this point in the story it is hard to tell who are the “good guys” and “bad guys.” Still, we have the previous section describing the author’s fondness for Bragdon Wood. The idea of letting it slip away so easily would seem to align roughly with the “bad guys.”

Let’s note also that our co-protagonist, Mark Studdock, is going right along with the “bad guys,” the Progressive Element.

Consider for a moment the way in which these “bad” measures are being launched. It is not a secret meeting of nefarious criminals. It is a college business meeting. Lewis had a general distrust of an overbearing state and of bureaucrats doing things for our own good. Consider this proceedings of this business meeting in light of this from the preface of his Screwtape Letters:

I live in the Managerial Age, in a world of “Admin.” The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid “dens of crime” that Dickens loved to paint. It is not done even in concentration camps and labour camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed, and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voice. Hence, naturally enough, my symbol for Hell is something like the bureaucracy of a police state or the offices of a thoroughly nasty business concern.

And consider Governor Gumpas from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader who oversees the slave trade with such civilized means as the use of statistics and graphs and considers it an “essential part of the economic development of the islands.”

The way to accomplish evil ends in a managerial world is by managerial means. This does not mean that the “Admin” is necessarily evil, it is but a tool. But it also isn’t necessary that a group of leaders coming together and acting on behalf of others – be that the the government of a nation or the board of fellows of a college – are the answer to the presented problem. We must consider right and wrong and not merely the trouble-shooting of perceived obstacles. That “technocratic” thinking is something that will be hit upon again during the course of THS.

Is the limited funds for the Bracton fellows a problem? Yes. Is the disrepair of the wall about Bragdon Wood a problem? Yes. But there is right and wrong involved in the solution and not just problem-solving. In earlier less civilized eras the solution may be seen as robbing a bank. Use the money to fix the wall and give the fellows a raise. But anyone can see that robbing a bank would be wrong. The real reason it would be wrong would be because robbery is morally wrong. But we needn’t bring morality into this. After all, robbery goes against the accepted methods of how things are done in the civilized world, but the sale of property is perfect. Robbery may be found out and the money may be taken back. Society may require some type of punishment (Lets call it corrective justice, not retributive.) or rehabilitation.

But is the sale of Bragdon Wood wrong? This is a question that needs to be answered. After all, the property does belong to the college and it has every right to do with its property as it sees fit. So what’s so wrong with selling the property? I would say first that the Wood is closely tied to the college historically. It has basically been entrusted to the college to care for the Wood. Just look back at section 3 at the mention of the many “tiffs” that have taken place over the Wood. There have been many “do-gooders” who have wanted to scrub the area of its pagan associations by destroying the Wood and Merlin’s Well. Merlin had come to represent an older less civilized, less Western, less Christian and less British world, a world that – the thinking went – we would do good to forget had ever been and to cut ties with completely. The thinking is not so different from modern arguments to tear down certain statues in our own country.

I suppose there could be good reasons for Bracton and Bragdon to part ways, but for the sake of bringing in NICE is not one of them, as will become obvious at some point in the future chapters.

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That Hideous Strength – Chapter One, Section Three

SUMMARY

Here we have a description of the author’s (Lewis) experience of Bragdon Wood, part of the grounds of Bracton College. He feels quite lucky to have had the chance to enter as only “very few people are allowed into Bragdon Wood” (18). Once present he falls asleep in this peaceful place until he is awakened by his host (20).

DISCUSSION

Much can be said of this passage, but first I will remark on the seeming mundaneness. Its just an extended description of some college grounds. Nothing much seems remarkable at first. As the story progresses we will see that this is indeed a special place and a place that plays a part in the events of THS. Here we have a humble introduction.

Despite this humble start there is a feeling of the author’s revering this area of Bracton college, referring to it as a “holy of holies” (18) and he had the “sense of being received” into this area of “peculiar quality” (19). It is felt worthy of giving it a detailed description, which I will not recount here. It is a varied ground which changes as you go further and further in finally coming to “the thing I had chiefly come to see,” Merlin’s Well (19-20). The fact that this was Merlin’s well had led to several controversies over time. Several people had wanted to demolish the whole thing since they saw Merlin’s association with it as somewhat sullying. This “profane and heathenish” area had nearly fallen victim to those wanting to “destroy ‘the groves and high places'” (20).

The history of the Wood recounted reveals that there is no direct link between “Bracton” College and “Bragdon” Wood except that the similarity in names probably lent the Bractons some air of authority over the place. There is much more history tangentially mentioned involving George the Third among others.

Then there is this bit of verse, reportedly from Strabo’s Balachthon:

In Bragdon bricht this ende dai
Herde ich Merlin ther he lai
Singende woo and welawai

I know little about this. There is some discussion of it on this site. I will offer a bit of an untrained translation:

In Bragdon bright, this ending [of the] day
Here is Merlin, there he lays
Singing [sad] and [lonely]

Just a guess. But I like guessing. Of course mine doesn’t rhyme.

 

That Hideous Strength – Chapter One, Section Two

SUMMARY

Here Mark Studdock, husband of Jane, is introduced more directly and formally, I guess. He’s a faculty member at Bracton College, a small (fictional) liberal arts school in the small (also fictional) town of Edgestow in England. He’s been trying to get into the “inner circle” and finally seems to have made it as part of the “progressive element.” He is a sociologist and getting on well, though I wouldn’t call it a friendship, with the “Sub-Warden,” Curry, of the college (15).

They are discussing a plan to pass some school legislation at the board meeting later that day – the decision to sell a portion of the college land. There is also mention of another board member – Lord Feverstone – who is shortly revealed to be none other than Dick Devine, one of the antagonists of Out of the Silent Planet (OOTSP), a man who, unbeknownst to Mark, had helped Mark get his fellowship, beating out a man named Denniston.

DISCUSSION

I find here most notable Mark’s desire to be a part of the inner circle. He demonstrates a desire that virtually all of us have, an inner circle desire. We want knowledge that only a few have, status, power, to be elevated above the common people, to build ourselves up. There are many ways to do this, but being in the in-crowd is perhaps the most common. It is present all throughout life and certainly rears its ugly head in academic settings. I’m sure Lewis was quite familiar with the desire and likely struggled with it, himself.

Mark enjoys Curry’s company because it elevates himself, but not because he particularly likes Curry: “He did not always like Curry either. His pleasure in being with him was not that sort of pleasure” (17). Once Mark had his fellowship he was “in.” But that didnt last long, he wanted to be “in” even further, a member of the “progressive element.” And here he was speaking confidentially with Curry, really feeling like he’d made it – at least for now.

So now we know of Jane that she struggles with wanting more comradeship and intellectual pursuits, with being a wife and a woman. And we know that Mark struggles with wanting to be part of the inner circle, his own ego needs puffing. This struggling relationship will be put to the test during the course of the ensuing events.