Long time since posting on THS. I plan to come back. There is just so much to be said about this book that I felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere close to doing it justice. So I took a break. Didn’t think it would be this long. Hopefully get back to it later this year. Planning to reread the book again soon. Such a great book. The Bookening is a podcast that discusses the book here. Probably better than anything I could write about it.
A committee meeting at the NICE, the deputy director presides. The only items under discussion are the acquiring of land and destruction of a church in Edgestow (this undoubtedly involved the Dimbles’s house) and the murder of William Hingest – Bill the Blizzard to Mark. The silver lining, according to Wither was that the Institutional police, lead by the Fairy Hardcastle, had taken control of the investigation. Hingest is eulogized by Wither, something for which he was “well fitted.” They share a moment of silence, each one not “thinking about death.” Mark determined that the real business of the NICE went on elsewhere, not these worthless committee meetings.
Of course Bill the Blizzard was murdered by the NICE for leaving. So of course they were first on the scene. Straik has just told us that the project of the NICE could not be carried out without violence (76).
Mark again betrays the idea that he longs for the “Inner Ring” (78) and isn’t surprised he is not yet there. If it was this easy it probably wouldn’t worth much.
Herein lies the furthering or the liquidation of the second anachronism – Hingest’s death – being the NICE’s response to it. I don’t know that it can be said that there is a new anachronism in this section, though we do get a moment of silence honoring the dead in which all involved are “not being morbid and not thinking about death” (80). Death is probably not something to long contemplate by this bunch. ‘Tis better to be in the house of mourning than the house of mirth, after all (Ecc 7:2). The house of mourning does one little good when he doesn’t contemplate death. Of course the NICE has plans for “the real resurrection” and the inheritance of the earth by the “saints.”
I’m a bit surprise, and maybe disappointed, that Straik doesn’t play a role in eulogizing Hingest.
Here Mark meets and talks with “the Mad Parson,” the Reverend Straik. He’s not orthodox but he views himself as the ultimate example of orthodoxy. The church has gotten it wrong all these years and Straik is finally getting back to the real religion of Jesus. Mark somewhat admirably begins to disagree with Straik, seeing Straik’s view as having goals in the after-life. (Finally an inner-circle Mark isn’t trying to break into.) But Straik replies “with every thought and vibration of my heart, with every drop of my blood… I repudiate that damnable doctrine” (76). The kingdom of God, per Straik, is a fully earthly kingdom wrought without the kind of judgement or righteousness that Christianity would consider judgement or righteousness.
We see Mark completely embarrassed and disarmed at Straik’s mention of Jesus (77). Straik goes on to describe science as an irresistible instrument because science, as wielded by the NICE is an instrument in God’s hand. The NICE is God’s instrument to perfect his kingdom on earth and to prophesy (forebodingly to the reader), “The real resurrection is even now taking place. The real everlasting. Here in this world. You will see it” (78). This further unsettles Mark who tries to change the subject by mentioning that his wallet has gone missing.
Straik’s zeal for the NICE seems almost cartoonish to me today. The description of him as the Mad Parson is apt. But considering the liberal progressive Christian agenda of the past, he’s really not that extraordinary. The eugenics movement has generally fallen out of favor. There are still vestiges in our society and laws – abortion on demand, population control among others – but as a whole there aren’t a great deal of people promoting progress through science as a form of Christianity any longer.
Liberal theologian John Gillin published Social Problems in 1928 and therein he strongly advocated using science as a means of driving society forward. This was coupled to his Christian beliefs on some level, though for a conservative Christian today it is hard to see these connections. Lewis, at the time of writing, was closer to that than we are today.
I would say that although the overt tie-in to religion has fallen away, many of the underlying beliefs have grown stronger. Medical problems are suggested for a great number of societal ills today and that is taken for granted by the general population. There may well be some genetic predisposition to certain things like “alcoholism,” but moving it from being a moral problem to a medical problem is not the appropriate treatment of the issue. Further, anger, depression, anxiety and a host of less common problems are oft considered medical today and medical treatment is sought to “treat” them.
Straik’s mention of resurrection is especially foreshadowing. The “dark arts” that are being dabbled with at the NICE will come to fruition in a type of counterfeit resurrection. There will be more on that as it unfolds in the book. But mark Straik’s words: “You will see it.” Yes, we will.
Mark’s repulsion and embarrassment at the mention of Jesus’s name needs little comment. I suppose his desire to change the topic of conversation at the end of the section probably reflects on Straik’s mention of the resurrection reminding Mark of Jesus, and yet that’s not the resurrection he has in mind at all. I doubt Mark is ready for either resurrection just yet.
The blending of science fiction with religious fiction really comes into play here. The NICE is using science to do what was previously thought to be a religious endeavor: bringing about the kingdom of God, resurrections, the saints inheriting the earth.
As far as this chapter being on the liquidation of anachronisms, we first have the Dimbles’ home, a quaint little Christian home where a married couple seek to help those they know and mourn the children that haven’t been blessed with; Bill the Blizzard and his repulsion to this new type of science which, he says, hasn’t got much to do with science at all, and now we see Straik’s desire to be rid of the church as we know it, of orthodoxy and that old religious understanding in favor of the NICE and science as an instrument in God’s hand.
Mother Dimble is awakened in the night by Jane shouting in her bad dream. Jane recounts her dream, one of a man being flagged down while driving a car and subsequently beaten to death.
Such violence! This is almost McCarthy-esque. This will be proof to the reader, and likely to Jane though I can’t recall, that Miss Ironwood is right about Jane’s “vision,” that there is nothing wrong with her, nothing to be cured anyway.
I’m not sure about the meaning of this: When Dimble asks if Jane can get back to sleep, she responds, “Oh, rather.” I’m not up on my British English enough to know whether she means she can rather easily get back to sleep or she had rather not even try. ‘Rather’ can be an intensifier (This is a rather short post.), but it can mean ‘in stead of’ something. I think here it is an intensifier, but I’m unsure. I don’t think its a major point, but it would comment on how Jane is handling her gift of vision. If she can get back to sleep rather easily, then I would say she is beginning to embrace the vision, or at least she is coping with it quite well, having spoken to Miss Underwood. If, on the other hand, she is ready to attempt anything rather than getting back to sleep, then I would say she is still struggling quite a bit. Again, I think she is embracing the vision and is using rather as an intensifier here, but I’m rather unsure.
Mrs Dimble arrives at Jane’s house (with Jane having just put clean sheets on “Mark’s bed”) and speaks a lot during the course of the chapter. There are full paragraphs of her just going on and on. Apparently Jane is speaking some as well since we see some of what Dimble says are answers to unwritten questions from Jane. First thing that morning some construction workers from NICE had arrive to send the Dimbles out of their house and to tear it down. Cecil (who lives at Bracton but teaches elsewhere) tries to get help on the phone from Busby and then from the NICE, but to no avail. He ends up sleeping at the college while Mother Dimble comes to stay with Jane. At bedtime Jane finds it awkward that Mother Dimble prays. (Apparently they do share a room, if not a bed.)
I just want to bring up Mark and Jane seeming to have different beds. I think that was a bit of a trend in the early 1900s, seen to be more hygienic or some such. I seem to recall that in Thurber’s My Life and Hard Times (ostensibly an autobiography or memoir of sorts, though written when he was in his mid-30s; I had a feeling the whole thing was completely made up.), his parents actually slept in completely different rooms. Maybe this is connected to Jane’s and Mark’s marriage problems, but I doubt it. It doesn’t seem to be a point of any consequence to Lewis. And there is no mention yet made of anyone else’s sleeping arrangements.
In a chapter titled The Liquidation of Anachronisms, the Dimble home seems to be the first such liquidation. I doubt it will be the last. Maybe the Dimbles themselves are the true anachronism here. Jane certainly considers Mrs Dimbles prayer habit out-dated. She is above such superstitions. And the way Mrs Dimble so longed for children that she never had. Jane certainly has no such anachronistic longing. Then there is her constant chattering: “It comes from being married thirty years. Husbands were made to be talked to. It helps them to concentrate their minds on what they’re reading – like the sound of a weir [that is water flowing over a small dam]” (75). I dont think this sentiment is as old-fashioned as it is wrong-headed. It is certainly not feminist. And there is no
Jane leaves St. Anne’s determined to treat all she has heard as nonsense, though not convinced it is nonsense. She wants to live her own life – a sentiment that crossed over into her marriage and desire to avoid having children. Once home, Mrs Dimble calls and needs a place to spend the night, saying only that “such a dreadful thing’s happened.”
Jane’s desire to live her own life is certainly a desire we all share on some level. Giving it up and really getting invested in others and vulnerable with others is, I think, one of the keys to happiness. Lewis seems to agree here. I am reminded of a song (youtube link) by Andy Gullahorn:
I’ve heard that you can tell the ones who truly open up
Their lives are marked with freedom and with peace
Freedom and peace do not mark Jane’s life at this time. I think this is the third time her being childless by choice has been noted. This desire to live one’s own life has interfered with her marriage and the possibility of having children (something most find fulfilling though difficult and demanding sacrifice). Jane does not want to sacrifice, does not want to give of herself in a truly costly way. I don’t want to be too hard on her though, for her husband certainly isn’t considering any true sacrifice either.
Jane has, at this point, rejected the idea of acting on faith, and it isn’t because she is convinced that Miss Ironwood’s words were all nonsense. She holds out the intellectual possibility that it may be true. There are 3 steps in acting on faith or believing.
- The first is knowledge. Jane doesn’t have all the knowledge it would be nice to have, but she at least has the introduction to the idea that there is nothing wrong with her to be cured, that her “vision” is a gift. She has the beginning of the knowledge, she has what is required to further explore.
- The second is assent. That is intellectual assent to it, saying “it is true.” She certainly isn’t convinced of it’s truth but she is questioning. “She was not indeed sure that it was nonsense…”[continued below] (70).
- The third is trusting or having allegiance to the thing. She has rejected this, at least for now. “… but she had already resolved to treat it as if it were” (70).
Here Lewis broadly recounts Mark’s conversation with Hardcastle, focusing especially on the role of a progressive police force and treatment vs punishment for crimes. Mark has decided to stay for dinner and sits with Hingest who begins to explain his reasoning for leaving NICE and the Fairy interrupts to find out his driving plans that evening, saying that she would like to ride with him if she’s going his way, which he isn’t.
Lewis wrote quite a bit about retributive punishment vs remedial treatment in the criminal justice system. It is probably not mere over-simplification to say that he landed solidly in the retributive punishment camp against treatment of the criminal. An essay called the Humanitarian Theory of Punishment can be found here and is worth reading. In this section of THS he presents some of the ideas without a lot of comment except that the proponents of the humanitarian theory, or the remedial treatment theory, are members of the NICE (specifically Fairy Hardcastle). What the progressive NICE wants is generally the opposite of what Lewis favors.
But the Fairy pointed out that what had hampered every English police force up to date was precisely the idea of deserved punishment. For desert was always finite: you could do so much to the criminal and no more. Remedial treatment, on the other hand, need have no fixed limit; it could go on til it had effected a cure, and those who were carrying it out would when that was. (68)
The Fairy sees the police as giving the sociologists the muscle needed to really work out their theories on the population. And she’s thought as much about these theories as our sociologist protagonist has.
I like that Lewis puts his essays into novel form. I wish more writers would do this. In my opinion, the genre of Christian spiritual self-help books is growing much too fast and books like That Hideous Strength are too few. Metaphysical truth and good fiction are a hard marriage, but Lewis was adept at just that.
The Fairy was introduced earlier but here we have a little more of her description. She “excited” in Mark ” all the distaste which a young man feels at the proximity of something rankly, even insolently sexed, and at the same time wholly unattractive” (67). Sexed here I take to mean sexualized, not a great difference in the actual word, though I stumbled on Lewis’s “sexed.” She’s an “emancipated female.” I think that wording could be misunderstood. Though I’m no expert I would like to say that he isn’t merely speaking of women being able to vote or work or drive. He is speaking of a woman who has rejected femininity and taken on the masculine form. Masculinity and Femininity are thought highly of by Lewis and have been discussed in both the previous two books of the Space Trilogy. Here on the silent planet is the first example of a female throwing off femininity, rejecting its being a good gift from, shall we say, Maleldil (there’s a name I haven’t used yet in writing about THS).
Lets also note, briefly, once again Mark’s desire to be “in.” “Several times that day he had been made to feel himself an outsider; that feeling completely disappeared while Miss Hardcastle was talking to him. He had the sense of getting in” (67).
Finally we have a second conversation between Mark and Bill Hingest. He’s leaving NICE because he at first thought it had to do with science and has found out its more “like a political conspiracy” (69). He doesn’t consider sociology a science. “I happen to believe that you can’t study men; you can only get to know them.” The Fairy’s, and Mark’s, ideas of sociology are all about studying and controlling people while trying to avoid getting to know them.
(This reminds me of Abraham Flexner. He was of the same opinion as regards sociology. He was an educator who sparked the reform of medical education about a hundred years ago. I was fortunate to be exposed to some of his work while attending school in Louisville where he also worked and studied somewhat before my time.)
And if he found chemistry fitting in with “a secret police run by a middle aged viragro” – the Fairy – attempting to change up all of society in its progressive image, he would leave chemistry at once (69).
He pulls no punches with Mark and advises him to consider getting out of the NICE, that it will do him no good personally or for his career. When Mark objects that there are two views on that, Hingest (or Lewis) replies quite trenchantly, “There are a dozen views about everything until you know the answer. Then there’s never more than one” (70). Again, I applaud Lewis’s ability to add such an incisive observation and comment on relativist thinking to the flow of a novel. That’s why I love this book.
Lastly, I want to note that Orion is rising over Hingest as he leaves the NICE. I know little of astronomy and the associated “folklore.” But I do know that Orion is a hunter and I have read the book before and so I know that this is Hingest’s last night among the living. Orion seems to foreshadow his death. Lewis seems to know much of western astronomy, mythology and cosmology.