That Hideous Strength featured on That Strange Western Galaxy

I have another blog devoted to science fiction called That Strange Western Galaxy. The title comes from a line from Out of the Silent Planet.

At any rate I have a recent essay on Galaxy about That Hideous Strength. Rather than repost, I’ll just link here.

I’ll write more on the Space Trilogy at some point. Probably tangentially. And I want to discuss The Abolition of Man as well.

That Hideous Strength – Chapter Seventeen (Last) – Venus at St. Anne’s

Those who call for Nonsense will find that it comes. (370)

I won’t belabor this last chapter. After all, long goodbyes are “neither good mirth nor good sorrow” (375).  But I’ll probably come back around in the next few weeks and do some followup essays on some of the broader themes which I’ve tried to treat in some detail during the course of this blog. I also want to touch on The Abolition of Man at some point. But for now…

51wLuLgUd8LSUMMARY

Mar hitches a ride – A warm retreat – Old enough for children’s stories at last – Hesitations – Choosing formal attire – Mother Dimble – Feverstone and a stranger – Swallowed up – Venus held sway over all – Trouble on the Train – Many partings – Mark drawn to St Anne’s – Jane and Mark reunited.

DISCUSSION

Marriage and Sexuality

Well, its Venus at St. Anne’s after all. I guess you can expect all that she brings. Love, fruitfulness… All these animals – bears, elephants… all romping about. MacPhee claims its becoming indecent:

“On the contrary,” said Ransom, “decent, in the old sense, decens, fitting, is just what it is. Venus herself is over St. Anne’s.” (374)

What do you expect when Venus arrives. Goddess of love. You know what’s going to happen. The Dimbles. The Dennistons. Ivy Maggs husband is finally able to return home. And then Jane’s husband shows up. Its all too much for that old infidel MacPhee though he considers returning to Presbyterianism.

Mother Dimble’s dress on page 361. She’s specifically called Mother. And she has no children. Why? Her dress “was that tyrannous flame colour which Jane had seen in her visiondown in the lodge” on Perelandra’s wraith.  She, dressed, was “a kind of priestess or sybil, the servant of some prehistoric goddess of fertility – an old tribal matriarch, mother of mothers, grave, formidable, august.” Mother Dimble embraces, spiritually, the fruitfulness of sexuality more than any other character. True, she’s not, by God’s providence, been able to bear children herself, but she still manages to embody that fruitfulness that Venus represents.

I will say that Lewis is a little freer with paganism than I prefer, but I can see what he’s doing, broadly, and I think he does it well.

Then there is Mark and Jane. Mark, Mark, Mark… He is unsure about approaching Jane now, with all he’s learned. He sees his former ignorance, arrogance, impotence. He sees it and is rightly disgusted by it.

The coarse, male boor with horny hands and hobnailed shoes and beefsteak jaw not rushing in – for that can be carried off – but blundering, sauntering, stumping in where great lovers, knights and poets, would have feared to tread. (379)

I’m not going to say anything about that line. There’s nothing that I could say.

And then Mark makes his way to the cottage where Jane finds him, his clothes strewn about. Its a mess already – setting up the book’s closing line: “How exactly like Mark! Obviously it was high time she went in” (380).

So. A lot of stuff here in this chapter.

Abolition of Man

I haven’t really highlighted all the parallels and demonstrations of ideas from Abolition. I think everyone should read it. A fine essay. I will come back to it at some future date. Even Lewis himself says that THS and Abolition make a lot of the same points. “This is a ‘tall story’ about devilry, though it has behind it a serious ‘point’ which I have tried to make in my Abolition of Man. ” (Preface, first paragraph). The lead quote above – that when you ask for Nonsense, you get it – is a major point of Abolition. I’ll just leave it there for now, but will come back and touch on this again in the near future.

High Paganism

I really respect what Lewis does, bringing in non-Christian sources for Christian ideas and demonstrating natural law or common grace. He wrote once about other religions pointing to Christianity as complete. I can’t find the exact quote. I think its in Mere Christianity or Surprised by Joy. Anyway, it was along the lines that Christianity was more believable because it completes what all the other religions point to. All the others contain part of the truth and point to the whole Truth. This helped Lewis accept Christianity more than if all the other religions were completely false.

This idea is demonstrated in both Mere Christianity and Surprised by Joy, but also here in THS, as well as many other works. Til We Have Faces, Pilgrim’s Regress, and The Last Battle spring to mind.

But sometimes I think he takes it too far, as I think he does here:

When Logres really dominates Britain, when the goddess Reason, the divine clearness, is really enthroned in France, when the order of Heaven is really followed in China – why, then it will be spring. (369)

Logres is, if I were to sum it up, the deep Christian soul of Britain that modern Britain and other enlightened influences are constantly at war with. The order of Heaven… well I know little of China but my guess is that is a concept of Chinese folk religion or Confucianism. If it were truly ordered as is Heaven – “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” – then things would run aright there – or anywhere. But this goddess Reason of France for me is too far. They put up a statue of this goddess in Notre Dame, a Christian place of worship, and worshiped it instead. This is high blasphemy. It is exactly the kind of thing Lewis is talking about when he says that if you ask for Nonsense, you get it. So he misses here. I see his point. True reason will point to Christ. But that French goddess is not true reason. I just can’t go along with that.

Mark

A quick note on Mark and then I’m calling it a day.

In fact, he was going to see Jane in what he now felt to be her proper world. But not his. For he now thought that with all his life-long eagerness to reach an inner circle he had chosen the wrong circle. Jane was where she belonged. He was going to be admitted only out of kindness… (358)

Mark and his inner circle. Well, he’s finally come “full circle” and realized the circle he needed was right in front to him all along. I think the reader can be assured that he will be admitted without any hesitation, with more than kindness, with full welcoming and rejoicing. And that is a good note to end on for dear Mark.

 

That Hideous Strength – Chapter Sixteen – Banquet at Belbury

“Eh? Blotcher bulldoo?” muttered Jules. (342)

Now is the time for action.

51GfSUf61vLSUMMARY

The Dance begins – Jules’s remarks – Securing the erebation of all prostundiary initems – The crowd grows interested – Wither “clarifies” – Laughter – Chaos – Massacre – Mark blacks out – Mr Bultitude and Mr Maggs – A donkey disappears – Mark flees – Wither sees the problem – Straik, Filostrato and Wither go to see the Head – Prostrating – A second head offered – A third head attempted – Mr Bultitude and Wither – Feverstone takes in a show – Driving away from Belbury – Frost goes to see the Head – Surprise sacrifices – Getting very objective – Burning away everything but the soul – Turn to stone

DISCUSSION

Not a lot on marriage here.

“The shadow of that hyddeous strength sax myle and more it is of length. (Sir David Lindsay: from Ane Dialog, describing the Tower of Babel” – Title Page

The title of this book comes from a 16th century poem about the Tower of Babel. Lewis’s scholastic specialty was English literature of the 16th century. He wrote quite a scholarly work on the subject, his professional magnum opus.

The Tower of Babel incident is recounted in the book of Genesis. Simply, it is a story of mankind getting together, pooling all their technology and philosophy in an effort to become as great as God. They undertake their plan and God foils it be confusing their language so that they can no longer easily talk to each other. So the people of Earth spread out and go separate ways based on language instead of staying together and trying to become gods.

The parallel to THS is obvious. There has been much technological and religious talk about immortality, the next step in evolution the real resurrection, etc. The Belbury group thinks they have finally set things in motion to achieve their dreams. Scientifically, they think they have the Head where they want it. The ones who understand – Wither – think they are working hand in hand with these Macrobes. They have the legal aspect squared away. They have acquired the land they need. Merlin himself will soon be helping. Everything is coming together…

And then their language gets confounded (hence the lead quote above). Animals show up. People start dying. It all goes crazy. I love it. Much of what happens to everyone is the exaggerated end-result of what they had been driving toward for their whole lives.

Straik and Filostrato have given themselves fully to the head – one in a scientific manner and one in a religious manner. They both end up sacrificed to it. With has aligned himself with the fallen eldils and joined in their war against the unfallen ones who posses Mr Bultitude to finish him off. Mr Bultitude is under the influence of the eldils through Merlin. Frost makes himself purely objective (well, he tries), throwing off all those “chemical reactions” that are imperative for life. Feverstone drives off in his flashy car, drives off in such a way that will probably kill him. The Fairy goes full homicidal maniac and dies in the mayhem she helped to create.

The chapter leaves a few mysteries that I’m not sure will be revealed in the last chapter. What happened to the Head? Does Feverstone survive?

Maybe chapter 17 will tell us, but I don’t recall the answers from previous readings though its been a while.

That Hideous Strength – Chapter Fifteen – The Descent of the Gods

“See thou do it not!” he had said. “Have you forgotten that they are our fellow servants?” (318)

The title of this chapter reminds me of Wagner’s Gotterdammerung, or the Twilight of the Gods. But other than the title, there isn’t a lot in common. These aren’t actual “Gods,” but “fellow servants,” as referenced above. Basically, they are angels within the cosmology of the Ransom Trilogy. The quote above is a direct reference to Revelation 22:9. There, John looks upon the angel who he is with and begins to worship him: “But he said to me, ‘Do not do that. I am a fellow servant of yours and of your brethren the prophets and of those who heed the words of this book. Worship God.'” Merlin is tempted to fall down and worship the Oyarsa as they descend from the outer spheres, but Ransom corrects him. They are angels, fellow servants.

THTHDSSTRN1969SUMMARY

Anticipation – Conversations in the kitchen, Viritrilbia in the Blue Room – Charity in the kitchen, Perelandra in the Blue Room – Cooling off for Lurga – The hapy king Glund descends – Nature sings and Merlin recieves – The tramp’s latest visitor – Jedi mind tricks – Wither and Frost at odds – Merlin and Pseudo-Merlin – Frost tongue-tied – Mark in the objective room – A cross-roads – “bloody nonsense” – Jules at Belbury – The dancers gather.

DISCUSSION

Marriage and Sexuality

Pretty much everything as regards sexuality and marriage is in one section of this chapter – the section where Perelandra descends – roughly pp 319-320 (wherein lie all the following quotes/references unless otherwise specified). Perelandra or Venus, the Oyarsa of the planet Venus and corresponding very much to the Roman goddess of love makes an entry and makes her presence known. This could get fairly erotic and graphic, but Lewis handles it well.

(There is a theory that each of the Chronicles of Narnia represents one of the 7 pre-Copernican planets as well and its corresponding Roman deity. The Magician’s Nephew corresponds to Venus. In that book. Lewis was bring in this goddess of love and keep it appropriate for children. He does so artfully and tastefully in my opinion.)

First the temperature goes up – not in a stuffy way, but in a “comfortable and familiar” way. There are references to a “wood fire,” “fragrances,” “all Arabia.” Then there are the couples. First the Dimbles – the appear “transfigured.” They are “mature” and “fulfilled.” The comparison to “ripe fields” strikes me as an image of fruitfulness. The Dennistons: a “brightness” flowed through them, “as if the god and goddess in them urned through their bodies and through their clothes and shone before [Jane] in a young double-natured nakedness of the rose-red spirit that came over her.”

The temperature had gone up in the Blue Room as well – where Merlin and Ransom were welcoming “the Gods.” “And now it came. It was fiery, sharp, bright and ruthless, ready to kill, ready to die, outspeeding light: it was Charity, not as mortals imagine it… They could not bear that it should continue. They could not bear that it should cease.” Perelandra is much more than the Roman Venus, at least in my understanding of her. Perelandra is a more complete view of love, every form of it. And Lewis write extensively on the subject in the The Four Loves. He is trying to get at the radical power of endless self-sacrificing and jealous love. “Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it; if a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would utterly be condemned.” (Song of Solomon 8:7). Even some of our own poets of written on it. “I don’t care to much for money, cos money can’t buy me love.” (Lennon/McCartney).

Its a bit more than marriage and sexuality. The subject keeps growing.

Mark

Mark life comes to a sharp point when Frost introduces him to a crucifix and asks Mark to degrade it. Mark has never been a Christian man – “it crossed his mind for the very first time that there might conceivably be something in [Christianity]” (331) – so the crucifix has always been just a worthless symbol of superstition. So why degrade it. But the idea that maybe this means something begins to haunt him. After all, why would his new enemies, Belbury hate the crucifix so much if it actually means nothing. Perhaps there is something to this Christianity.

Mark’s “conversion” so far has been away from crooked Belbury and toward the “normal” or “straight.” This has been only in a common-grace type of way. He hasn’t faced the question of Jesus yet.

“I mean – damn it all – if it’s only a bit of wood, why do anything about it?” (332).

Mark’s question is legitimate. Why bother degrading something with no value? But if it actually has value, then maybe it ought not be degraded at all. And “with the introduction of this Christian symbol the whole situation had somehow altered” (332). So Mark pauses, realizing that this may be dangerous. He very life may be forfeit if he refuses to go along with Frost here. Finally he decides: “It’s all bloody nonsense, and I’m damned if I do any such thing,” (334).

Before he can find out the consequences of this refusal, a small party – including Merlin and pseudo-Merlin – breaks in on them.

It feels noteworthy to me that while Lewis only rarely invokes any swear-words, it happens twice here. “Damn it all” (332) and “I’m damned if I do any such thing” (334) Quite literally though I doubt Mark realizes it.

The Planets

I will only mention the planets here. Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn arrive. Their respective Oyarsas descend upon St. Anne’s. In doing so they infuse Merlin with some type of power: “They proceeded to operation. Merlin received the power into him” (324). This doesn’t get all Pentecostal, and I for one was glad. This sentence may indirectly reference Pentecost. I’m not sure if it is intended. But there is no flaming tongue or conversation in unknown languages – though it would fit in the presence of Mercury/Viritrilbia. And it later seems Merlin has attained a new language – modern English.

Lewis’s focus on the Pre-Copernican planets and his use of pagan Roman mythology is on full display here. Yet he leaves out the sun and moon – Sol and Sulva. I’m not sure why. Sulva has been mentioned.

That Hideous Strength – Chapter Fourteen – “Real Life is Meeting”

Goodness occurred and he tasted it. And that was all. (303)

“Real Life is Meeting”

The title of this chapter is in quotation marks in the book. It comes from a book by Martin Buber. (Pointed out to me on this really cool website which makes me question the existence of Mr Bultitude’s Musings.) (Or maybe Lewis met it through a book that dealt with Buber’s book, a 1942 book actually called Real Life is Meeting by JH Oldham.) Despite the regrettable last name, Buber was kind of a neat guy with a great beard. He was an Austrian Jew who studied philosophy. As the Nazis rose to power he fled Europe and settled in Jerusalem where he continued to teach and philosophize? He published a book in 1923 called I and Thou, from which this quote is drawn. The idea deals with the importance of relationships and interactions with others. I haven’t read it and may not even be able to “get it.” So I won’t say anything else about it.

ths14SUMMARY

The Objectification of Mark – An unlikely companion – Preparing the lodge – Normal risks of marriage – Impossibly hot – The red lady and dwarfs – Mr Bultitude’s Musings – Escape? – Arrest – An Idea – A remarkable record – The Inner Circle – The Director clarifies some things – Agree with your adversary – Ivy’s trouble continues – In the gooseberry patch

DISCUSSION

This chapter is hard due to its density. You should really just read the chapter over and over. I’m reminded of a Flannery O’Connor quote: “A story is a way to say something that can’t be said any other way, and it takes every word in the story to say what the meaning is.” Hard to beat that. And yet…

Marriage and Sexuality

Perelandra. Venus. That goddess of love. Lewis really plays with the ideas here. I’ve mentioned the planets before. Its a twisting together of the pagan with the Christian which can be syncretistic but I really don’t think it is here. It’s not as though God didnt make the whole world and show himself within it. When a pagan culture recognizes part of God’s revelation in His creation, that’s good. The Christian can point to the same thing that the pagan has been pointing at for years and say, Oh, yes, that’s His handiwork.

Enter Venus, that goddess of love. In Lewis’s imaginings, and probably in pagan culture as well, she is the goddess of love complete, not an empty eroticism, but a fruitful fulfilling loving relationship. This is seen in growth as well as heat (302) as well as in laughter. “the real universe might be simply silly” (302). Love and laughter, fruitfulness and growth, new life. The whole world is fruitful – if creatures stop being fruitful they merely die and are not replaced.

Section 5 (311-314) really hammers this out. This image of Venus, this earthbound Perelandra is “a little like Mother Dimble” (311).  But Jane receives this Perelandra as one unchanged by Maleldil and so she is “demoniac” to Jane. Just as Merlin is of the Earth but submissive, this Perelandra is of the Earth but lacks the submission that is expressed in the life of Mother Dimble. There is a danger and a wildness that received differently than it would be if Jane was a follower of Christ.

All life is sexual, is fruitful, is divided. And that is by design by the One who did the dividing, the creating, the ordering. The Director points out that “what is above and beyond all things is so masculine that we are all feminine in relation to it” (313). This is quite consistent with Christ being the groom and the church being his bride. As God made man and woman, a picture of authority and submission, he made the world. The man and his wife is a picture. It is an image of a much greater reality. God is the authority. He came first. The creation submits to him. All of creation is feminine in its submission to the truly masculine God. This is not to say that God is male. It is only to say that God displays perfect masculinity in his authority and leadership. It is our part to submit to him, to display femininity. Of course we do so poorly, so “[we] had better agree with [our] adversary quickly” (313).

God has made a sexual world. Its in the nature of the created order. Its expressed everywhere and Jane is finally seeing that to submit to Him she must, on some level – if possible, if Mark has not already submitted to the dark side – submit to Mark as well. Lewis makes clear that this isn’t the case of all women. Some can bypass the male (312) but they still can’t bypass the masculine. But Jane, married, can bypass neither.

Jane’s Journey

This visit by “Perelandra’s wraith” (314) and her conversation with the Director pushes Jane to a point of conviction. She must submit to the Masculine, to Maleldil. “At one particular corner of the gooseberry patch, the change came” (315). This came as “a kind of sorrow mixed with splendour or both (316).

Jane’s “defenses” against “religion” immediately sprang up. There were three specific types. This reminded me again of Lewis’s Screwtape Letters and how he “gets” temptation. The first was to keep a clear head. Don’t let this conversion sink in. It was an effort to try to avoid letting her conversion “stick.” Best to think about something else. The second was to intellectualize it. She’d had a “religious experience.” Thats very interesting and would help her to understand Donne, and similar poets. The third was to try to return to the “experience” for herself and to please others, to turn the conversion from something objective into something subjective. The merely subjective can be argued away. “But her defences had been captured and these counter-attacks were unsuccessful” (316).

Mark’s Journey

Mark, on the other hand, is being exposed to a nearly constant barrage of what Frost calls “objectivity.” This is misnamed. It isn’t objective at all. Frost is attempting to pull away from Mark any idea, any belief, that he might have that cannot be demonstrated or proved. But that’s only a small part of what is truly “objective.” For next to nothing can really be proved. Most of what we know is unprovable and yet we know it. Right and wrong. Love and hate. Goodness and wickedness. There may be blurry lines at times, there may be greys, but there are always the clear blacks and whites. These things are known and they are objective. And they are known because they have been weaved into our world by our Creator, in a similar manner to the way sexuality has been weaved in.

Interspersed among all this “objectivity,” Mark is getting to know this tramp. This is a man who, I can honestly say, is the most enigmatic figure in the book. I think I’m overthinking him. But consider what the tramp knows – the goodness of food and drink and “baccy” (tobacco). There is no pretense with this man except to keep the ruse up – a ruse he doesn’t fully understand – and to keep the food and drink coming. The tramp is so anti-intellectual that he grounds Mark in reality – not Frost’s pseudo-reality.

So Mark becomes “a member of a ‘circle’ as secret and as strongly fenced against outsiders as any he had dreamed of” (310).

The interaction between Mark and the tramp is also the most comical section of the book.

“I got a plan”

“What is it?”

“Ah,” said the man winking at Mark with infinite knowingness and rubbing his belly.

“Go on. What is it?” said Mark.

“How’d it be,” said the man, sitting up and applying his left thumb to his right fore-finger as if about to propound the first step in a philosophical argument, “how’d it be now if you and I made ourselves a nice bit of toasted cheese?”

“I meant a plan for escape,” said Mark.

“Ah,” replied the man. “My old Dad now He never had a day’s illness in his life. Eh? How’s that for a bit of all right? Eh?”

“It’s a remarkable record,” said Mark. (309)

The entire interaction between these two, it elicits many a belly laugh.

But it was Frost himself that helped Mark. His path was very different from Jane’s and yet lead to the same place, the Source.

The knowledge that his own assumptions led to Frost’s position combined with what he saw in Frost’s face and what he had experienced in this very cell, effected a complete conversion. All the philosophers and evangelists in the world might not have done the job so neatly. (293)

I can’t help but feel this is at least somewhat autobiographical for Lewis. Still, I think Mark’s conversion is only complete inasmuch as he has completely left Belbury behind. He has begun to grasp Truth but he has not yet submitted to Maleldil. Again, this seems autobiographical – if Lewis’s Surprised by Joy is to be believed.

Real Life is Meeting

I just can’t get over this phrase. And I don’t want to put words in Lewis’s mouth but I can’t help thinking that he may be talking about conversion. Real life is meeting God. Only in meeting God can you truly meet others, truly meet yourself, truly meet the world around you. It is only there that you are free to really be who you are – made in His image and glorifying him purposefully. It reminds me of a line from Perelandra – I will not look it up now – “Only Maleldil sees any creature as it really is.” It reminds me of Orual in Til We Have Faces finally taking down her veil, her mask, and really meeting and really living. I don’t think this is what Buber meant when he wrote but I think Lewis liked the phrase and made it his own.

Or maybe I’m just crazy.

That Hideous Strength – Chapter Thirteen – They Have Pulled Down Deep Heaven on Their Heads

Their own strength has betrayed them. They have gone to the gods who would not have come to them, and pulled down Deep Heaven on their heads. Therefore, they will die. (291)

hideousSUMMARY

The Magician and the Pendragon – Talking birds – “Three questions, if you dare” – Next steps at Belbury – The company meet Merlin – Jane’s head – Dimble’s musings – Old things – “A wonderful woman” – Planning

DISCUSSION

Marriage and Sexuality

Everything in this chapter, save one page in section 2, is from the viewpoint of the company at St Anne’s, so Jane plays in here quite a bit. We also get Merlin’s view on some things, a decidedly pre-modern view.

While Merlin and Ransom are testing each other there is a series of three questions. The first regards the identity and implications of “Sulva.”

Sulva is she whom mortals call the Moon. She walks in the lowest sphere. The rim of the world that was wasted goes through her. Half of her orb is turned towards us and shares our curse. Her other half looks to Deep Heaven; happy would he be who could cross that frontier and see the fields on her further side. On this side, the womb is barren and the marriages cold. There dwell an accursed people, full of pride and lust. There when a young man takes a maiden in marriage, they do not lie together, but each lies with a cunningly fashioned image of the other, made to move and to be warm by devilish arts, for real flesh will not please them, they are so dainty (delicati) in their dreams of lust. Their real children they fabricate by vile arts in a secret place. (271)

There’s a lot in this paragraph. I wouldn’t get it all if I tried. So I will just hit an overview and a couple of points. Medieval cosmology is key here. Under the medieval world view, earth is fallen and has “our curse.” They understood the other planets to orbit the earth, the closest being the Moon (which actually does orbit the earth). The Moon lay on the border of the curse. The side facing us was dead, marked by our curse. The opposite side, which faced what we call “space” or what is above called “Deep Heaven” – and at other times in the Ransom cosmology is called the Fields of Arbol. So the Moon is split – half good and half bad. (Filostrato has previously mentioned this dual-natured moon (173) though his understanding is a little bit twisted.)

So Ransom is describing the Moon and the effects of the curse within our “sphere.” The moon’s orbit is the border of our sphere. The second half – beginning “On this side…” – describes people on earth, our fallen or cursed people. We are focused on self, worried about equality and such. We don’t give ourselves to each other – even in marriage. This is THE relationship – when two become one flesh. This should be where love is most manifest and instead is where selfishness is most manifest. The marriage relationship is the place for sexuality to be lived out in its fullest expression – in fruitfulness. But alas. We hate fruitfulness. What God called good and told us to do – be fruitful and multiply – we have decided is bad.

We still want sex, yes, but we want to use it for self-satisfying eroticism instead of for producing the fruit that God intended. Our marriages are cold because we only care about ourselves. Our wombs – our marriages – are barren, fruitless. We embrace a form of the sex that God gave us but not sexuality in all its beautiful fruitfulness. We are “dainty” or delicate in our sex. We don’t want the real thing in all its fruitfulness; we only want to feeling. For some it is the orgasm. For some it is the closeness. Wanting only the orgasm seems more crass, and may be less noble, than wanting the closeness, the “oneness” that sexuality can produce. But why reject the fruit?

Lewis, at the time of writing THS, was “pre-pill.” Oral birth control wasn’t invented until the early ’50s. He saw the future, the “liberation” of women from the fruitfulness of sex. He saw the hatred of that fruitfulness. Lewis was wading into the edge of this and we are swimming in it. (Now I don’t want to condemn oral birth control pills categorically. They have place – and that is assuming they aren’t abortifacient. I guess that remains to be seen. Its grey enough that I wouldn’t recommend it, but also grey enough that I wouldn’t categorically reject it. And there are a lot of uses for the same medicines to do things beside preventing the birth of children.) The “pill” has come to represent the eroticism of sex without the fruitfulness, which is a very hurtful understanding of it. The pill itself is not evil. If it disappeared tomorrow we would still have the sin.

This passage is calling us back to the fruitfulness of sex, calling us to love the fruitfulness, to see fruitfulness as a gift. The whole world is fruitful. Life is fruitful. Without reproduction of organic life, all life loses its meaning. Look at other visions, other contemplations of this in literature. Consider PD James’s Children of Men where mankind completely ceases to be fruitful. Consider the fallout from the end of the fruitfulness of the plant kingdom in McCarthy’s The Road. All life is fruitful. God made it that way. We ought not turn against it.

More could be said of this paragraph, but I’m moving on. I think I hit the main points. (Then I’ll come back to this in three years and wonder what I was thinking.)

There are a couple more things I want to hit on though while in this category. The first is really in line with the idea of fruitfulness above. This shows up again when Merlin wants to execute Jane for her willful unfruitfulness. The conversation runs of the be bottom of 275 to midway down 276. I will quote only this short section:

Of their own will they are barren: I did not know till now that the usages of Sulva were so common among you. (276)

I’m certain that willful barrenness predates the actual time that Merlin may have lived (if he was an actual historic person) because even the ancient Egyptians pursued it. But I guess it was less common in 5th century Britain (England) than in the 1940s. Merlin found it scandalous, but deserving death? I would point only to the Old Testament episode involving Judah’s son Onan and his relationship with Tamar. (You might call it a marriage.) Is it wrong of Merlin to think Jane has forfeit her life because of her willful barrenness? I don’t know. It seems so. But all sin is serious. All sin is deserving of death. Ransom explains that she is “like all of us a sinner.” Of course we all deserve that ultimate penalty for our sin. To single Jane out for this sin seems harsh. I will with-hold judgement. Lewis seems to with-hold it: “We’ve all been imagining that because he came back in the Twentieth Century he’d be a Twentieth Century man. Time is more important than we thought, that’s all” (279).

And finally Dimble with his wife: they’re just great. Two people who have been married for years, have grown together and yet are still each unique. They’ve come to dance in a way that few of us will ever know. “His wife waited as those wait who know by long experience the mental processes of the person who is talking to them” (280). “‘Do you know,’ said Dimble, ‘I think you are a wonderful woman.'” (283).

White Magic?

There is a lot of talk in this chapter of older things, things that are of the spiritual realm but aren’t, strictly, for God or against Him. Cecil Dimble is behind much of this while speaking to his wife. Since “good is always getting better and bad is always getting worse” (281) there was a time when there was magic done that wasn’t, strictly speaking, good, but also wasn’t bad. When Merlin lived the first part of his life, there were more “Neutrals knocking about” (281). So Merlin practiced magic that was in between good and bad. Such in-between doesn’t exist – or there is much less of it – in the 1940s when the book is set. But Merlin is still acquainted with it. It has either gone good or bad, or else has sort of fallen asleep. Such reminds me of the sleeping Ents of Tolkien lore. Dimble compares this type of marriage to polygamy, morally (282). Maybe it used to be OK but now its unacceptable.

Ransom also speaks of Merlin as “one whose mind is opened” (288) though not a “black magician.” He needs a man experienced in magic but not the black arts. Its all very vague and somewhat troubling. I guess you could say it works in the book. But the moral implications are questionable. It may be akin to the witch of Endor. It is, however,  consistent with the Authurian legendarium in which Merlin turns Arthur into different animals in order to teach him wisdom. Not wicked but not wholly Christian either.

Medieval Ideas

I’ve already discussed the Moon above. That is very medieval. There are a few other ways that Merlin reflects Medievalism as well. One is his insistence that they get help from different authoritative figures. He mentions the King of England (289), the church (289), foreign Christian princes (290) and finally powers beyond Christendom (290). In The Discarded Image, Lewis explains that the Medievals put everything into a hierarchical structure. A lot of this, he says, was based in the writing of someone we refer to as Pseudo-Dionysius.

Secondly, the Medievals allowed for all kinds of angelic beings. Merlin also brings this up. Previously (p29) Dimble had referred to Merlin as a “devil’s son.” Now we have Merlin saying “I am not the son of the Airish Men” (289). By this he means the spiritual beings that aren’t bound to earth, nor are they welcome in heaven. In this Ransom Cosmology that would probably be the eldils. The Medievals would think of them as something like spirits, part good, part bad. They are who was spoken of as the “powers of the air” (Ephesians 2:2). You might call them fairies. Lewis calls them the Longaevi in The Discarded Image.

I have no great point to make regarding this hierarchy and these “Airish Men.” I just want to point out Lewis’s heavy use of the Medieval Worldview. He certainly appreciated and respected their culture, though he didn’t necessarily consider their ideas correct.

The Planets

Just a couple things here. Several mentions of planets: Lurga/Saturn, Perelandra/Venus, Viritrilbia/Mercury, Mars/Malacadra. There is also the mention of Ransom and Merlin coming together like “two drops of quicksilver” (275). Quicksilver is also called Mercury – the element and the planet/Oyarsa Mercury’s representation on Earth. Lewis is laying down threads that will be woven together later.

And I love how Lewis describes Merlin and Ransom as “the man who had been dug oup out of the earth and the man who had been in outer space” (275). Heaven and earth have come together. Merlin’s earthiness is his essence.

No mention of bacon in this chapter though. Sad.

That Hideous Strength – Chapter Twelve – Wet and Windy Night

It is idle to point out to the perverted man the horror of his perversion: while the fierce fit is on, that horror is the very spice of his craving. It is ugliness itself that becomes, in the end, the goal of his lechery; beauty has long since grown too weak a stimulant. (265)

The chapter is merely the tightening of the screw, everything is ramping up. The drama is on its way to 11, so to speak.

coverSUMMARY

The hunt – Stone debriefs the Deputy Director – A simple medium – The horseman – Mark under arrest – Conviction – Objectivity – The cat and the bear – Two visitors – First contact – Attack on Mark

DISCUSSION

Sexuality and Marriage

Overshadowing this chapter is Lewis’s idea that women ought not be army combatants. This was not a new idea that Lewis was putting forth. It was and is a very old idea that Lewis has re-asserted. It is present in his Chronicles of Narnia as well. It is only explicitly  hinted at in this chapter, though it is demonstrated throughout. At one point Mrs. Denniston remarks on her desire to be “out in it” (259) with her husband and Dimble and Jane. Though she was not allowed to be on the front lines – as it were. Jane, however, was required; there was really no other way since she alone had the “vision” that gave them their clue.

Then later in the chapter Mark has finally entered the fight against Belbury “with Jane and with all she symbolised. Indeed, it was he who was in the front line: Jane was almost a non-combatant…” (265). I’m not sure what to say about the idea that Jane was “almost a non-combatant.” She’s out traipsing through the mud, looking for Merlin. And she is in danger. Is this sloppy writing on Lewis’s part or is it merely Mark’s limited viewpoint? I’m inclined to think it the latter.

Recall that Lewis was on the front line during the first World War. He very well knew the horrors of combat.

There is a short discussion on lust and other sin on 265 which I will revisit when I write about temptation below. There is also a strange and mercifully short exposition on animal love/friendship and how it compares to human on 258. I’ll just let that be. I think the book could do without it. Did this Lewis guy not have an editor?

Mark

Mark seems to have finally taken the step. He has at least aligned himself against Belbury. Now, that doesn’t automatically put him in good with Maleldil. (See McPhee for evidence.) But a man like Mark would not oppose Maleldil on McPhee’s principles. With Jane (taking similar steps) on his side, it seems turning from Belbury is a victory.

Still there are temptations to turn back. “An attack,” as it is described. The macrobes, the fallen eldils, are certainly playing a role. Frank Peretti might call this “spiritual warfare.”

Mark finally thinks he has found the innermost circle…

For here, surely at last (so his desire whispered to him) was the true inner circle of all, the circle whose center was outside the human race – the ultimate secret, the supreme power, the last initiation. The fact that it was almost completely horrible did not in the least diminish its attraction. (257)

… and it seems he rejects it. He wavers later in the chapter, but again rejects Belbury. But it stumbles him. It makes him wonder how much he can hold out against.

Temptation

I think Lewis is good on temptation. I think his Screwtape Letters prove that. Not my favorite of his work. A great conceit, to be sure, but it drags on so, like most modern cinematic comedies. Still, Lewis seems to have great insight into how people think and what brings them down. Even when his works may display a striking ugliness – and even falseness – on the nature of God, they often are quite insightful on the nature of man. (Til We Have Faces would be a prime example.)

The lead-quote of this article (above) addresses temptation and the truly dark heart of man. People love darkness, love sin, love twisted wickedness. That is where much of our temptation comes from. Temptation can be from without and is no less temptation but so often it is birthed from our desire for the unholy.

He uses lust as an example of temptation, which I think is fine – and probably the easiest – but he doesn’t limit temptation to lust, to some type of misplaced or twisted sexual desire.

What Lewis says above is so obvious and yet very easily missed until its pointed out. We sin because we love sin and as long as we see the ugly thing as desirable it does little good to point out its ugliness. So, its ugly, and its what we want. Its true with sexual sin but also very true with pride and self-aggrandizement. Of course I want to be seen as important, as right, as true and good, because that’s exactly what I am. Except we aren’t. Only Christ is any of those things, and guess what – he’s not busying himself pointing that out. A striving for equality, as Lewis has already shown, is not his goal.

God’s Nature.

This irked me a little and maybe wrongly. Of course I think I’m right, but I’d be wise to listen to others.

God is often thought of as vindictive and harsh in the Old Testament but loving and gentle and forgiving in the New Testament. I disagree. I think he is very gentle in the Old Testament. Why did he let Adam and Eve live and proclaim that the serpent would one day be crushed? How was that harsh and vindictive. I wouldn’t have done it. I would have created a hell for those two and left them there. I thank God that he is merciful, longsuffering and forgiving. He’s not like me. I pray that I would become more like him. The whole idea that God’s nature changed is false and it bothers me that people portray him in that way. I don’t think Lewis is above error – not even close. And I think his view of God as portrayed in the OT is slanted in the way I described it above. Some of his writings in Reflections on the Psalms are very problematic, at least. Which brings me to this passage from THS:

“Do you know,” said Ivy in a low voice, “that’s a thing I don’t quite understand. [The eldils/angels] are so eerie… But I don’t feel like that about God. But He ought to be worse, if you see what I mean.”

“He was, once,” said the Director. “You are quite right about the powers. Angels in general are not good company for men in general, even when they are good angels and good men. It’s all in St. Paul. But as for Maleldil Himself, all that has changed: it was changed by what happened in Bethlehem.” (259)

Just a few observations here:

Regarding Ivy’s observation that God “ought to be worse.” I assume she means because God is Holy, like really Holy, like He is the source of Holiness. If the angels are holy, its because He made them that way. Habakkuk tells us he’s too pure to look at sin. Isaiah saw God in a vision and pronounced himself “undone.” Samson’s father thought he would die, as sure as the sun rises, because he had seen the angel of the Lord. And he was not alone in scripture in thinking like this. And consider Uzzah. Holiness, man. Holiness.

Ransom’s words seem to say that God’s nature changed. This is something I cannot accept. God’s nature did not change at the time of the Incarnation. But our understanding of Him did change.  We saw Him more fully than we previously had. Before that, we had seen Him in His creation, in His Law and in His direct messages through the prophets. These are incredible revelations of God. But they are incomplete. And without seeing Him in Christ Incarnate, we do not see him completely. And even now I would not say that we see him completely, but as completely as our infinite minds can see in the Infinite God.

It’s hard for me to know exactly how Lewis wanted us to take this. And I think it likely he wanted us to take it with a little bit of ambiguity. Because he was great with words. So he might be saying something problematic here, or maybe he’s being very helpful. Regardless of his intent, we can be helped by stopping to think about the Incarnation and how much of a gift it truly is. How much does he teach us in that way! And do we deserve it? Certainly not. I would venture to say that if it weren’t for the Incarnation being part of His plan (and how does God experience time?) then He never would have promised to crush the serpent.

Lastly I just love how he refers to the Incarnation: “what happened in Bethlehem.” Its the most monumental moment of all human history: Oh, you remember that one time, that thing that happened in Bethlehem? Yeah that. Pretty cool, huh?

Orion

Lewis says a lot about the planets and draws from pagan thought. I’ve mentioned that before. I don’t think this is on that level, but I liked the way he threw Orion in. “It had turned into a fine night: Orion dominated the whole sky” (247). They were hunting after all.

And this last quote. Any quote that mentions bacon is OK with me. And it was so funny.

“Whoever heard of trying to make bacon out of a bear?”