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.


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


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.