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.

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