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.

That Hideous Strength – Chapter One, Section 1

SUMMARY

Jane Studdock is introduced in sentence one (page 11 – I always love it when a book starts on page 11; I start out feeling like I’m so far ahead) and will be the primary protagonist. She is recently married to Mark and struggling to adjust to married life. There is much housework to do which she doesn’t find all that intellectually stimulating. She is somewhat of an intellectual and has been working on a doctorate thesis on Donne. It seems Mark is preoccupied with his work at the college.

Next we have the retelling of a dream. A picture of a face in the newspaper reminds her of her dream the previous night since the face in her dream was the same face as in the newspaper, yet she can’t recall when she may have seen it (14), possibly in a previous newspaper? The face, or the head rather, was twisted off the man’s body. Then it became a different head, with a flowing beard, covered with dirt belonging seemingly to a dead man who was coming back to life (13).

The memory of the dream broke her concentration, interfered with her work on her thesis and lead her to take the morning off and go “out.”

DISCUSSION

As previously mentioned, this tale begins in a rather mundane manner. Married life. Housework. Limited time with your spouse due to other engagements. Studies. And then there is the bad dream. It is a rather fantastic dream and yet it is still only a dream, something hardly out of the ordinary. We have all had bad dreams, nightmares even. Ordinary stuff. Now I will say that this dream will play a role later on. Things will begin to connect and mean more as the story unfolds. But again. It all starts out so slow and ho-hum.

I must admit that upon my first reading of this book I was quite taken by how boring it seemed in the beginning. The two previous books may not have jumped straight into action in the first couple of pages, but this bit on the struggles of early married life is a stretch even for me. 350 more pages of this? I thought. All I will say is, Hang in there. Things will take off eventually. 

Also I find it interesting that Lewis should bring up the problems of adjusting to marriage and what it should be versus our imagination of what it should be in such a book. This is, after all, part 3 of a Space Trilogy. Its science fiction. What role has marriage to play? I love the way he brings in so much of real life into his books. There is really something to learn of marriage in this part three, though that isn’t the main thrust, of course. Or is it?

And I found this line rather amusing:

[Mark] was an excellent sleeper. Only one thing ever seemed able to keep him awake after he had gone to bed, and even that did not keep him awake for long (12).

No more on that, now.

I want to note the description of the men in the dream:

1) the one later identified as Alcasan, brilliant scientist whose career was cut short due to his murdering his wife: foreign looking, bearded and rather yellow, hooked nose.

2) the man he spoke to: rather good looking, pointed grey beard, wearing a pince-nez, perfect teeth. And they spoke in French, some of which Jane picked up on.

3) the second head: flowing white beard all covered with earth, belonging to an old man being dug up in an almost-church-yard; ancient British, druidical, with a long mantle; a corpse that seemed to be coming to life.

And then on to the Donne quotation – “Hope not for minde in women…” (14), but I only want to remark that Jane seems very unhappy, very dissatisfied with her station in life as a wife, and possibly as a woman. Marriage has taken her “out of a world of work and comradeship and laughter and innumerable things to do, into something like solitary confinement” (12)

Let that be a lesson to all the husbands out there – myself included. Our first ministry is to our wives. Lets not abdicate that responsibility. Doing so can prove quite disastrous, as we’ll see.

That Hideous Strength – Preface

That Hideous Strength: A Modern Fairy-Tale for Grown-Ups

Lewis makes a few notes in his Preface to That Hideous Strength that I think are noteworthy. The first is to pick on the fact that the novel is subtitled A Modern Fairy-Tale for Grown-Ups. This subtitle is regrettably left off the cover of my edition though it appears on the title page. The novel begins in a quite mundane manner; “hum-drum” is Lewis’ word. He explains that this is fairy-tale tradition. The fantastic grows out of the mundane. The cottage or the woodcutter may seem fantastical to us, but that is only because we have been conditioned to associate those things with fairy-tales, while the original hearers of the fairy-tale would think a woodcutter a very normal everyday thing.

As That Hideous Strength (which will often be abbreviated THS) begins with a discussion of married life and a description of some college grounds, we will see that the fantastic springs out from that. On that note I would add my own opinion that THS indeed begins very “hum-drum.” The fantastic that follows can scarcely be imagined. So stay the course. Diligence will be rewarded.

Secondly, Lewis explains that the ideas he tries to get across in THS are quite similar to the ideas contained in the Abolition of Man, a three chapter essay that you can read in its entirety online at the time of this writing. I do recommend reading it. It is excellent though I prefer the manner these ideas are addressed in THS to the Abolition of Man. Still, they compliment each other quite well.

Finally Lewis goes on to make a quick attribution to Olaf Stapledon, who I was not familiar with prior to reading this preface. He was a science fiction writer himself as well as a bit of a philosopher – a philosopher that Lewis did not agree with often. Lewis also mentions “Numinor,” misspelling the name of an island from Tolkien’s Middle Earth writings. It is rather nice to see the “inklings” excited about each others’ work. A last note correctly, by my experience anyway, explains that, though THS is the last part of a trilogy, it can be read as a stand-alone novel quite nicely.

Now, Onward!

That Hideous Strength

So I took a break from this project, obviously. I wanted to read some other things.

A few notes before I start:

One – the edition I’m reading is a Scribner edition and it looks like this: 51qy8pnfsal-_sy344_bo1204203200_

That’s for the page numbers. If you have another edition, the page numbers will be off.

Secondly I just want to explain that this book will be a little harder because of the length and the length of the chapters. This book has 17 chapters in about 370 pages, so that’s about 21 pages per chapter. Silent Planet had 22 chapters and a post-script in about 150 pages, so you are looking at more like 6 pages per chapter on average. Perelandra was in between on chapter length, but closer to Silent Planet. All that to say that postings will be less often and I may even break down some of the chapters; I don’t know. I’m just going to get started and see where it goes.

I also wanted to comment on the cover art and invite anyone who knows much about it to comment further. The picture is by Kuniko Craft and I really like it. It contrasts a lush plant filled landscape with a desolate crater-covered one. Life and death. Sterility and Virility. It really fits the story well. Finding a picture for a cover that fits well and is not just a scene is not easy, but it works quite well here. (Its been a few years since my last reading of That Hideous Strength, but I can’t recall a scene that would be depicted by this picture. I may be wrong.) The artist is Japanese, born in 1940. She has a wikipedia page and a website. She has done a lot of fantasy type illustrations among other things. I think it was done specifically for the book, but I’m not sure.

There is a short preface written by Lewis, but I’m going to visit that in a separate post.

Perelandra – Chapter Seventeen (Part 2)

The delay. A lot of false starts and long pauses on this one. It was difficult.

SUMMARY

Beginning on page 183 there are a series of statements which aren’t attributed to any specific character: “For the conversation that followed  – if it can be called a conversation – though [Ransom] believes that he himself was sometimes the speaker, he never knew which words were his or another’s, or even whether a man or eldil was talking.”

ON THE CONVERSATION

“Blessed be He” (183 – 187). This phrase is repeated several times, always concluding one of the statements made by the other characters. It is meant as the concluding idea of what was previously said. They say varying things about the nature or work of Maleldil and follow it with Blessed be He. They aren’t trying to judge how is ways are good or bad. They are merely trying to exalt his ways and show this by concluding with a statement glorifying, magnifying or praising him.

The Statements:

They begin by discussing the Great Dance. The dance has always been going on. “It has begun from before always” (183). In some ways the relationship of the Trinity can be described as a dance. Working together, living together, moving together, always giving and always receiving, always glorifying the others and at the same time each displayed as more and more perfect. The dance shows the greatness of the dancers. And in this dance no music is needed. Nothing is needed outside the Triune God in order for the Triune God to be and show who He is. He needs no subjects to display himself to for he has the other members of the Trinity at all times. He is perfect in himself and happy in his perfection. And that happiness and perfection is shown in the Dance, which does not need to “wait to be perfect until the peoples of the Low Worlds are gathered into it.” This dance is from before the beginning and until after the end.

The epic American novel Blood Meridian, written by Cormac McCarthy, also ends with a description of a dance. (I doubt McCarthy had Perelandra in mind when writing it but it is reminiscent of this work in some ways.) In it, the great anti-hero Judge Holden, or simply “the judge,” is seen dancing and playing music. He states that everyone must be part of the dance whether he likes it or not. The judge never sleeps and he says that he will never die. And yet we are meant to question that. His end seems to be forecast in the book as something hoped for. He is a great evil and his dance will be swallowed up in this Great Dance of which the eldila speak.

The statement that follows describes Maleldil’s constant “one-upping” (not Lewis’ term). He doesnt make a thing over in a different way, he makes better things after the first: “After a falling, not a recovery, but a new creation” (184).

And then this dance is “loaded with justice as a tree bows down with fruit.” The fruit, the justice, is a good thing. Further, the New Testament words for righteousness and justice are basically the same word or variations of the same word.

“And there is no equality.” None is equal or comparable to the Great Dance. It is full of righteousness and justice and there is nothing like it, as there is none like Him.He has no peers nor rivals. This Great Dance is not competing with the judge’s dance. It swallows it up and the lesser dance is gone, as Moses’ staff-serpent swallowed those of the Egyptian holy-men.

And then his infinite-ness is extolled. He resides wholly within the smallest seed and “is not cramped,” and yet all of “Deep Heaven is inside him” (184). Those who would seem to grow great in time and space are not remotely as great as Maleldil. There greatness is so much lower that it isn’t able to be compared to his greatness. His greatness is of another dimension as compared to what we can see or know. Comparisons are “as is the circle to the sphere” (184).

Lewis continues in his way to discuss the incomprehensible nature of Maleldil. I cannot go through all of that without a great deal of undependable conjecture.

Finally Ransom finds himself alone with the King and Queen. The animals and “the two white figures” have gone. The King and Queen are called Tor and Tinidril. These names seem to be taken for Tolkien’s mythology of Middle Earth.

Ransom’s Wound

Finally Tor notices Ransom’s heel wound (189), “where the Evil One bit me.” King To attempts to wash it off, hoping it will heel in such a manner but to no avail. The King and Queen had not yet seen blood and remark of it: “this is the substance wherewith Maleldil remade the worlds before any world was made.” He is speaking of the shedding of blood on the cross for the redemption of the world(s) which was foreknown “before the foundation of the world.”

It is of note also the prophecy of Genesis 3, “He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel.” This is complete also on the cross but is mirrored on Perelandra as Ransom killed “the Evil One,” but in so-doing his actual heel was “bruised” in such a way that, as we will see, it will never fully heel and always be a drain on him physically. And yet, as the King says, “any of his race who has breathed the air… and drunk the waters [of Perelandra]… will not find it easy to die.” Despite his wound, his visit has made him strong, has enriched his blood to make him as the men of old. 

Partings

The King and Queen feel a kind of sadness at the time of Ransom’s departing, a sadness which all people are familiar with, but the have not even a term for. “What is this that we feel, Tor?” (189). And Ransom is secured for travel in a “casket” similar to the one he arrived. His eyes were covered by the “rose-red lillies” for protection for the journey home. His arrival back on earth has already been discussed in chapter two.

 

 

 

Perelandra – Chapter Seventeen (Part 1)

SUMMARY

This (somewhat overwhelming) chapter consists of the “coronation” of the King and Queen. The Oyarsa of Perelandra hands over her share of dominion of the planet to them. They honor her and ask her to remain with them for a time as an adviser. They honor Ransom and thank him for his work against the Un-man. Then they converse making very high statements of praise to Maleldil. Finally it comes time for Ransom to leave. He gets into his “coffin,” is bid farewell and begins his journey back to the Silent Planet.

SCI-FI ASPECT

A short word on his travel back to Earth. He uses the same form of transportation. His eyes are covered with just the Perelandrian flowers. When he arrives on Earth – way back in chapter two – there is no mention of a piebald appearance. The only explanation for this that I have is a narrative inconsistency.

Later the King, Tor, speaks of the “Dark Lord” of Thulcandra and of making war against him and freeing Thulcandra from his grip (182). An interplanetary war falls within the realm of science fiction, but here it also falls within the realm of what we may call eschatology or the study of the last things. Notable is how the King calls it the beginning, and this is reminiscent of the conclusion of Lewis’ The Las Battle (which had not yet been written) where all that has taken place in the Chronicles and on Earth is only the title page of a great story yet to unfold.

METAPHYSICAL

There is much here and I doubt I’ll do it justice. With that, lets begin:

“There was a great silence on the mountaintop… (177).” Much is happening on Perelandra in this chapter that is grand beyond words. How can one set up something like this? How can one get across to his readers the gravity and profundity of the situation. The eschatology of Perelandra is unfolding in the crowning of the King and Queen, under the Great Heavens, attended by all their subjects, great creatures of the heavens and one blood-washed image bearer of Maleldil the Young. Revelation 8:1 tells us “When the Lamb opened the seventh seal there was silence in heaven.” When the seventh seal was opened all heaven held its breath. None spoke. There was silence. Here, also, the gravity of the event can be met appropriately only with silence.

Ransom breaks this silence. His words honor the King and Queen of Perelandra, but also Adam and Eve in their sinless state. So great these creatures were, before the fall, we would respond with silence and with longing for their presence. Lewis tells us that before these two we would be tempted to commit idolatry. The face bears the image of its Creator so well, so perfectly and yet “it could never be taken for more than an image…the very beauty of it lay in the certainty that it was a copy, like and not the same” (178). Its wonderful that it reflects so perfectly and its wonderful because it is clearly a reflection of something much greater.

What is going on here is picked up mid-sentence from Oyarsa Perelandra. She is turning over all control of the planet to the King and Queen, she lists several physical traits of the planet along with its animal life and “waves whom yet you know not” (177). Waves previously described the passage of time and, more specifically, the events that time brings with it.

Living on the Fixed Land (179). Here, the Green Lady, the Queen of Perelandra, gives an account, her understanding, of the law, the prohibition against living on the Fixed Land. She explains that the reason to live there would be so that she could control where she would be when she arose the following day. In doing that she would be saying to Maleldil – I don’t want to be where you would carry me over the waves on the floating land. I want to be where I choose to be. “Not thus but thus,” she explains, to control her life by her own power instead of living in and trusting and loving the power of Maleldil.

With this understanding, breaking this prohibition (which seemed at first to me quite whimsical and arbitrary) is not dissimilar to breaking Adam and Eve’s commandment. They were told to obey God and not eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. They decided they would set up their own law. They would decide for themselves what was good and what was bad and they would live by their own wisdom instead of the wisdom of Elohim.

If they stopped trusting Maledil, then, as the Queen put it, “how could we ever have climbed back into love and trust again?” (179).

The knowledge of good and evil (179). Further, the King, goes on to point out that he know understands evil. He has come to understand it, “though not as the evil one wished us to learn.” He has gained wisdom that includes and understanding of evil but not in a way that requires participating in it. Participating in it helps you understand it in one way, but blinds you to what it truly is. I am reminded of Solomon in the book of Ecclesiastes. He seemed to gain an understanding of all that is empty by throwing himself into the emptiness completely. The King’s understanding of emptiness is greater than Solomon’s understanding. It reflects the way in which God understands evil, by seeing it and all its effects from outside and not from within.

Maleldil… His Father… Third One (180). The Trinity. Maleldil, the Second Person has been made much of. His Father was mentioned in OOTSP but I don’t recall mention thus far in Perelandra. Here we add in the Third Person. It is a cursory summation, to be sure. But all three of the Trinity are touched upon here, further girding the Christian worldview present throughout the Trilogy.

The King’s Prophecy (181-183). The King’s prophecy bleeds into what we would call our Eschatology, our study of “Last Things,” as Ransom so astutely points out. There are three major divisions here:

The first is of the King speaking of the rise of his own people on Perelandra. The crux of it being: “We will fill this world with our children. We will know this world to the centre.” This is a fairly reasonable restatement of God’s initial command to Adam and Eve – to fill the Earth and to have dominion over it. Reigning dominion involved naming things and we see the King doing that here.

He also plans to “make the nobler of the beasts so wise that they will become hnau and speak.” This is similar to the talking animals of Narnia which Lewis would later write about. It strikes me as odd and not something mankind should undertake upon earth. I suppose the serpent spoke to Eve. Genesis doesn’t tell us that she was taken aback. Maybe animals spoke before the fall, but I doubt that very much. This epoch will last ten thousand years and end with tearing open the “sky curtain” or Perelandra’s cloud-cover so that “Deep Heaven will become familiar to the eyes” of the children of the King and Queen. How this would be done I do not know but it is a long time hence. Patience.

Second, there will be a changing in the physical bodies of the people of Perelandra, for it is “Maleldil’s purpose to make us free of Deep Heaven.” It seems that they will take on some type of spiritual or more ethereal bodies and not be Perelandra-bound, but more spiritual as the eldila are. This seems not so different from the biblical description that we should be changed in the twinkling of an eye. We shall be made different. Christ’s body was different in some ways following the resurrection. The glorified bodies, as we would say, seem to be what the King here has in mind. (Though I may be way off here. Speculation.)

Last, he has plans for Thulcandra. He plans to end “the siege” of Earth, to remove the “black spot.” He plans to rend the moon and at least temporarily to darken the sun so it is not seen from Earth. This is not unlike some interpretations of some of the biblical prophecies regarding what are thought of as the end times. There are different ways to view these prophecies but this description seems in line with the Pre-Millennial view.

He refers to everything that has happened up until that point as “before the beginning.” Ransom explains here that we think of this as the end. The King considers it more of a false start before the real story is begun. This again is similar to the as yet unwritten Chronicles of Narnia, wherein the final story, The Last Battle, ends by explaining that everything that has taken place so far is merely the first page of a much grander story.

All this he calls “the beginning of the Great Game, the Great Dance” and admits “I know little of it yet” (183).

PROPOSED CHAPTER TITLE

The Revelation