Saturday, 12 August 2017

Reimagining CS Lewis's That Hideous Strength

I am currently halfway through listening to the excellent audiobook version of CS Lewis's That Hideous Strength ('THS'), read by Stephen Pacey (who played Del Tarrant in the excellent 1970s BBC Sci-Fi series Blake's 7).

From a perspective and through a lens derived from CS Lewis's best friend Owen Barfield; I can imagine a revised version of THS, in line with my understanding of our situation some seventy years on from the publication of THS in 1945...

One major difference would be that Lewis has his heroes (the St Anne's fellowship) essentially passive in their obedience to orders coming from the 'angelic' helpers. Nowadays, we would not receive these orders. We would have-to work things out for ourselves, as best we could. Or, more exactly, we would need to develop the spiritual perspective and abilities which would enable this working-out. We would need to develop what Barfield termed Final Participation.

Final Participation is something which can only come from the choice and will or each of us, as individuals. It cannot be conferred upon us - indeed the essence of it is that we are free and agent. Final Participation is precisely a personal, experiential effort-full thing. We need to look-within to seek god-in-us, to find our divine self - and to become aware of this.

Here and now - we aren't going to be able to wait or hope for leadership; probably we will be literally on-our-own: alone... at least in many practical respects. This because our current situation is not a recapitulation of monasticism or the like; the destruction, subversion and inversion of groups is at the heart of the evil of our modern condition.

A modern THS would perhaps be about the good characters, the heroes of St Anne's, individually and dispersed. About moral choices made alone and in the context of an overwhelmingly large and powerful Establishment of Evil that is not recent (like The NICE in THS), but has been in place and in control for at least two generations.

The angels ('eldils') would not be perceptible in the necessary state of consciousness of Final Participation; they would not visit, we could not see them - and neither would we hear them speak in words; not even words formed in our minds. Instead, angels would communicate directly by joining their thinking with ours.

However, we - in our thinking - would always be free and agent - in control. Hence we could block contact with the angels, if we chose. And we could not (merely) open our minds to them. Rather, we would actively be thinking is such a way that we could share in their thoughts, and they in ours.

How could help come? In defeating a vast and powerful evil Establishment, clearly help is essential. THS had the Original Participation magic of Merlin, and direct and miraculous aid from the eldils/ angels. What might we have, now?

Well, it would be imperceptible to direct observation. It would be behind the scenes - by synchronicity. Natural phenomena (rain, wind, sun, tides, earth movements...) would - 'coincidentlally' - favour Good and be hostile to evil.

Enemies would be repenting (as the situation clarifies) and changing sides, ceasing to do their evil duties, turning to sabotage the evil plans.

There would be events of exceeding improbability - actually miracles, but always explicable in terms of chance. Perfect-Storms of 'luck' - both good and ill 'luck' - good fortune for the Good and adverse chance for the evil. Cumulatively piling-on, and on.

(These being proximal consequences of distal and subtle angelic interventions; behind-the-scenes changes of arrangements; altering small upstream occurrences to generate large downstream effects...)

How about our own personal strength, motivation, will - and love? How could these be sustained when we are on-our-own? I assume there will be positive-feedback reinforcements of such things. As the situation develops, evil becomes clearer, becomes un-masked. Because evil is a trial of our strength and a mode of spiritual development; it may be like exercising in a gym - immediate effort being rewarded, some time after, by greater strength.

The key and core is motivation; the guiding principle is honesty; and the goal is love (towards which we are pointed by the discernment of the heart; which knows truth, beauty and virtue - and their opposites).

We must be self-sufficient in terms of motivations; but this is only possible through the gift of repentance from Christ. Trial and error will get us where we need to be; but only when error is acknowledged and repented.

The war is between those who acknowledge and experience the spiritual world, the immaterial world, the world of God; and those who don't. Between those who know we are all children of God and destined to become free; and those who believe themselves and everyone else to be evolved automata subject to rigid determinism alleviated only by randomness. Between those who take ultimate responsibility and look to god-within; and those who hope for external intervention for rescue.

The happy ending of a new THS would be very happy indeed! A world of free, agent, people affiliated in loving families and with close friends; a world therefore open-ended, of creativity. Not a utopia; but an active, developing, expanding, deeply-rewarding world of perpetual interest, challenges, increasing awareness and understanding - making, doing and thinking.


Anonymous said...

Are you thinking in terms of a sequel? The near-future post-WWII threats averted in THS in the past, but new threats of the succeeding seventy some years addressed?

From the Planetary Intelligences'/eldila's perspective, in THS they were peculiarly admitted by the violations of Weston and Devine, and could peculiarly operate because of Merlin's 'formation' in the Fifth century, reintroduced. But what is the situation since the banquet at Belbury with respect to them, distinctly?

And, what of the secret line of Pendragons? Who is their current representative? The son of the Studdocks? Or someone else as his successor? What can - or even need - the current Pendragon contribute?

I've lately been thinking of THS and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and The Horse and His Boy and The Last Battle in comparison and contrast. By the time of the first two of these Narnian chronicles, the Calormene civilization/culture has presumably developed to it peculiarly Tash-centric yet to whatever extent also radically cynical, sceptical form. In the second of these chronicles, we see its conquering the Kingdom of Narnia averted. This is, as it were, not unlike the situation in THS.

But, for whatever reasons, instead of something analogous happening again, by Aslanian intervention, or an Aslanian permission of something analogous to the abusive, oppressive, murderous reigns of the White Witch or the Telmarines, to be ended later - the whole world is ended. Narnia, as at the end of The Silver Chair where Caspian is concerned, but on a nearly universal scale, is died out of.

In the sequels to THS, even if the sudden termination of a fairly extensive Calormene-like ascendency does not take place, the Sun will presumably 'fail' one way or another and entropy continue, and dying out of system and cosmos be the only eventualities.

David Llewellyn Dodds

Bruce Charlton said...

@David - Some characteristically deep questions!

To summarise my current understanding: I feel that there has been a profound breakdown in institutions over the past 70 years - they are all essentially corrupted now. Even a small group such as St Anne's seems less likely than then.

Lewis does sound like a prophet when he talks of the Pendragon and Logres; and clearly these intuitions are true in some way - but I can't imagine any 'national leader' emerging to focus the forces of Good although the opposite seems all too plausible. That is, the times seem right for some kind of antichrist - 90 percent apparent-Good but actually motivated by the 10 percent that is evil; discernible only to a genuine intuitive sense, that is apparently rare/ absent/ inverted.

Overall, I believe we are in an historically unprecedented situation, and the lessons and triumphs of the past are more likely to be misleading and counter-productive than truly helpful; because we are *supposed to* (destined to) move forward, not back, and to something which has never been seen, barely been imagined - and never clearly described.

It can't be reached by collective action; indeed that is deliberate - but it can be reached, and only be reached, by individuuals acknowledging their own freedom and agency, and actively making the correct personal choices - within the context of a directly-known (first-hand, not second-hand) Christianity.

John Fitzgerald said...

Hi Bruce and David,

Some really interesting themes here. Comparisons between Calormen and non-Christian civilisations can sometimes be overdone but there's a certain synergy, I feel, between the Tisroc's defeat in The Horse and His Boy and the Christian victories over an expansionist Islam at Tours in 732 and Lepanto in 1683. In the eighth century European Christianity was young, vigorous and united. By the 1680s it had become scarred and fragmented but still possessed enough faith and inner confidence to conjure victory from the jaws of defeat.

Is that faith and confidence still in alive today? In Africa and Asia certainly, but not, it appears, in the Christian West that won those battles. We are like the Narnian animals in The Last Battle, full of doubt and confusion, uncertain as to Aslan's reality and ripe first for exploitation (Ginger and Shift) then conquest (Calormen and Tash).

With regards to That Hideous Strength, there's no doubt that Lewis goes to some really deep archetypal places in its pages. Some passages, such as Merlin's questioning of Ransom, go right to the heart of the Western Mystery Tradition. Gareth Knight writes superbly on this in his The Magical World of the Inklings (1990).

In any contemporary sequel to THS I don't think the NICE (or its equivalent) would restrict itself to one particular building in one particular town where it can easily be destroyed if things go wrong. Today's NICE is likely to be more diffuse and difficult to pin down, embedded in institutions and pulling the strings behind the scenes of the arts, media and education.

It is also hard to imagine a community such as St. Anne's on the Hill so readily at hand to act as a channel for angelic power. A character like Jane Studdock wouldn't be rescued by Ransom nowadays as she is in THS. She would need to set out in search of him through a bewildering twenty-first century miasma of inversion and misinformation. Such is the change in Britain's estate between 1945 and now.

For me the Melchizadeck-like figure of the Pendragon holds the key. Our sequel's narratve thrust would focus first on his discovery and then on the course of action he takes to turn back the tide of evil. I believe, hand on heart, that Lewis tapped into something very real here. A hidden line of priest kings exists in this land - I'm convinced of it - from Joseph of Arimathea's time to the present and beyond. It will emerge into the light of day at the appointed hour, and at that time what seems so outlandish and improbable now will feel as natural and wholesome as the sun warming our faces or the wind rattling our windowpanes. Such will be the change in Britain's estate from where we are now to where we will be when Albion awakes and Logres reappears.

This notion of an underground royal lineage has become a touch debased in recent years (e.g. The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail and similar books and films) but it has a rich pedigree. The concept of the Hidden Imam in Shia Islam is a good example of how this archetype takes on flesh in a different culture.

To conclude, the protagonists of our sequel will be very much like Jill at the start of The Sliver Chair, struggling to remember the signs given her by Aslan in a spiritual and mental climate that stands at the antipodes of the clarity and goodness of the holy country where she received them. The novel will be a sustained meditation on this theme.

Thanks and best wishes,