That Hideous Strength: The Cosmic and Enchanted Earth

David Russell Mosley

Ordinary Time
8 October 2014
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

That Hideous Strength is perhaps often viewed as one of the strangest and weakest of Lewis’s fictional books. It certainly makes little sense if we think of it as the culmination of a Space Trilogy since the entire book takes place on Earth. What’s more this book makes a sudden introduction of Arthurian mythology that is completely absent from the previous two. Some even criticise it for its portrayal of gender and male-female relationships (This however, is contested by Alison Milbank who seems to think Lewis get this more right than wrong. I don’t have a source for this as it is something she said in her class on Fantasy and Religion). And yet, for all of this, I cannot help but love this book.

It helps that I am something of a sucker for all things Arthurian. As evidenced by these posts. But even beyond this, Lewis does something very interesting on a cosmic level in this book. The book sets the tale of two protagonists, Jane Studdock and her husband Mark. Jane and Mark are still newly married, both academics, though she has put her work to the side for the time beings, finding it hard to return to it (she’s doing a PhD on Donne). Jane is troubled by dreams she’s having. She later finds out that she is a seer, that is, sometimes she dreams things that are currently happening. It’s important to note two things, first, Jane does not dream or predict the future. She is simply capable of dreaming the present. Second, Jane does not do this by calling upon spirits of any kind. It is, rather, hereditary. And it is this point that I find most interesting. Lewis has constructed a world where a human creature can, while asleep, ‘dream things true’ as Shakespeare wrote in Romeo and Juliet. In some ways, this is the epitome of an enchanted cosmos. Jane sees the present, and even more, she sees the present in a way that is useful to the Christians she eventually fully joins at the St Anne’s Manor. Lewis doesn’t make it obvious that these are visions given to Jane by God in say the way Daniel, Paul, John, or others have had visions. She isn’t seeing heavenly realities, but what she sees becomes guided by the influence the Director has over her. She is an enchanted human being, with a native ability that is intended for good uses, but can be turned to evil.

However, the enchantment runs even deeper than this. When Merlin is awakened or brought back into time, what his state was before his reanimation is uncertain, he is ravenous to reconnect with the rocks, fields, and trees around him. But he isn’t allowed to. The Director, the current Pendragon, will not allow him, it is no longer, according to God it would seem, acceptable. Nevertheless, the Director himself has the ability to tame animals in a way no other human can. Mice come at his beck and call to clean up crumbs; a bear lives with them (along with a few other animals); they have a garden, which doesn’t seem to have any particularly enchanted properties to it (not like the animals do), but living within nature does seem to be an integral aspect of their lives at St Anne’s. In fact, the garden growing, animal raising people of St Anne’s are contrasted with the N.I.C.E. and their desire to denature the Earth.

On the Angelic end of things, which has been the focus of the previous two letters in this series, there is decidedly less and more. Because the lens through which we see the world is the uninitiated Jane, rather than Ransom himself, encounters with the angelic are terrifying. There is a scene where Ivy, a member of the group at St Anne’s is reflecting on the Director’s encounters with angelic beings behind the planets (the wanderers) in the cosmos. ‘“Do you know,” said Ivy in a low voice, “that’s a thing I don’t understand. They’re so eerie, those ones [angels] that come to visit you. I wouldn’t go near that part of the house if I thought anything was there, not if you paid me a hundred pounds. 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 Maledil Himself, all that changed: it was changed by what happened at Bethlehem.”’ Lewis does something I can’t quite fully account for here. Throughout the series, he has somewhat acted as though Earth, Thulcandra, the Silent Planet were purely under the sway of Satan and that the other Oyarsa cannot enter it, and that its own eldila are not always on our side (even if they aren’t always against us). This makes little sense when compared with Scripture where throughout the Old Testament and Apocrypha angels not only appear but aid humanity in obvious ways. In the New Testament, they fade somewhat behind the glory of Christ, but are still present. Perhaps, however, what Lewis is doing here is distinguishing between the hierarchies. Those great beings who guard and move the planets cannot enter into ours easily and are bad company for us, but those who are intended to work directly with us are not as bad company for us. Still, though, it is clear that we are meant to commune directly with God and not simply through the angels.

In the end, what That Hideous Strength gives us is the cosmic come home. The grand movements in the Fields of Arbol (Lewis’s “Old Solar” for the Cosmos) are affected by and affect what happens on Earth, not in an astrological way, but because the whole Cosmos, created and upheld by God, is also governed by his created beings and all of it is tending toward one end. It is all tending toward the overcoming of the world with the Kingdom of Heaven, of the overcoming of Britain with the kingdom of Logres. Let me leave you with the discussion of Logres in That Hideous Strength, keeping in mind that this discussion not only applies to every nation, but to the whole cosmos.

‘“It all began,” he [Dr Dimble] said, “when we discovered that the Arthurian story is mostly true history. There was a moment in the Sixth Century wen something that is always trying to break through into this country nearly succeeded. Logres was our name for it––it will do as well as another. And then … gradually we began to see all English history in a new way. We discovered the haunting.”

‘“What haunting?” asked Camilla.

‘“How something we may call Britain is always haunted by something we may call Logres. Haven’t you noticed that we are two countries? After every Arthur, a Mordred; behind ever Milton, a Cromwell: a nation of poets, a nation of shopkeepers: the home of Sidney––and of Cecil Rhodes. Is it any wonder they call us hypocrites? But what they mistake for hypocrisy is really the struggle between Logres and Britain.”

….

‘“It was long afterwards,” he said, “after the Director had returned from the Third Heaven, that we were told a little more. This haunting turned out to be not only from the other side of the invisible wall. Ransom was summoned to the bedside of an old man then dying in Cumberland. His name would mean nothing to you if I told it. That man was the Pendragon, the successor of Arthur and Uther and Cassibelaun. Then we learned the truth. There has been a secret Logres in the very heart of Britain all these years: an unbroken succession of Pendragons. That old man was the seventy-eighth from Arthur: our Director received from him the office and the blessings; tomorrow we shall know, or tonight, who is to be the eightieth. Some of the Pendragons are well known to history, though not under that name. Others you have never heard of. But in every age they and the little Logres which gathered around them have been the fingers which gave the tiny shove or the almost imperceptible pull, to prod England out of the drunken sleep or to draw her back from the final outrage into which Britain tempted her.”

….

‘“So that, meanwhile, is England,” said Mother Dimble. “Just this swaying to and fro between Logres and Britain?”

‘“Yes,” said her husband. “Don’t you feel it? The very quality of England. If we’ve got an ass’s head, it is by walking in a fairy wood. We’ve heard something better than we can do, but can’t quite forget it … can’t you see it in everything English––a kind of awkward grace, a humble, humorous incompleteness? How right Sam Weller was when he called Mr. Pickwick an angel in gaiters! Everything here is either better or worse than––”

‘“Dimble!” said Ransom….

‘“You’re right, Sir,” he said with a smile. “I was forgetting what you have warned me always to remember. This haunting is no peculiarity of ours. Every people has its own haunter. There’s no special privilege for England––no nonsense about a chosen nation. We speak about Logres because it is our haunting, the one we know about.”

‘“Aye,” said MacPhee, “and it could be right good history without mentioning you and me or most of those present. I’d be greatly obliged if anyone would tell me what we have don––always apart from feeding pigs and raising some very decent vegetables.”

‘“You have done what is required of you,” said the Director. “You have obeyed and waited. It will often happen like that. As one of the modern authors has told us, the altar must often be built in one place in order that the fire from heaven may descend somewhere else. But don’t jump to conclusions. You may have plenty of work to do before a month is passed. Britain has lost the battle, but she will rise again.”’

Let us be Logres in the midst of Britain.

Sincerely yours,
David

Arthur Comes to Windermere: A Poem by David Russell Mosley

David Russell Mosley

 

king_arthur_4
2 June 2014
On the Edge of Elfland
Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Last week I posted some notes on my writing processes as well as the first two chapters of my Faërie Romance. I also promised to post my alliterative Arthurian poem. I certainly have not mastered the Anglo-Saxon alliterative verse style. My poem lacks the proper caesura in each line and the lines themselves are too irregular. Still, I post it here for your thoughts and comments. It is my first real foray into narrative poetry.

Arthur Comes to Windermere

Comes King Arthur and his cousin Gawain,

Two men might in mirth and in battle,

To the lake locally called Windermere

One day long before the darkening of Camelot.

The fenced fiercely on the fells together

And sang sweetly in the valleys below,

Wending their way downward to the lake Windermere.

A beautiful woman, brightly adorned, came begging,

‘Good lords,’ said the lass, ‘Please come save us.’

‘Pray,’ said Arthur, ‘What problems have thee, pretty maiden?’

‘My father has fought the beast, but has foundered.

His steel was not quick enough to kill the creature.’

‘Come, Cousin,’ said Gawain, ‘let us kill the craven

Monster. Many needs such as these must we knights

Undertake.’ ‘Tis true!’ cried Arthur ‘Tell us where

The beast takes it board and bed and we shall banish it.’

Thus the knights went forth following the Lady.

Down the fells they followed her right to the Lake.

‘Here haunts the beast of hell,’ said she pointing to the Water.

At the edge they spied a sword and shield but no man to whom they belonged.

They saw no sign of knight nor serpent.

Arthur then did declaim, ‘I will dive into the deep,

And seek out this serpent and will draw it forth.

Then you and I, Gawain, with our God’s protection,

Will defeat the beast and free the region.’

Gawain tried to dissuade his dear Cousin and King,

But Arthur had disrobed and dove his sword at his side.

Gawain prayed God would protect his noble and good servant.

Long it seemed they waited by the Lake, Gawain and the Lady.

Suddenly splashing forth out of the water came the Serpent.

Arthur was at its side attacking with his sword Excalibur.

Gawain drew his axe and gave the beast gruesome wounds.

Together the two cousins triumphed over the Serpent.

Its corpse they carried to the craggy shore.

The whole village welcomed the virtuous knights,

And they were fairly feasted for their fierce might.

It is said the serpent had spawned ere it died

And that its sons and daughters can be seen this day.

With Arthur, Gawain, and their ilk gone, Who

Will discover and defeat them for us, none can say.

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley

The Return of Arthur: A Conversation with John Milbank and C. S. Lewis

David Russell Mosley

 king_arthur_4
13 February 2014
On the Edge of Elfland
Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Since reading John Milbank’s latest book (which I’ve reviewed here), I’ve had King Arthur on the brain. You see, Milbank argues that kingship––by this he means a kind of monarchic rule that takes into account the one (monarchy), the few [oligarchy/aristocracy, and the many (democracy)––has a role that is simultaneously above and below that of the priest. This is because the priest is looking after our souls but the king looks after us now as we are and is a foreshadowing of how we will be in the life to come. In the course of this conversation Milbank then makes the provocative claim ‘If Christ is to return, then so too is Arthur.’ That is, kingship has a kind of christological and eschatological bent toward it (which is to say it is a picture of Christ’s dual roles as priest and king, and it foreshadows his return). Here is the passage in full to give you some context for my ruminations:

18849402

‘The tension therefore between priest and king is still more complex than theology has always allowed, and more genuine to the entire nature of Christianity than is usually recognised. The Christological conundrum of kingship means that the king is, for here and now, insofar as he is concerned with natural matters, ‘above’ the priestly function. But as regards matters pertaining to the ultimate welfare of our soul, the king is subordinate to the priest. Yet in a third sense the latter’s role is penultimate, not ultimate. As regards human‘spirit’, the whole person and the ultimate resurrection of the whole person, soul and body, the king and the concerns of kingship are symbolically more ultimate, since they are a remote foreshadowing of the eschaton. If Christ is to return, then so too is Arthur, so also Charlemagne, Frederick II and King Sebastian of Portugal (lost in battle against the Moors and one day to return to shore from the sea, where he is rumoured to wander over the waves)’ (Beyond Secular Order, 250).

The return of Arthur is something rather deep-seated in British mythology (I find it very interesting that the Portuguese have a similar notion about one of their kings). The notion of Arthur’s return begins with Geoffrey of Monmouth (a twelfth-century British priest) and his History of the Kings of Britain. Arthur-Pyle_King_Arthur_of_BritainIn the book, Geoffrey claims that Arthur was taken to Avallon after his final battle with his bastard son Mordred and was healed, he writes ‘And even the renowned king Arthur himself was mortally wounded; and being carried thence to the isle of Avallon to be cured of his wounds, he gave up the crown of Britain to his kinsman Constantine, the son of Cador, duke of Cornwall, in the five hundred and forty-second year of our Lord’s incarnation’ (History of the Kings of Britain, Chapter II). Later, in his Life of Merlin, Taliesin suggests to Merlin that they send for Arthur to come help repel the Saxons. However, Merlin says no for he foresees that God has allowed the Saxons to come and for the Britons to lose their nobility. This, however, only suggests that Arthur still lives, not that he will return. William of Malmesbury, a contemporary of Geoffrey goes a step further in his Chronicle of the Kings of England, ‘The sepulchre of Arthur is no where to be seen, when ancient ballads fable is still to come.’

I give you all of this background to say this, we find ourselves today in need of Arthur. I recently gave a sermon at St Nicholas’ Church here in Nottingham, wherein I suggested that today we find ourselves in a struggle between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world. I couched this in terms I stole from C. S. Lewis; it is a struggle between Britain and Logres. Logres (or Llogres, or numerous other spellings) was the name for Arthur’s kingdom (Camelot was more of a capital city). I want to give the quote from Lewis’s That Hideous Strength I used in my sermon:

‘“It all began,” he [Dr Dimble] said, “when we discovered that the Arthurian story is mostly true history. There was a moment in the Sixth Century when something that is always trying to break through into this country nearly succeeded. Logres was our name for it––it will do as well as another. And then … gradually we began to see all English history in a new way. We discovered the haunting.”

‘“What haunting?” asked Camilla.

‘“How something we may call Britain is always haunted by something we may call Logres. Haven’t you noticed that we are two countries? After every Arthur, a Mordred; behind ever Milton, a Cromwell: a nation of poets, a nation of shopkeepers: the home of Sidney––and of Cecil Rhodes. Is it any wonder they call us hypocrites? But what they mistake for hypocrisy is really the struggle between Logres and Britain.”

….

‘“It was long afterwards,” he said, “after the Director had returned from the Third Heaven, that we were told a little more. This haunting turned out to be not only from the other side of the invisible wall. Ransom was summoned to the bedside of an old man then dying in Cumberland. His name would mean nothing to you if I told it. That man was the Pendragon, the successor of Arthur and Uther and Cassibelaun. Then we learned the truth. There has been a secret Logres in the very heart of Britain all these years: an unbroken succession of Pendragons. That old man was the seventy-eighth from Arthur: our Director received from him the office and the blessings; tomorrow we shall know, or tonight, who is to be the eightieth. Some of the Pendragons are well known to history, though not under that name. Others you have never heard of. But in every age they and the little Logres which gathered around them have been the fingers which gave the tiny shove or the almost imperceptible pull, to prod England out of the drunken sleep or to draw her back from the final outrage into which Britain tempted her.”

….

‘“So that, meanwhile, is England,” said Mother Dimble. “Just this swaying to and fro between Logres and Britain?”

‘“Yes,” said her husband. “Don’t you feel it? The very quality of England. If we’ve got an ass’s head, it is by walking in a fairy wood. We’ve heard something better than we can do, but can’t quite forget it … can’t you see it in everything English––a kind of awkward grace, a humble, humorous incompleteness? How right Sam Weller was when he called Mr. Pickwick an angel in gaiters! Everything here is either better or worse than––”

‘“Dimble!” said Ransom….

‘“You’re right, Sir,” he said with a smile. “I was forgetting what you have warned me always to remember. This haunting is no peculiarity of ours. Every people has its own haunter. There’s no special privilege for England––no nonsense about a chosen nation. We speak about Logres because it is our haunting, the one we know about.”

‘“Aye,” said MacPhee, “and it could be right good history without mentioning you and me or most of those present. I’d be greatly obliged if anyone would tell me what we have don––always apart from feeding pigs and raising some very decent vegetables.”

‘“You have done what is required of you,” said the Director. “You have obeyed and waited. It will often happen like that. As one of the modern authors has told us, the altar must often be built in one place in order that the fire from heaven may descend somewhere else. But don’t jump to conclusions. You may have plenty of work to do before a month is passed. Britain has lost the battle, but she will rise again”’ (That Hideous Strength, 367-8).

Sometimes I think this is something easier to talk about in the context of Britain but with Americans, but that is another issue for another day. What I really want to say is that as we struggle to help Logres win, it will often look like we’ve done very little. kingarthur350After all, what made Logres itself so great is not the battles Arthur fought and won, it was the way life was lived in Logres. It was the feasting and celebrating that made Logres great. It was the virtue of his knights that made them great. It was the peace that ruled in the land. It was the dedication of everything that they did to the Lord.

At heart, I am an idealist. I believe in the incredible (literally, the unbelievable). I believe in Logres, which is to say that I believe in the kingdom of Heaven and I want to work to start the process of bringing it about before the return of Christ.

If Milbank is right and the return of Christ is the return of Arthur, or even if Arthur’s return is to come first, then I say with C. S. Lewis in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, ‘the sooner the better.’

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley