Saturday, April 26, 2008
Tuesday, April 08, 2008
That Hideous Strength
Book 3 of C.S. Lewis' Space Trilogy That Hideous Strength is the least Sci Fi of the the 3 books. Instead it's more of a Tolkien-like fantasy complete with references to Tolkien's Numinor. This was my favorite of the three books which is essentially the showdown between good and evil on planet Earth.
The side of good is headed by series protagonist Ransom. Since returning from Venus he has failed to visibly age (a la Richard Alpert) and he is gathering a small group of people about him including Jane who dreams the future, MacPhee, the skeptical man of science and Mr. and Mrs. Dimble, people with strong Christian faiths plus a couple of others.
These people form a sort of ka-tet, to borrow from Stephen King's Dark Tower series. [You can check out a full definition of ka-tet in this post.] Ransom describes this collective in this way:
"I am the Director," said Ransom, smiling. "Do you think I would claim the authority I do if the relation between us depended either on your choice or mine? You never chose me. I never chose you. Even the great Oyeresu whom I serve never chose me. I came into their worlds by what seemed, at first, a chance; as you came to me--as the very animals in this house first came to it. You and I have not started or devised this: it has descended on us--sucked us into itself, if you like. It is, no doubt, an organisation: but we are not the organisers. And that is why I have no authority to give any one of you permission to leave my household."
So a very LOST-like combination of people. They come from different walks of life, different classes, different educational backgrounds, etc. and are drawn together in a way they themselves would never have organized themselves by a higher power or powers to accomplish a world-saving feat.
Much of the main action of the book is driven by the attempt to reclaim the body of Merlin, Arthur's magician who is supposedly buried under a well in the woods owned by a small college in a small English town. There are several things in this storyline that are also alluded to in LOST. For example, it is believed that Merlin is a practitioner of Atlantean magic, that is, from the lost city of Atlantis. A lot of people have tried to link the LOST Island to Atlantis or other lost city mythologies.
There is also an emphasis on place as relates to this burial. "There is an old and wide-spread belief that locality itself is of importance in such matters." p. 198. The locality of the Island and whatever properties it possesses seems to be of supreme importance on LOST though recent developments in terms of the Island's reach may make this less important.
You should be asking at this point, but isn't Merlin dead? In fact both antagonists and protagonists in the book think that though Merlin has been buried for 1500 years, he is not in fact dead, just waiting to be released.
"That a body should lie uncorrupted for fifteen hundred years, did not seem strange to them; they knew worlds where there was no corruption at all. That its individual life should remain latent in it all that time, was to them no more strange: they had seen innumerable different modes in which soul and matter could be combined and separated, separated without loss of reciprocal influence, combined without true incarnation, fused so utterly as to be a third thing, or periodically brought together in a union as short, and as momentous, as the nuptial embrace. It was not as a marvel in natural philosophy, but as an information in time of war, that they brought the Director their tidings. Merlin had not died. His life had been hidden, sidetracked, moved out of our one-dimensioned time, for fifteen centuries. But under certain conditions it would return to his body."
So a type of eternal life is at play here, but also messing with the idea of time and the combining and re-combining of consciousness with one's physical body. Sounds a little like an invisible, silent man in a cabin in a jungle and a certain tennis shoe wearing doctor not to mention a dead rock star.
There's more messing with consciousness and the physical body with the character Wither. Wither is true leader of the antagonistic group in the book, a group named N.I.C.E., the National Institute for Coordinated Experiments, a kind of Dharma Initiative which combines many academic disciplines for the "good" of mankind. Wither is a character who at first appears to be an absent-minded professor of sorts, but one that seems often to be everywhere at once as a character Mark describes here.
"It may have been that Mark, both then and on the previous day, being overwrought, saw a hallucination of Wither where Wither was not. It may be that the continual appearance of Wither which at almost all hours haunted so many rooms and corridors of Belbury was (in one well verified sense of the world) a ghost--one of those sensory impressions which a strong personality in its last decay can imprint, most commonly after death but sometimes before it, on the very structure of a building, and which are removed not by exorcism buy by architectural alterations. Or it may, after all, be that souls who have lost the intellectual good do indeed receive in return, and for a short period, the vain privilege of thus reproducing themselves in many places as wraiths. At any rate the thing, whatever it was, vanished."
Later Wither himself tells us why he is the way he is. "[Wither] hardly ever slept. When it became absolutely necessary for him to do so, he took a drug, but the necessity was rare, for the mode of consciousness he experienced at most hours of day or night had long ceased to be exactly like what other men call waking. He had learned to withdraw most of his consciousness from the task of living, to conduct business, even, with only a quarter of his mind." p. 247 "[H]is inmost self was free to pursue its own life. That detachment of the spirit, not only from the senses, but even from the reason, which has been the goal of some mystics, was now his." p. 248
So Wither while maintaining his body also managed to detach his mind in a mystic way. I'm still waiting to see if Walt, Hurley, Jacob, Ben are doing something similar.
Another main character in the book is Mark, Jane's husband. Mark has been recruited by N.I.C.E., but unknown to him, not for his own contributions, but instead so he'll bring Jane who dreams the future to them. A case of using one family member to get to another. Something that might be happening with Walt and Michael and may even have happened with Ben and his dad.
At the opening of the story, Mark's main motivation in life is to assure his place in the Inner Circle of power in any group to which he belongs at the expense of any other values including the truth. But like many of our characters on LOST, Mark reaches a turning point in his life. He has a time of true soul searching and recognizes the bad choices he's made in his life. He's not sure what to do to redeem it at this point, but he does make at least that step toward redemption. Mark muses:
"What a fool--a blasted, babyish, gullible fool--he had been! . . . [H]ere was the world of plot within plot, crossing and double-crossing, of lies and graft and stabbing in the back, of murder and a contemptuous guffaw for the fool who lost the game[.]" p. 242 It takes him a while, but Mark is ultimately redeemed when he realizes: "For he now thought that with all his life-long eagerness to reach an inner circle he had chosen the wrong circle." p. 358
Some other odds and ends.
Merlin becomes a sort of prophet kind of like Season 3 Desmond. "[Merlin] said that before Christmas this bear would do the best deed that any bear had done in Britain except some other bear that none of us had ever heard of. He keeps on saying things like that. They just pop out when we're talking about something else, and in a rather different voice. As if he couldn't help it. He doesn't seem to know any more than the bit he tells you at the moment, if you see what I mean. As if something like a camera shutter opened at the back of his mind and closed again immediately and just one little item came through." pp. 279-80.
There's a Room 23 style conditioning room.
At one point Jane has a weird vision and discusses it with Ransom. Timewise the vision seemed like something out of the Renaissance. Ransom tells Jane, "And I daresay that the presence of Merlinus brings out certain things. We are not living exactly in the Twentieth Century as long as he's here. We overlap a bit; the focus is blurred." p. 311
Part of what prompted the antagonists to act at this time was their understanding that forces from beyond Earth were not permitted to act on Earth. Ironically, Weston and Devine's trip to Mars back in Book 1 is considered breaking that deal and therefore forces from the Universe are allowed to penetrate and act on Earth.
I wonder if this is some of what's happening on the Island. Has Ben broken a deal that is permitting Widmore to find the Island? Or was Ben's actions what allowed 815 to penetrate the Island? Is that the first invasion of sorts?
One final note, once Wither realizes he and his side have lost he reflects:
"It is incredible how little his knowledge moved him. It could not, because he had long ceased to believe in knowledge itself. What had been in his far-off youth a merely aesthetic repugnance to realities that were crude or vulgar, had deepened and darkened, year after year, into a fixed refusal of everything that was in any degree other than himself. He had passed from Hegel into Hume, then through Pragmatism, and then through Logical Positivism, and out a last into the complete void." p. 350
This is what I hope will not be LOST's ultimate outcome. After almost 4 years we still have yet to see what it is that Ben is fighting for in terms of the importance of the Island. Early on there were all the doomsday theories that the Island was a place to restart society when the rest of it destroys itself. There's the idea that something has to happen on the Island to prevent a doomsday. But as Season 4 progresses it seems that more and more Ben and his Others seem to be defending nothing more than Ben himself which leads us ultimately to the void.