2 January 2021

C S Lewis and H G Wells (2)

I rather agree with the judgement of Dorothy Sayers, that Hideous Strength is crammed full of goodies but has its shortcomings as a novel. Do the Powers at Belbury want Mark and Jane because of her clairvoyance, or his PR skills, or because they are a "eugenically interesting couple" [a view apparently shared by Merlin]? I am never quite sure, and I rather suspect that Lewis was not quite sure either. Some links are, I suggest, weak: would operatives of as violent and lawless an organisation as N.I.C.E. refrain from following Mark on his visit to Dimble inside his College simply because, like the Oxford Proctors, they were forbidden to function within colleges? 

The point, I believe, is that there are things about which Lewis feels lazy. His first motive is not to write a flawlessly plotted novel, but to teach dogma ... which is a very important thing to do. 

So consider his description of Jules's mental landscape:

" ... since, in fact, any science he knew was that taught him at the University of London over fifty years ago, and any philosophy he knew had been acquired from writers like Haeckel and Joseph McCabe and Winwood Reade, it was not, in fact, possible to talk to him about most of the things the Institute was really doing. One was always engaged in inventing answers to questions which were actually meaningless and expressing enthusiasm for ideas which were out of date and had been crude even in their prime."

 It is not usual to 'footnote' novels in this sort of way; but Lewis does it again when Professor Frost is giving Mark a tutorial on the non-existence of Good and Evil. 

"On what ground henceforth [are] actions to be justified or condemned?

"'If one insists on putting the question in those terms,' said Frost, 'I think Waddington has given the best answer. Existence is its own justification ... The judgment you are trying to make turns out on inspection to be simply an expression of emotion. Huxley himself, could only express it by using emotive terms such as "gladiatorial" or "ruthless". I am referring to the famous Romanes lecture. When the so-called struggle for existence is seen simply as an actuarial theorem, we have, in Waddington's words, a "a concept as unemotional as a definite integral" and emotion disappears. With it disappears that preposterous idea of an external standard of value which the emotion produced.'"

Lewis was not writing an entertainment half as much as he was condemning what was, he was convinced, a profoundly dangerous error. He felt strongly because doctrine is something about which a serious Christian ought to feel strongly.

The authorial narrative voice, I am sure, approves of Mark's reaction that "his present instinctive desire to batter the Professor's face into a jelly would take a good deal of destroying."

Lewis felt strongly!

Readers of Lewis's Space Trilogy sometimes feel that he must have derived some sort of stimulus or inspiration from, or experienced sympathy with, Wells's Scifi writings. My own feeling is very different.

Wells, like many Scifi writers, depicted a God-free amd Theology-free  imaginary world. By so doing they witnessed their own rigid post-Christian dogma that such God-nonsense was generically inappropriate in the Scifi world. Lewis wrote his Space Trilogy to assert that whatever 'other worlds' might exist or could be plausibly imagined, would be God's worlds, and spheres in which Christian Dogma was a thoroughy natural, indeed, unavoidable, inhabitant.


Oliver Nicholson said...

On then! Value means survival-
Value. If our progeny
Spreads and spawns and licks each rival,
That will prove its deity
(Far from pleasant, by our present,
Standards, though it may well be).

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

"It is not usual to 'footnote' novels in this sort of way;"

Depends on period and other variables determining style. Walter Scott seems to have done it more than once ...?

It's actually recent decades (including, I presume most of not just mine but even yourn years) that this came out of fashion ...