Saturday, September 26, 2009

I'm in Wheaton > Rockford > Harvard > Delavan

So, my research trip to Wheaton ended about five o'clock on Friday, after which, having said my goodbyes to the Good People there, I drove over to Rockford -- taking the back way, through Sycamore and St. Charles -- where in due course I was reunited with Janice. Hooray! After some good visits in Rockford (last night) and Harvard (this afternoon), we're now in Delavan. More later on our visit here to a town where we once lived for three years. We did drive by and saw that the house where we lived is still here, although from the long low dumpster parked in the drive that seemed to be filled with house innards it looks to be undergoing a major renovation inside (long overdue). So, unlike three of the most important places to me that I've ever lived (the house at Monticello, the house in Magnolia, and Janice's apartment on the lower East Side in Milwaukee), it's still there.

It was a great research trip; one of those pieces of pure research where you're gathering information on a topic of great interest to you or from a major source you haven't had a chance to examine in depth before, without being aware ahead of time of what you might find or what use you might ultimately put it to. I gained a lot of insight into Warnie's character and his situation during his final years, and a lot about CSL's compositional habits I hadn't known before (by transcribing the first four chapters of THE DARK TOWER manuscript).

For now, this in-depth immersion in the unfinished story has led me to five questions to which I do not know the answers.

(1) Lewis specifies that the name 'Dark Tower' comes from Browning -- i.e., the famous poem CHILD ROLAND TO THE DARK TOWER CAME (one of Browning's masterpieces and a favorite of mine, which I have on tape masterfully read by James Mason). So do further Browning analogies underlie Lewis's piece? And how might they affect our interpretation of Lewis's story?

(2) 'Lewis', the narrator, says he and MacPhee have agreed to not describe the face on the idol in the Stingman's chamber in the Dark Tower because people reading the work would be able to recognize it. What is he getting at here? Whose face is it -- a contemporary figure like Hitler or Stalin, or some English politician or scientist Lewis particularly disliked, whom the escaped Stingerman in our world would seek out and make contact with? Or a historical figure like Napoleon (it can't be someone from much further back, because most people could recognize Alexander or Caesar or anyone from antiquity)? If we're meant to be able to guess his identify from what Lewis says, I confess I'm utterly unable to do so.

(3) The very fact that MacPhee has discussed this with Lewis after the fact, after the events in the story are over, shows that the Scotsman survives the adventure. We also know that Scudamour survives his adventure in the Othertime, since he's able to report back to Lewis et al about what happened to him (the basis of Chapters V thr VII). With EDWIN DROOD we at least have some illustrations from the unwritten sections of that work, but no outlines or notes survive telling us what would have happened in the missing portion of THE DARK TOWER (even if Lewis didn't have it planned out in detail he must have had some idea of where it was going, particularly what Biblical myth it would uncovere as a living reality). What other hints do we have about the conclusion of the work?

(4) The people of the Othertime live in an insect-ized society, with workers, soldiers, stingermen, and drones. The workers live in cells -- again, like bees. So why is there no Queen of the 'hive'? Why is their culture dominated by Stingermen? Lewis said that as a child his two greatest fears/phobias were of insects and domination by women: this seems an ideal chance to combine them both projected into one vision of horror. Perhaps (a) there is a Queen, and we just do not meet Her in the fragment we've got (i.e., that Lewis was saving this for a climactic revelation) or (b) he was going by pre-18th century beliefs about a King Bee, so that what was mere projection in our world cd be presented as fact in the Othertime.

(5) Why is 'Lewis', the narrator, not a character in THAT HIDEOUS STRENGTH? He's in OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET in the epilogue/final section, has an enlarged role in PERELANDRA in the opening pair of chapters (and again briefly at the end), is a major character in the first four chapters of THE DARK TOWER, and I don't think appears for even a page within the story of THAT HIDEOUS STRENGTH. Why the divergence, the departure of the pattern?

--John R.

1 comment:

David Bratman said...

The Company of St. Anne's in THS is the functional successor of the primary-world friends of Ransom (Lewis and Havard) in Perelandra. That is to say, they're his few companions who help him in his work and who know the secret history.

Leaving aside The Dark Tower, however, they have no connection in the sub-creation, and the first guess for an explanation for the change might be that it was one thing for Lewis to use real people in the sketchy roles of Perelandra, to lend artistic verisimilitude, but not in the highly personalized and individual characters of THS.

The Dark Tower, especially if as you've suggested it was written after THS, might be an attempt to bridge the gap, including as it does both Lewis and McPhee. I suppose the first-person narration might get over the hump of having a real person experience these events, but also perhaps not very far over it, which might be one of the reasons Lewis abandoned the story.