Thursday, June 15, 2017

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain

Check another great book off my list! I love Mark Twain's irreverent sense of humor and his ability to poke fun at society and expose its hypocrisies. His characters are brilliantly drawn and the plots engage in twists and turns keeping you turning the pages. So I looked forward to A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court

He brings that same humor and irreverence to the sixth century in the form of an unnamed (?) man from Connecticut who finds himself mysteriously transported from the nineteenth to the sixth century. In this book, Twain's target is clearly the church. Perhaps that is the reason this book is not as popular as those that take aim at slavery or southern backwardness. Those topics clearly have more marketable appeal. Even so, he has written a funny and thoroughly enjoyable book. 

The story begins with the narrator, it seems to be Twain himself, in Warwick Castle looking at the relics. When he notices a suit of armor with a small, unexplained hole in it, a stranger approaches and answers the mystery. He put the hole there with a gun when he shot the knight wearing the armor. The stranger slips away, leaving the narrator to ponder this fantastic tidbit in his room while reading the latest best-seller, King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table by Sir Thomas Mallory. Inexplicably, the stranger knocks on his door and begins to tell his tale. It starts with a blow to the head during a fight. Fortunately for the narrator, the Yankee has written up his tale for posterity. He leaves it in the hands of our narrator to peruse.

Our man wakes up in a field and is shortly confronted by a knight. He tries to explain the situation by thinking himself caught up in the middle of a reenactment. Taken prisoner by the warrior, the Yankee is dragged off to Camelot. It is beginning to dawn on him that he may, in fact, be in the sixth century. Using his expansive knowledge, he remembers an eclipse that should be taking place on June 6th. This will tell him definitively when he is. Meanwhile, he proceeds as if he is probably back in time when he hears the Merlin describe for apparently the infinite time, the story of King Arthur and sword. 

Eventually his case is brought forward by the knight, who lavishly embellishes it, and King Arthur sentences the Yankee to death for the crime of being odd. Zinger number one to the church. They fear and repress all that challenges the status quo and their orthodoxy. 

But being a man of science, he sees he can easily take advantageous of these superstitious people. He will use his knowledge of the coming eclipse to prove himself a sorcerer more powerful than Merlin. In a dramatic fashion, with the unwitting help of a page he has befriended, Clarence, the Yank turns the sun black moments before his scheduled execution and promises not to restore it unless he is pardoned. This works like a charm, and he is freed and made a powerful minister in the court. Of course he is now fully convinced he has traveled back in time.

Obviously, one miracle demands another. Again, using his scientific knowledge, he arranges to blow up the tower in which he has been holding Merlin. He spares the ancient sorcerer, but his triumph seals his position. As he settles in however, he sees how the monarchy, nobility, and church leaders are respect more than he. He has no title. Finally they settle on calling him The Boss. This suits him wonderfully. 

Taking his time to get lay of the land, The Boss decides what they need is a patent office and a newspaper. He enlists his trusty aid, Clarence in his endeavors. Together they will drag the sixth century into modernity. But an ill-timed word during a joust puts him in the ill graces of Sir Sacramore. Challenged to a duel, the Yankee begs for time to prepare. Fortunately Sir Sacramore is about to go off on a three-year trek to find the Holy Grail. The Boss and Clarence use this time to begin building a modern infrastructure, hidden from the public for now. 

Unfortunately, his plans are interrupted when he is forced to go on a quest with a damsel in distress to rescue forty-four of her fellow princesses trapped in a castle by evil ogres. His astonishment at their gullibility is matched only by their belief in her story. He cannot shake the primitive lack of reason and common sense. So off he goes, covered head to toe with suffocating armor and a chatty young woman as his guide. 

His first encounter on the road is with a group of ostensibly called "freemen." He cannot possibly see how they can call themselves free when almost all their earning are reserved for lords and the church. One man seems responsive to his thinking and the Yankee sends him off to rendezvous with Clarence and ask for entrance into the "man-factory." This is a school he has started to rid the country of superstition and implement logic and a scientific way of thinking. 

He next encounters a group of knights, who, like all good knights, immediately challenge him. Fortunately he has discovered the harrowing power of pipe smoke. If he fills his mouth with smoke and then breathes it out through his helmet, the benighted ancients will fall to their knees in submission. Sure enough, it works. His girl, whom he calls Sandy, works out a deal with the knights. They, too, will report to Clarence and pledge their life-long fealty to The Boss. 

They continue on the long and winding road to nowhere with Sandy's constant chatter of knight errantry. Each drawn-out tale begins, proceeds, and ends in exactly the same manner. The Yankee is losing his mind with the monotony. Unfortunately, poor Sandy cannot understand his modern words of contempt and feels stupid faced with his superior intellect. 

They next run into the castle of King Arthur's evil sister, Morgan la Faye. She is a diviner herself and at a slight insult has them sentenced to her dungeon. But Sandy saves the day when she reveals the man to be none other than The Boss, himself. His reputation leaves Morgan in a state of panic and she declares she was joking of course. She throws him a ball instead. After securing her confidence, he tours her dungeons. The poor prisoners languish insensitive of time or their surroundings. He makes an executive decision to free them all. She cannot say much to this. As a final bow to justice, he moves the official torturer to the position of musician knowing la Faye kills those musicians who displease her. And off he goes on the road again. 

Suddenly, Sandy declares they have reached the long-awaited, unknown destination when they arrive at a common pig sty. The "princesses" wallow in the mud and the "ogres" are nearby pig herders. When the Yankee questions his companion, he is told there is clearly an enchantment taking place. Surreptitiously paying the farmers for their animals, they lead the ladies off to a place of refuge. Sandy calls on the first homestead they encounter and waits on her sisters hand and foot. Unclear of how to proceed, The Boss asks what will happen. Sandy assures him that the "princesses" relations will come to retrieve them as soon as possible. Relieved of the responsibility, the Yankee leaves the charges to the owner of the home and the set off back for Camelot. Thinking he will be at last done with his interminable companion, Sandy assures him she would never leave him until he is defeated by another knight.Then she would be obliged to join the victor. This is not likely to happen.

On their journey homeward, they meet up with a band of pilgrims making a trip to the Valley of Holiness. The story has it that the oath of the monks never to bathe has engendered the blessing of God and their well miraculously flows. However, some inadvertent sin seems to have caused the well to run dry again. The Connecticut Yankee is intrigued and decides to journey to this valley to see if he can be of service. He is pretty sure he knows the problem and sends word to Clarence to provide him the necessary supplies. While stalling for time, he allows that Merlin must have the first shot. Professional courtesy. Meanwhile, he visits the settlement and sees the hermits and monks and their ridiculous ways of earning God's favor. In his contempt for their superstitions, he plans a miracle of all miracles to show that science and reason are the way to go. Finally the day arrives. He patches up the broken well under cover of darkness and works out an elaborate system involving pumps, hoses, and fireworks. When the crowd gathers, he repeats the magic incantation, lights of the fiery display and opens the valves. The waters flood the town and he is even further elevated in the eyes of the people. In addition, he has the added benefit of convincing the monks and hermits to bathe. This is another way he believes will undermine the authority of the church. 

While spending some additional time in the valley, he discovers that his telephone operators have already been there. He is able to get the news of King Arthur's trip to see the miracle waters. When a rival magician shows up at the monastery claiming to be able to see in real time the actions of rulers all over the world, The Boss challenges him to a magical duel. Each must predict what King Arthur is doing and whether or not he will show up at the monastery in a matter of days. Of course the Yankee's technological advantage wins the day and the rival is banished. 

Upon his return to Camelot, The Boss discovers that while Arthur has put his plan into action to develop a standing army, he only allows nobles to fill the role of officers. Thinking he can prove those he has trained at his man factory much more suited to the job, he is humiliated when his well-taught recruits are still rejected. So he forms a parallel army with his hand-picked men in charge. Realizing he can't beat them, through as system of incentives, he combines his desire to get rid of the "royal grant," money bequeathed from the national treasury to those of royal blood, to staffing the military. The nobles will now work for their money. 

On the festive day of the "King's Evil" when the king lays hands on the sick and sends them off with a nickel (an advent of a new monetary system created by the Yank), a young newsie shouts the day's headlines. The Connecticut Yankee has started a newspaper. The illiterate masses are fascinated with this development, if somewhat confused. This is yet another stab at a church The Boss feels benefits from an illiterate congregation. He wants to give the people motivation to learn to read. At first it is only yellow journalism that strikes the fancy of the writers and editors, and he is ashamed the he once found this entertaining, but The Boss is confident they will improve their reporting. 

With all his plans coming to glorious fruition, the Yankee believes it is time to venture off into the countryside, disguised as a peasant, in order to truly understand the culture. Unfortunately, King Arthur, too, thinks this would be fun and insists on joining him. The royally-raised monarch has a difficult time maintaining the illusion and winds up getting them involved in a duel. The Boss is forced to use his one allotment of dynamite to escape the danger. 

They finally arrive at a tiny hut. Here small pox has taken its toll. They hear the heart-breaking story of the troubles of the family and the ways in which taxes and the church further impoverished them. But Arthur, raised to believe in the righteousness of the status quo, cannot be persuaded to rethink any of the policies. Later, when they discover the only three remaining members of that family have escaped prison and inadvertently set a house on fire, the king, rather than reacting in a merciful manner, demands law and order. 

Once they settle into the town, the Yankee becomes very disturbed with the pretended nobility of the middle class. He decides to throw a lavish party with eventually shames the upper crust townsfolk. In desperately trying to then reason with them about the benefits of another, more modern system, he inadvertently causes them to feel threatened. They react by seeking to imprison the both for their strangeness. The king appears mad to them and they believe The Boss to be a huckster. 

Eventually the pair are captured and sold as slaves. Despite their dire predicament, The Boss continues to hope the king will see the reality of their detrimental system. As they tramp through the countryside, they see story after story of injustice, but Arthur is impervious to it all. In a moment of desperation, the Yankee escapes his bonds with a plan to free all their fellow slaves. But he is quickly recaptured. In the meanwhile, his ranting have caused the other slaves to rise up and kill the slave master. All are now in dire straits with death hanging over them. In desperation, The Boss puts in a call to the palace. Eventually they are rescued, worse for wear and King Arthur is no further enlightened. 

The Yankee settles back into courtly life. Sir Sacramore has returned, empty-handed, and demands satisfaction. Fortunately the ill-equipped Yankee has a lasso at his disposal. His miraculous weapon astonishes the crowd, and challenger after challenger enters the arena. Finally, letting his arrogance get the best of him, he challenges every knight to take him on. When Merlin steals the lasso, the Yankee must resort to his final weapon, his pistol. This overwhelming advantage quickly destroys the knighthood and dueling as an institution. 

The Connecticut Yankee now sees his opportunity to fully modernize the ancient world. He reveals all his factories and various inventions. He marries Sandy, declaring her to be a wonderful wife and mother. He introduces baseball to contain the competitive spirit of the nobility and settles into a good life. 

Yet tragedy soon invades. His daughter, Hello-Central, falls ill. He and Sandy take the child to France for the restorative sea air. While away, the church finds its legs and reassert its authority. It imposes an interdiction on all things modern. Curious as to why their supply ship never returned, The Boss heads back to England on his own. 

Clarence alone has had to deal with the crushing blow. He has taken the precaution of booby-trapping all their factories and outposts. King Arthur, the last to realize Queen Guinevere's infidelity, is killed in a battle over her. Having no heir, the Yankee seizes the long-awaited opportunity to lead a revolution and declare a Republic. Unfortunately the church's power and the power of superstition is too great. The country will not join The Boss and his small group of factory-trained men. But through Clarence's foresight, the battle will be devastating and they will destroy the country and the nobility on their way out. 

In trying to graciously help the wounded, The Boss is grievously wounded and taken into custody. A postscript by Clarence describes the incantations read over him by Merlin, putting the Yankee to sleep for thirteen hundred years. 

And so he awoke, wrote his story down, and eventually went mad over his loss of wife and child. 

I think Twain's purpose is to show the overwhelming power of an authoritative and backwards church. His overarching theme is the destruction and injustice caused by its primitiveness and irrationality. He certainly succeeds in making the church out to be insatiable, stupid, and relentless in its quest for power. However, I believe it falls flat. He provides funny and notable caricatures, but not real, live human beings. True humans are unrecognizable as all are forced to conform to the will of the author. The people act so superstitiously and irrationally, one wonders how they managed to survive at all. If a life-giving well dries up and all you have is magic to fix it, how do you form any kind of lasting society? And yet this is the nascent bud of Western Civilization. Somehow, they managed to give us limited government, Magna Carta, trial by jury, free speech, due process, capitalism, and habeaus corpus. It's a little like ridiculing the engineers that got the United States to the moon. You might be able to do if we didn't know how the story ends. But we do. So by setting his modern criticisms in an ancient time, I think Twain fails to make his case.  

But it is funny!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave Written by Himself

The short book Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave Written by Himself bears power far beyond its size. Frederick Douglass makes a compelling indictment of slavery, but more than that, he is relevant for us today because we can forget how hard others have had it. Clearly Americans cannot forget the legacy of slavery, but I find the real value in this book is inducing a heart of gratitude. None of us Americans finds himself in this position. We no longer need to make the case to end slavery in America. But we each need to be given a glimpse outside ourselves to be able to step back and appreciate the many blessings we live under today.

He begins by telling the reader that he doesn't know his exact age or who is father is. The assumption is that is father was his mother's master. As a very young infant, he is separated from his mother. While she makes valiant attempts to remain in his life, she dies shortly of an illness and he is an orphan. He is cared for by the other slaves and it didn't take long before he is exposed to the horrors of slavery. He sees his fellow slaves whipped bloody at a very early age.

While around 7 or 8, he is sent to the main house of his master, Colonel Edward Lloyd. He recounts the haunting songs sung by the slaves. Of this he comments, "I have often been utterly astonished, since I came to the north, to find persons who could speak of the singing, among sales, as evidence of their contentment and happiness. It is impossible to conceive of a greater mistake. Slaves sing most when they are most unhappy. The songs of the slave represent the sorrows of his heart..." (p. 32) Colonel Lloyd is a harsh master. His plantation provides myriad temptations to the slaves, fruit trees bursting with food while a starving slave must pass by, yet the slightest infraction is met with the whip. He terrorizes the keepers of his horses, blaming them for every complaint, real or imagined that he perceives. Once, he met one of his own slaves upon the road. Not recognizing his master, the slave proceeds to honestly answer the questions as to the harshness of his master. A severe beating soon convinced all the slave to never answer questions about their circumstances honestly.

And in case anyone was likely to think the slaves' lives were at least protected, Douglass puts that idea to rest. He details several examples of cold-blooded murder of the slaves for minor infractions. As a slave cannot be called to witness in court, these murders would never be called to account by a racist criminal justice system.

After a short time at Colonel Lloyd's home, Douglass is sent to Baltimore to the Colonel's son-in-law's brother, Mr. Hugh Auld. This is a brief time of reprieve for the battered boy. As Frederick cares for their son, Mrs. Auld only knows to treat him as a fellow human being. She even begins to teach him how to read. Mr. Auld soon disabuses her of that notion. "It would forever unfit him to be a slave." (p. 49) In discussing how dangerous it is to teach a slave to read, Douglass sees a shining gate to dignity. Knowing how much the whites fear a literate slave, Douglass knows he must learn to read. He must unfit himself for slavery. Her eventual descent into cruelty provides Douglass with an example of how slavery denigrates the masters as well.

While her lessons ended and he is strictly forbidden any reading material, Frederick Douglass works to teach himself. He would take any opportunity he could to practice his skills. He often tricked the younger boys to teach him by challenging them to a reading or spelling duel. However, he found, true to Mr. Auld's word, it made him deeply unhappy and unfit for servitude. He began to think and thinking is a dangerous pastime for a slave. He began to reason and philosophize about his condition and the immorality of it became even clearer.

Upon Colonel Lloyd's death, the slaves are divided up among the inheritors. Douglass fears for his future; he is doing well in Baltimore. Fortunately, he is allowed to stay. But not for long. Because of a falling out between Thomas Auld, Douglass' owner and his brother Hugh Auld, Douglass current residence, Frederick is taken back and forced to join Captain Thomas Auld's family. Auld is a cruel master and Frederick has learned to think for himself. This dangerous combination gets Douglass sent to Mr. Covey, a man known for his skill in breaking slaves.

Sure enough Mr. Covey's harsh discipline breaks Douglass, but not completely. He is almost killed by Covey. One day, he has had enough and he turns on him master, almost killing him. The resulting stand-off leads to a much less harsh environment for Douglass. The renown slave broker cannot turn Douglass into the law for fear of damaging his reputation, but neither can he risk another deadly confrontation.

After the proscribed year, Frederick is sent to live with Mr. Freeman, who hired him to work his farm. Mr. Freeman was a fair and descent master, but being relieved of the daily struggle to survive allowed Douglass to plot an escape. Unfortunately he and his compatriots were caught. This caused him to be sent back to Baltimore and Mr. Hugh Auld. Shortly thereafter, Douglass was hired out to a ship builder, Mr. William Gardner. There he learned a trade, but his money went to his master. He was severely beaten by the white workers. When telling his tale to Mr. Auld and the authorities, it is made clear that there will be no justice.

After recovering from his wounds by the ministering hand of Mrs. Auld, he is again hired out as a ship builder. This is a much better situation, but ironically, like his time at Mr. Freeman's, his better conditions do not lead to contentment, but a desire to escape. Douglass reflects on this truth. "When in Mr. Gardner's employment, I was kept in such a perpetual whirl of excitement, I could think of nothing, scarcely, but my life; and in thinking of my life, I almost forgot my liberty. I have observed this in my experience of slavery, —that whenever my condition was improved, instead of its increasing my contentment, it only increased my desire to be free, and set me to thinking of plans to gain my freedom. I have found that, to make a contented slave, it is necessary to make a thoughtless one. It is necessary to darken his moral and mental vision, and, as far as possible, to annihilate the power of reason." (p. 104)

Douglass finally makes up his mind to escape for good. He cannot detail the method because of the need to protect his abettors. But he ends up in New York utterly alone, penniless, homeless, jobless, and scared to death of being discovered. The loneliness and anxiety only lasted three days before a fellow abolitionist discovers him and sets him up in safety in New Haven. Douglass is astonished at the wealth to be had by those who didn't own slaves. He had always assumed that only slave owners were wealthy. He also sees that these people are far more educated and cultured than even the most ostentatious slave owner. He marries and delights in hard work and earned happiness. After three years of freedom, he is asked to speak at an abolitionist meeting. Then he is asked to write this book.

As a postscript, Douglass fears his words damning the Christianity as practiced in the South will be take as a general denunciation of Christianity. He is a fervent Christian himself, but he makes a powerful argument that the Christianity as practiced by the majority of Americans, is a counterfeit Christianity. He likens them to the Pharisees of Jesus' day. His harsh words are a salve to me as Christianity has been condemned for aiding and abetting American slavery. Douglass makes the powerful case that those who did were NOT Christians.

I simply cannot imagine living the life Frederick Douglass describes. I do not even want to pretend I can try. His life is so far removed from mine and just about everyone else in America. I wish more students would read this book and see what it is like to be truly marginalized and victimized.

Friday, June 2, 2017

That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis explores some fascinating ideas in what is rapidly becoming my favorite book, The Abolition of Man. He takes those ideas and puts them into fictional form in his Space Trilogy, specifically the third book, That Hideous Strength. He calls this "a modern-day fairy tale for grown-ups." It certainly offered a cautionary tale of life gone awry when subjectivism is taken to its logical extreme. He puts words of wisdom and foolery in the mouths of his characters in order to flesh out the ideas he promulgated in The Abolition of Man.

The book begins with Jane Studdock, musing upon the purpose of marriage and reflecting on the rare time she had stepped into a church as an adult, her wedding day. Her marriage is clearly growing apart and she recognizes that she and her scholar husband, Mark, are living separate lives. Meanwhile Mark is relishing his new-found position in the middle of a powerful Inner Ring of Progressives. He is a research fellow at Bracton College, in the University of Edgestow. He is ambitious and knows he is pursuing a life apart from his wife, but he is unconcerned. Mark's mentor and patron, Feverstone, talks to him of a possible position opening up with N.I.C.E., a sort of NGO/think tank that takes as its mission the remaking of mankind. In describing the allure, Feverstone postulates, "Man has got to take charge of Man. That means, remember, that some men have got to take charge of the rest--which is another reason for cashing in on it as soon as one can. You and I want to be the people who do the taking charge, not the ones who are taken charge of. Quite." (p. 40) The university board votes to allow N.I.C.E. to purchase a piece of hallowed ground on the property, Bragdon Wood, in order to build a new research facility over the hostile opposition of the town. 

Meanwhile, Jane has been experiencing horrific nightmares which lead her to feel deeply unsettled and a little crazy. They are so real and seem to be either prophetic or a glimpse into events unfolding in real time. But her materialistic and rational brain rejects both premises. She runs into some trusted and kind friends who are very interested in her troubles. They refer her to their friend, Miss Ironwood, in the village of St. Anne's, saying only she can help. While her train speeds towards the mysterious encounter, her husband and Feverstone head to N.I.C.E. in Belbury to see what they have to offer. 

At N.I.C.E. Mark is met by the nominal head, Withers, who has a very difficult time making any kind of definitive statements. Although Mark is told that the real head is "the fairy", he is confused as to the managerial structure. He also cannot seem to get a clear version of what it is exactly he is being asked to do at N.I.C.E. At one point, he is met with an Edgestow colleague, Highet, who is disenchanted with his work at the institute claiming they misrepresented what he would be doing. It is not the actual science he was promised, but social engineering. He is determined to leave that evening. Meanwhile, Jane discusses her issues with the odd Miss Ironwood, who seems to have known she was coming. Miss Ironwood speaks in apocalyptic terms and refers to "Us vs. Them" which leaves Jane very uncomfortable. Miss Ironwood tells her that the dreams are real events which Jane is witnessing in real time. All of this leaves Jane worse off and more confused than when she first arrived and she hurries to get home. 

While Mark is staying in Belbury trying to determine whether or not he actually is being offered a job, Jane has another dream, of a brutal roadside murder. Eventually it becomes clear that she witnessed the destruction of Highet when he attempted to leave N.I.C.E. After endless double-talk and misdirection, Mark is invited to write a report on the benefits of the destruction of the town of Cure Hardy. As Mark tours the town and is reminded of his own Aunt Gilly, he recognizes the backwardness and anachronisms the N.I.C.E. is determined to destroy. But even as he is experiencing some ambivalence, his training as a sociologist has him trapped. "For his education had the curious effect of making things that he read and wrote more real to him than things he saw. Statistics about agricultural laborers were the substance; any real ditcher, ploughman, or farmer's boy, was the shadow. Though he  had never noticed it himself, he had a great reluctance, in his work, ever to use such words as "man" or "woman." He preferred to write about "vocational groups," "elements," "classes" and "populations"; for in his own way, he believed as firmly as any mystic in the superior reality of the things that are not seen." (p. 85) When they finally are home together, Mark and Jane pretend all is fine and nothing out of the ordinary is concerning either one of them. Meanwhile, N.I.C.E. has begun its extremely noisy and disruptive construction on the college grounds.

Although he thought he was "in" at N.I.C.E., Mark is back to being confused. Withers is the master of obfuscation. In regards to Mark's inability to figure out what he is supposed to do and why Brocton College is convinced he has quit his position there, Withers tells him, "We are, as I have said before,  are more like a family, or even, perhaps, like a single personality. There must be no question of 'taking your orders,' as you (rather unfortunately) suggest, from some specified official and consider yourself free to adopt an intransigent attitude to your other colleagues. That is not the spirit in which I would wish you to approach your duties. Your must make yourself useful, Mr. Studdock -- generally useful." (p. 117) Everyone in any position of authority seems contradictory and increasingly, threatening. Mark has met "the fairy," the totalitarian female head of security. At one point even Feverstone implicitly threatens him if he doesn't shape up and stop asking questions. Jane meets with her friends, the Denniston's, again to tell them of her experience with Miss Ironwood. They are excited and reveal that she is the "seer" they have been looking for. They invite her to join their group and pledge her allegiance to the mysterious Mr. Fisher-King. This is so unlike the wavering and incoherent Withers. Back in Belbury, Mark is asked to swallow any conscience he has left and begin to write newspaper articles, dictated by N.I.C.E. He writes these in order to spin events N.I.C.E. is going to orchestrate, starting with a riot in Edgestow over the construction. "This was the first thing Mark had been asked to do which he himself, before he did it, clearly knew to be criminal. But the moment of his consent almost escaped his notice; certainly, there was no struggle, no sense of turning a corner." (p. 127) "And anyway, if he didn't do it, someone else would." (p. 132) He is able to justify his descent into darkness.

Jane is also disoriented and while out shopping one day, she sees a man who has been tormenting her in her dreams, Frost. Panicked, she hurries to St. Anne's where she finally meets the mysterious Mr. Fisher-King, the Director. The ageless man captivates her, but will not allow her to commit to him without the approval of her husband. Her modern feminist sensibilities, which have been troubling her since the beginning, are revolted at such a thought. She tries to explain that her marriage is dying anyways. But the Director will not hear of it. He frankly doesn't care about her ideas of marriage, stating the his master's ideas are the only ones that matter. He cautions her that she has lost love because she never attempted obedience. That word, "obedience" grates on her, but pulls at a heart that knows the truth of the statement. Upon returning to Edgestow, intent on having an honest discussion with her husband, she is accosted by the rioters, arrested by "the fairy," Miss Hardcastle, tortured and ultimately escapes. She returns immediately to St. Anne's. 

Like the Director, Mark's overlords desire his wife to be part of this new life. He immediately demurs saying this is not the world she would be comfortable in. "He would have found it impossible to conduct in her hearing any one of the hundred conversations which his life at Belbury involved. Her mere presence would have made all the laughter of the Inner Ring sound metallic, unreal; and what he now regarded as common prudence would seem to her, and through her to himself, mere flattery, back-biting and toad-eating. Jane in the middle of Belbury would turn the whole of Belbury into a vast vulgarity, flashy and yet furtive." (p. 168) Seeing N.I.C.E. through the eyes of his wife is uncomfortably illuminating. His faux pas is quickly seen for the disaster it is when Withers turns very cold and angry towards him. In order to fully ingratiate Mark and therefore the possibility of his wife, his colleague, Filostrato, who dreams of a perfectly sanitized world, takes Mark to meet "the head." Literally it is the disembodied, human head of a convicted felon, Alcasan. He is hooked up to life-mimicking devices and consulted for his wisdom from beyond. Mark is duly horrified, and realizes his error in not immediately offering to bring Jane. He now understands the danger he is in. While he is feeling less and less connected to his surroundings, Jane is settling in comfortably with the group at St. Anne's, meeting each inhabitant, including Mr. Bultitude, a bear.

The narrator takes this opportunity to comment on Mark, "It must be remembered that in Mark's mind hardly one rag of noble thought, either Christian or Pagan, had a secure lodging. His education had been neither scientific nor classical -- merely 'Modern.' The severities both of abstraction and of high human tradition had passed him by: and he had neither peasant shrewdness nor aristocratic honour to help him. He was a man of straw, a glib examinee in subjects that require no exact knowledge and the first hint of a real threat to his bodily life knocked him sprawling." (p. 182) 

Mark desires to see Jane, but is not allowed to leave the premises. The danger he is in is more than apparent and he realizes he must escape. Jane has also been taken into the confidence of the Director. He describes a world of the supernatural involving angelic beings called eldils who exist in both good and bad forms. He talks of life on other planets and a Master he answers to. He also fills her in on the plan both he and N.I.C.E. have of digging up and restoring to life the ancient magician Merlin at the construction site of Edgestow. They are in a race to see who discovers him first and is able to convert him to the cause. 

Mark finally manages to escape and returns to Edgestow. As he comes to terms with the horrors that he helped create, he runs into a fellow scholar, one he knows opposes N.I.C.E. Talking to him reveals just how low he has sunk. He is able to see himself through the disappointed eyes of the man and rushes out, turning to alcohol, his most trusted companion. Eventually, he is caught and arrested for the murder of Highet. N.I.C.E. has manufactured evidence and he is sure to hang for the murder. Meanwhile, both sides are out at the Wood searching for Merlin. Jane's team thinks they see him, but discover it is only a vagrant.

While Mark languishes in jail, he is visited by Frost, the man haunting the dreams of his wife. Unlike Withers, Frost is crystal clear in his pronouncements. And they do not bode well for Mark. He tells of the Macrobes, heavenly beings directing humanity and history itself. He paints a picture of a world in which the Macrobes and the particularly enlightened humans will rule together. Of course Mark can choose to be part of this next phase of history or he can be destroyed. After Frost leaves, Mark has an experience in which he comes face to face with Truth. Realizing his own utter helplessness, despite his well-condition response that he was master of his own fate, he resigns himself to doing all he can to join Jane and do what he intrinsically knows to be right. However, Belbury is suddenly interrupted with the news that Merlin has been found. 

Back in St. Anne's an intimidating stranger shows up and makes his presence known in the house. The Director is finally able to convince the stranger, that he, the Director, also known as Ransom, is the Pendragon. At this news, the real Merlin falls to his knees. They join forces knowing the enemy has made a fatal mistake. He has bridged the heavenly gap that separates the truly evil eldils from man and has brought deep heaven down on his head. 

Mark is given the job of watching over the imposter "Merlin" and discovers him to be just a vagrant. But he keeps the secret and this bit of rebellion allows him to resist the brain-washing conditioning Frost is subjecting him to. Jane is beginning to understand the religious aspect to all she is experiencing and is able to let down her materialistic defenses and give herself up to it. 

The 'gods" (angels) come to visit the house at St. Anne's, giving Merlin great power. Merlin responds to an ad asking for an interpreter to work for N.I.C.E. Apparently they believe "Merlin" speaks an unknown ancient tongue. While there, Merlin is given a tour with Withers as his guide. The supreme figurehead, Jules, arrives and a feast is thrown to honor his presence. But soon, the dining hall is thrown into deadly chaos. Merlin's presence has unleashed destruction and the evil handlers are all too willing to destroy their own creation. When Wither realizes that the gap has been breached, his subjectivistic mentality leaves him unable to respond. "It is incredible how little this 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, thence through pragmatism, and thence through Logical Positivism, and out at last into the complete void. The indicative mood now corresponded to no thought that his mind could entertain. He had willed with  his whole heart that there should be no reality and no truth, and now even the imminence of his own ruin could not wake him." (p. 350) The "head," now revealed to be nothing more than a conduit to the evil supernatural world, leads those who turn to him for respite to gruesome murder as Withers is compelled to kill and in turn be killed himself. Even Frost is so removed from objectivity reality that he willingly kills himself, unable to see why he should not. Feverstone flees to Edgestow, only to be swallowed up by the convulsing earth set about to destroy the entire place.

At the house in St. Anne's the women prepare for a banquet of their own. Mark has escaped and is staying at a nearby inn, thinking about who he is, what he has become, and what an amazing woman he married. After dinner, Ransom tells those gathered that it is time for him to go. He has done what he came to do. Jane learns the story of the Pendragons going back to King Arthur. Britain has always had competing forces of good and evil and in each generation a Pendragon has been given the job of preserving the good. When they lament the wholesale destruction of Edgestow, one of their own puts it into perspective, "Was there a single doctrine practiced at Belbury which hadn't been preached by some lecturer at Edgestow? Of, of course, they never thought any one would act on their theories! No one was more astonished than they when what they'd been talking of for years suddenly took on reality. But it was their own child coming back to them: grown up and unrecognizable, but their own." (p. 269) 

Into these musings, Mark approaches determined to free Jane of a man such as himself. But the Director has other plans. He arranges for them to meet in a romantic hideaway on the property at St. Anne's. While Mark reflects upon his unworthiness, Jane walks towards the cabin with fresh thoughts of sacrifice, children, pain and death. She recognizes the suffering Mark has endured. She feels hope for a new beginning... and walks in.

I really liked this book. It might have been a bit helpful to have read the first two in this trilogy, but it was not really necessary. I should probably read it again and reflect on all that Lewis is trying to convey. I can see his connection to The Abolition of Man in the thinking of those of N.I.C.E. They have taken the subjectivism he warns of to its logical extreme. They eschew all ability to actually know anything and live in a world of upside-down confusion. All they are sure of is that it is they who must rule. For what purpose and to what end is unknown. All has devolved into a raw grab for power. This is what Lewis predicted when he said our desire to make our own truth simply becomes an attempt to exercise power over others. While the story is far-fetched and involves extra-terrestrial beings, the possibility of intellectuals taking their theories to heart remains viable.