Hugeness

One of my favorite things to do these days is to go on a long hike in the mountains with Sophia and listen to either That Hideous Strength or Till We Have Faces on my iPhone, my two favorite C.S. Lewis books. I especially love That Hideous Strength these days –  I come back to it again and again. I think people don’t like it as much because its so different from the first two books of the Space Trilogy, but on its own its such a great story. I love the way both Mark and Jane experience redemption in the book. Mark’s greatest fear is exclusion from “the inner circle,” and Jane’s greatest fear is being “taken in” by some external party – throughout the events of the novel, both sort of come to their senses and in the most beautiful way see their need for salvation. Though the main point of the book seems to be a social warning, as in The Abolition of Man, what I love most about it is Lewis’ psychological insight and his literary skill. It would be fun to do more research on it someday. Some things I’d like to explore are its relation to the Tower of Babel story in Genesis 11, the influence of Charles Williams on the book, the role of the Merlin story in the overall plot, Lewis’ views on gender complementarity in this and Perelandra, and how its dystopian “mood” (you can tell it was written in the thick of World War II) fit together with Lewis’ overall view of history.

This quotes comes right at the end of a conversation between Jane and Elwin Ransom. Its one of the crucial stages of the dismantling of Jane’s fierce independence and opposition any kind of submission.

At the same moment a new thought came into Jane’s mind; an odd one. She was thinking of hugeness. Or rather, she was not thinking of it. She was, in some strange fashion, experiencing it. Something intolerably big, something from Brobdingnag, was pressing on her, was approaching, was almost in the room. She felt herself shrinking, suffocated, emptied of all power and virtue. She darted a glance at the Director which was really a cry for help, and that glance, in some inexplicable way, revealed him as being, like herself, a very small object. The whole room was a tiny place, a mouse’s hole, and it seemed to her to be tilted aslant — as though the insupportable mass and splendour of this formless hugeness, in approaching, had knocked it askew.

….

During her homeward journey Jane was so divided that one might say there were three, if not four, Janes in the compartment. The first was a Jane simply receptive of the Director, recalling every word and every look, and delighting in them — a Jane taken utterly off her guard and swept away on the flood-tide of an experience which she could not control. For she was trying to control it; that was the function of the second Jane. This second Jane regarded the first with disgust, as the kind of woman whom she had always particularly despised. To have surrendered without terms at the mere voice and look of this stranger, to have abandoned that prim little grasp on her own destiny, that perpetual reservation … the thing was degrading, uncivilised.

The third Jane was a new and unexpected visitant. Risen from some unknown region of grace or heredity, it uttered things which Jane had often heard before but which had never seemed to be connected with real life. If it had told her that her feelings about the Director were wrong, she would not have been very surprised. But it did not. It blamed her for not having similar feelings about Mark. It was Mark who had made the fatal mistake; she must be “nice” to Mark. The Director insisted on it. At the moment when her mind was most filled with another man there arose a resolution to give Mark much more than she had ever given him before, and a feeling that in so doing she would be really giving it to the Director. And this produced such a confusion of sensations that the whole inner debate became indistinct and flowed over into the larger experience of the fourth Jane, who was Jane herself.

This fourth and supreme Jane was simply in the state of joy. The other three had no power upon her, for she was in the sphere of Jove, amid light and music and festal pomp, brimmed with life and radiant in health, jocund and clothed in shining garments. She reflected with surprise how long it was since music had played any part in her life, and resolved to listen to many chorales by Bach on the gramophone that evening. She rejoiced also in her hunger and thirst and decided that she would make herself buttered toast for tea — a great deal of buttered toast. And she rejoiced also in the consciousness of her own beauty; for she had the sensation — it may have been false in fact, but it had nothing to do with vanity — that it was growing and expanding like a magic flower with every minute that passed.”

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