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Chapter 1 - part 3

The final book in Lewis' theological science fiction Space Trilogy.

Chapter 1 - part 3

Postby Kanakaberaka » 22 Sep 2008, 20:41

Synopsis : The narrator, presumably C.S. Lewis himself, gives his memorable account of his only visit to Bracton Wood. He states that it is a rare privilage to be allowed in. Then goes on to give a wonderful, detailed account of the trees and the mysterious, ancient well at it's center. He also gives an account of the history of this protected place, including several characters both real and ficticious. Before an hour is over he falls asleep and has to be woken up by the call of his friend.

Lewis makes Bracton Wood appear to be a character all by itself. He does not simply walk through it's gate. First he describes the gradual transition, starting at the college's entrance starting with the Newton Quadrangle. I wonder if this could be a pun, since Issac Newton's Theorem involves a quadrangle figure. It's described as dry and gravely in it's appearance. Lewis could be suggesting the cold comfort of scientific thought.

Next one must travel through a dark tunnel to get to Republic Quadrangle. It is more inviting there, with a chapel and memorials to Bractonians now gone. I wonder if the name "Republic" could be a reference to Plato's Republic. The dark entrance tunnel could be a reference to Plato's allegory of the cave. To me this suggests classical teaching as opposed to the scientific method from the first quadrangle.

Finally there is Lady Alice Quadrangle, which he describes thusly: "You are in a sweet Protestant world". It's has a very humble and comfortable down home feel to it. As for it's name, I have found a Francis J. Child ballad called Lady Alice. It's about a young woman who sees the corpse of her true love brought home. Then she declares that she herself will be a corpse. It's a rather morbid love poem. However I think Lewis might have been thinking of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Carroll's stories do have a familiar English feel to them.

Finally it's over the river Wynd by a covered bridge to the gate of the sheltered wood. Lewis notes that the gate to this magical place was designed by Inigo Jones. Jones was Britain's first notable architect. He lived from 1573 to 1652 and is known for introducing Italian Renaissance style to Gothic and Tudor England. What I find interesting is that it is this classicly styled gate that leads one through the wall built by Warden Shovel during the reign of Queen Elizabeth. Could Lewis be hinting that the ancients can open a gate in the wall of Puritanical thought?

The appearance of the widely spaced apart trees without underbrush, thanks to the hungry sheep no doubt, gives Bracton wood an unearthly feel. More like a garden than a forrest. This is not the only mention of such a place in Lewis' writing. Near the end of Chapter 1 of The Silver Chair Eustace and Jill find themselves in Aslan's country. Bracton Wood appears to be a smaller version of Aslan's true home. For example :
Jill saw that huge trees, rather like cedars but bigger, grew in every direction. But as they did not grow close together, and as there was no undergrowth, this did not prevent one from seeing a long way into the forest to the left and right.


Also there is the fact that while, as I have mentioned in part 2, Bracton was a real law scholar, the wood's original name of Bragdon is ficticious. Why did Lewis make this distinction? Maybe he wanted to give us the impression of real history with the mention of Henry de Bracton, but did not want to misinform us. So Lewis invented the name of Bragdon for the wood's real name.

At the center of this wood is the thing which seems to make it magical. Merlin's Well, which dates back to Roman times just before the Anglo-Saxon invasion of Britain in the mid-fith century. It was around this mysterious entrance to the underworld that much superstition arose. Lewis makes mention of the May Games, which were an ancient British custom revived after the time of Cromwell. These games involved a pagan welcoming of Spring time as well as a celebration of Robin Hood as a legendary character. It's no wonder Warden Shovel had this occult place walled in. Ironicly he only succeeded in preserving the well from the hands of curious visitors.

Lewis quotes a poet named Strabo to give us an idea of the age of Merlin's Well.
In Bragdon bricht this ende dai
Herde ich Merlin ther he lai
Singende woo and welawai.

Supposedly these lines are from Strabo's Balachthon. But the only Strabo I could find was Walafrid, a Frankish monk from 808-849 AD. And there is no such poem I could find related to him. Could it have something to do with the fact that for the ancient Romans "strabo" meant "squinty eyed"? I'm not sure myself.

There are other characters, some real, others ficticious, related to Bragdon Wood. The "saintly Richard Crowe" is apparently an invention of Lewis. His stand in favor of Merlin agaist Cromwell's Roundheads at the well added tragic drama to the place. Others such as Sir Kenelm Digby, the poet (William) Collins, and George III, whom we Americans revolted against are mentioned.

I found Sir Kenelm Digby to be of interest. He was a physicist, naval commander, and diplomat who lived from 1603 to 1665. He came from a Catholic family. In fact his father was part of the "Gunpowder Plot" against Parliament. It's a wonder that Sir Digby did not loose all his inheritance because of this. He went on to fight the French as a privateer in the Mediterranean Sea. There is also a famous book by Sir Digby entitled The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby Opened. So what's inside his closet? It's a collection of his favorite recipes! (I kid you not)

It's no wonder that after all these heavy thoughts on the legends and history surrounding such a place, the narrator falls asleep. It's only the call of his friend that awakens him to our mundane world.
Last edited by Kanakaberaka on 27 Sep 2008, 05:02, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Stanley Anderson » 22 Sep 2008, 22:11

Ah, one of my favorite sections of the book! Lot's to say about this section, and also lots I don't know what to say about this section -- ie, it is sort of like Till We Have Faces one of Lewis' best, but what I've described as a "hard diamond" in that it (TWHF) is such an "integrated" jewel, it is hard to take apart and find particular things to discuss about it. And this section of THS has a bit of that quality too. But not enough to hold me off!:-)

The first thing I note about it -- and one of the things I so love about it -- is how "out of place" it is. Lewis writes in the first person (though he does momentarily in other places too, but here the whole section is Lewis talking directly to the reader), and the whole other-worldly quality gives the reader the best hint thus far that the book might not be as "mundane" as it might seem for the first few chapters (in comparison to the fantasy-laden imagery of OotSP and Perelandra anyway). And curiously enough, like the description of the wood as a walled garden, this section, because of that odd "out of place" quality is very much like a walled garden itself, in the context of the structure of the book. As Lewis writes of the wood, "I suppose the mere fact of being walled in gave the Wood part of its peculiar quality, for when a thing is enclosed, the mind does not willingly regard it as common." This is indeed how this section, being "enclosed" from the rest of the book, strikes me.

K talks about the description of the journey into the garden and the various transitions one makes in getting there. I've mentioned in the (sadly incomplete) study of The Discarded Image that THS is, to me, very like a fictional version of TDI. And in this passage into the wood, I think, Lewis intentionally brings in, as mentioned in TDI, the four "contraries" -- hot, cold, moist, and dry ("raw" components which we find on earth only in combinations that comprise the well-known four elements -- ie, hot +dry = fire, hot + moist = air, cold + moist = water, cold + dry = earth). Thus we enter the Newton quadrangle as "dry", then the tunnel as "cool", then the Republic quantdragle as "moist", and finally to the Lady Alice quadrangle as "warm" (ie, "full daylight").

Perhaps this is a bit of a doubtful and fanciful supposition on my part. After all, the journey continues with the bridge and the Fellows bowling green, but I think the first parts before that do correspond nicely enough to the four contraries that one might say they are the raw portions that combine to create, or lead into, the "world" of the Wood. By the way in TDI Lewis does note that there were originally six contraries, "light" and "heavy" being the other two, and normally condensed to the four above, but light and heavy don't seem to fit in conveniently here (at least not in a cursory first-glance sort of way -- any thoughts about that though?).

This section has always evaded, for me, "classification" into the chessboard view as either part of the NICE/Belbury or St Annes "sides". I have said that except for the king-piece-like aspects of Ransom and Alcasan, the image of a chessboard was rather arbitrary -- that I could have used any "opposing images" game or situation to describe this view of the book. But here there is a bit more, I suppose, of specific chessboard imagery. Bragdon Wood is, if you will, really the "center" of the book, a place that both sides are interested in and striving for "control of". And as such, one might think of it much like the center portion of the chessboard that it is always of strategic advantage for either side to "occupy" or get control of.

And though this jumps ahead in the story a bit, we find that it is "surrounded" by the "lesser" parts of the two sides. What I mean by this is that neither Edgestow nor Bracton College seem to be "fully" part of either Belbury or St Annes. And yet, if we think of them sort of as the "pawns" in the game -- ie the lesser and less powerful, and yet not totally non-influential pieces of chess, they each provide their "play" into the struggle between Belbury and St. Annes. And indeed, we see, even in the chapter sections that "surround" the Wood section 3, that section 2 shows a bit of Edgestow -- the "pawns" of St. Annes if you will, and on the other side, section 4 (that we haven't gotten to yet), shows a bit of Bracton College, of which the fellows there can be thought of as "pawns" of the NICE/Belbury crowd.

Well, there's so much more I'd like to say about this section -- every sentence -- or even every phrase -- is like a sparkling jewel that one can gaze at. But I'd probably better end this post here. Perhaps more later.

--Stanley
…on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a fair green country under a swift sunrise.
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Postby a_hnau » 25 Sep 2008, 17:13

Perhaps clutching at straws here, but as the suffix -thon can mean just 'the text or narrative of', here is the only reference to balach I've been able to find is http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/balach.

[Edit: a more interesting lead is that chthon is the Greek word for 'earth, earthy, underground' - this is much more promising given that Merlin does in fact lie underground in Bragdon Wood. I'm still pursuing bala, but because it's a very simple CVCV morpheme, unfortunately it exists in a huge variety of languages. In Sanskrit and in general Indo-European, it translates as 'young', or also [short vowel instead of long] as 'strength' or 'power' - this is an interesting possibility.]

[Welsh 'bala' is 'the outflow of a lake' - possible link to Merlin's well, and the fact that 'the ground is too wet to build on']

[Wikipedia has this about Strabo: 'Strabo also mentions British kings who sent embassies to Augustus' (cites Strabo's Geography - of course 'geo' is 'earth' as is 'chthon' but I've not found any source which links the two words - the Geography is originally the 'Geographika'). So at least we have evidence that Strabo writes about Britain, even if only in passing.]

[In fact, the Geography has a whole book about Britain, tagged as Chapter V on the Perseus site at Tufts. I can't see anything obvious about Merlin in the English translation but there may be textual issues which mean an apparent reference in the original is lost in translation.]

[Strabo also wrote about druids, I haven't been able to track down an original source reference for this yet]
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Squinting at Merlin's Well

Postby Kanakaberaka » 27 Sep 2008, 04:59

a_hnau wrote:[Strabo also wrote about druids, I haven't been able to track down an original source reference for this yet]


Thanks for the further search on "Strabo", a_hnau. I too noticed an article about Morgan le Fay which quoted Strabo in reference to druids. I assumed it was the Fankish monk rather than the Greek philosopher from BC.
Does anyone know about "Morgan's Bread" which was also mentioned in this section of chapter 1? It sounds like a Pagan version of The Eucharist. But I'm not sure what Lewis was referring to.
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Re: Squinting at Merlin's Well

Postby a_hnau » 27 Sep 2008, 07:59

Kanakaberaka wrote:Does anyone know about "Morgan's Bread" which was also mentioned in this section of chapter 1? It sounds like a Pagan version of The Eucharist. But I'm not sure what Lewis was referring to.

Perhaps I'm guilty of a glib assumption, but I had - without thinking - linked this to Biblical references e.g. in Jeremiah to worship of Asherah by the women 'baking cakes to the queen of heaven'. Perhaps not so glib as it sounds, the general context in both cases is likely to be fertility, and worship of semi-personified nature deities.
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Re: Chapter 1 - part 3

Postby MrtreashHouse » 11 Oct 2009, 22:20

Its greyt! So interesting!
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Re: Chapter 1 - part 3

Postby Kanakaberaka » 12 Oct 2009, 17:20

Thank you MrtreashHouse for your comment. I want to contlinue my study of THS, but I need to have readers put in their own opinions about the book. So feel free to write your own feelings about this rather complex novel. The more input from readers the better.
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Re: Squinting at Merlin's Well

Postby Sven » 12 Oct 2009, 19:24

Kanakaberaka wrote:Does anyone know about "Morgan's Bread" which was also mentioned in this section of chapter 1? It sounds like a Pagan version of The Eucharist. But I'm not sure what Lewis was referring to.


Morgan's Bread is basically the same thing as Lammas (loaf-mass) Bread. The main physical difference was that Lammas bread was in the shape of a loaf, and Morgan's bread in the shape of the sun, or a human figure. Lammas is one of those Christian holidays (August 1st) that was co-opted from a earlier pagan holiday, in this case the Celtic holiday of Lughnasadh. Lughnasadh was a celebration of the wheat harvest and the first ripening of berries. One part of the celebration of the Christian holiday Lammas was with the baking of a loaf of bread from the first wheat harvested. Whether this was part of the Lughnasadh celebration or not isn't known for sure, but it was believed to be so by the neo-pagans, Wiccans, and such that were around at the time Lewis wrote THS. The name Morgan's bread came to be used by those Wiccans based on their considering Morgan le Fay to be a Christianized literary portrayal of the Celtic goddess associated with Lughnasadh, Morgen.
Rat! he found breath to whisper, shaking. Are you afraid?
Afraid? murmured the Rat, his eyes shining with unutterable love.
Afraid! Of Him? O, never, never! And yet -- and yet -- O, Mole, I am afraid!
Then the two animals, crouching to the earth, bowed their heads and did worship.
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Re: Chapter 1 - part 3

Postby jo » 04 Dec 2009, 21:25

Are we still doing this? I would love to contribute .. not sure how or where to start.
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Re: Chapter 1 - part 3

Postby Kanakaberaka » 05 Dec 2009, 05:56

jo wrote:Are we still doing this? I would love to contribute .. not sure how or where to start.


Yes I am Jo. Or at lest I shall after I finish a book review for an aspiring author friend of mine :ornament: .
Your contributions to this study would be most appreciated. Begin of course at chapter 1 part 1.

If I have the time I might post the next chapter study by Monday afternoon. Thank you for your interest and let others know about my THS study.
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Re: Chapter 1 - part 3

Postby jo » 06 Dec 2009, 19:53

hiya Jim :)

i need to get a new copy .. mine fell apart :D. But I will join in of course!
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Re: Chapter 1 - part 3

Postby a_hnau » 07 Dec 2009, 06:25

Hiya Jo - I was still watching this topic so got an email when you posted, thanks for giving a push - I practically live in THS, in my head anyway :read:
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Re: Chapter 1 - part 3

Postby jo » 07 Dec 2009, 19:15

It is wonderful isn't it? Much the best of the trilogy, to me :). I am happy to discuss any aspect of it that anyone wants.
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Re: Chapter 1 - part 3

Postby a_hnau » 07 Dec 2009, 19:42

Let's wait a bit and see what K comes back with. I've been working on my book on and off this year (the Cosmic Trilogy versus Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land) but more off than on. At this rate the Olympics will beat me to it. I might post some excerpts of the draft here, if you guys don't mind - I promise to give you credit for suggestions in the preface! :snow-wink:
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THS Chapter 5 - part 1 is posted

Postby Kanakaberaka » 07 Dec 2009, 20:33

a_hnau wrote:Let's wait a bit and see what K comes back with. I've been working on my book on and off this year (the Cosmic Trilogy versus Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land) but more off than on. At this rate the Olympics will beat me to it. I might post some excerpts of the draft here, if you guys don't mind - I promise to give you credit for suggestions in the preface! :snow-wink:


I just want to drop you a note that I have just posted part one of chapter five of THS. Feel free to join in. Your partisipation is greatly appreciated.


- Jim (Kanakaberaka) Kania
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