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Chapter 1 - part 4

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

Chapter 1 - part 4

Postby Kanakaberaka » 29 Sep 2008, 20:15

Synopsis : This section concerns a meeting of the college staff of Bracton in the Soler overlooking the Lady Alice Quadrangle. The goal of the progressive element, of which Mark now belongs, is to sell Bragdon Wood to the N.I.C.E. But instead of an honest and direct debate of the matter, Lord Feverstone and his cronies have constucted a deceptive sales pitch to convince everyone that there are not enough funds to maintain the wall around the wood and raise the stipends for the Juniour Fellows. By a happy coincidence the offer by the N.I.C.E to purchace and maintain Bragdon Wood is presented by Busby, the Bursar. After Lord Feverstone puts the last of the opposition in his place with some insulting remarks, the motion to sell the wood is carried.

The first paragraph is a brief description of the National Institute of Co-ordinated Experiments, or N.I.C.E. Acronyms were quite popular in Britain at the time Lewis wrote his novels. This particular acronym is meant to convey irony rather than simply shorten the organization's name. In fact it's full name really has no meaning. What sort of experiments does this national institute co-ordinate? In later chapters the scientists who carry on there appear to be a hodge podge of crackpots rather than a directed group of researchers. So the N.I.C.E. is simply a front for something sinister, in fact diabolic.

The meeting takes place in the Soler, as Lewis refers to the meeting room overlooking Lady Alice Quadrangle. The odd thing is that this sort of room should be spelt "solar", as a reference to sunlight. Was this a typo on Lewis' part? Maybe not. The name "Soler" is Greek for "Saviour". It is ironic that the only thing "saved" in this room are the stipends of the Junior Fellows, at the expense of the loss of Bragdon Wood the the N.I.C.E.

Most of this chapter is a blow by blow record of the sales pitch disguised as a meeting. Mark, being one of The Progressinve Element, is wise to the game that Curry, Busby, and Lord Feverstone are playing. So Mark is not surprised when Curry misrepresents a letter from concerned antiquarians as busy bodies interfering with college property. Curry does this with his voice inflection. It's not what you say it's the way you say it that generates emotion. Lord Feverstone feigns sympathy with the letters only to get an estimate of the cost of fixing the wall from Busby. Busby then suggests putting a barbed wire fence around the wood as a cost saving measure. Lewis certainly intended a horiffic vision reminiscent of World War One with this unacceptable alternative.
To make matters worst, the living allowance of the Junior Fellows in brought up next. And as in years past, there is not much money left to help them out. So these Fellows and their sympathisers, among whom is Mark, are put into conflict with the maintenance of Bragdon Wood. As one Junior Fellow says to another :
"That darn Wood has been in our way all morning," said one. "We're not out of it yet," answered another.

And so the sale of Bragdon Wood to the N.I.C.E. for a heafty sum is greeted by almost everyone present. But not by everyone at this meeting. First, Bragdon Wood is not ever refered to by it's name. It's simply refered to as the "sale of the area coloured pink on the plan..."
It's even pointed out that the N.I.C.E. only wants to buy part of the wood. That means all but a 16 foot strip of land.

A small opposition takes a stand, but is falsely accused by the Progressive Element of desiring a barbed wire fence installed. Finally only one old man remains against the sale, Canon Jewel. He is described as having white hair and a childlike face. But more importantly is the symbolism of his name and title. A Canon is a clergyman serving in a cathedral of collegiate church. The post must have dated back to the days when the Fellows prayed for the soul of Sir Henry de Bracton. But the "canon" is also a reference to the accepted works of literature, or even to the books of the Holy Bible. His last name, "Jewel" surely refers to his worth at the college. Rather than refute what this distinguished gentleman has to say about the preservation of Bragdon Wood, Lord Feverstone expresses his annoyance at Canon Jewel's voice being too low to hear, though he does it in a snarkily humorous manner. The old man is shown no deference by any of The Progressive Element, so the sale is approved. This illustrates the disregard Lord Feverstone has for what is known as natural law and how so many can be lulled into his camp by following what they see as their own self interest.
so it goes...
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Postby Stanley Anderson » 01 Oct 2008, 15:01

Not a whole lot to say about this section as far as large, sweeping ideas or the chessboard view (I already noted earlier the parallel of the college fellows and Edgestow citizens as being a kind of set of opposing pawns of the two sides). But here are a couple quick notes:

Near the beginning of the section we read:

Three years ago, if Mark Studdock had come to a College Meeting at which such a question was to be decided, he would have expected to hear the claims of sentiment against progress and beauty against utility openly debated. Today...he expected no such matter. He knew now that that was not the way things are done.

And indeed, as a direct illustration of this point, we see only a feeble and failed-almost-before-it-starts attempt at arguing "the claims of sentiment against progress and beauty against utility", first when "Canon Jewel was heard to say that he would sooner have every tree in the Wood felled to the ground than see it caged in barbed wire". The final nail was pounded into the coffin near the end of the section when the "Die-hards" tried to present their opposition to the sale of the wood.

The few real "Die-hards" present, to whom Bragdon Wood was almost a basic assumption of life, could hardly bring themselves to realize what was happening...When at last old Jewel, blind and shaky and almost weeping, rose to his feet, his voice was hardly audible....Lord Feverstone said in a very loud, clear voice:

"If Canon Jewel wishes us not to hear his views, I suggest that his end could be better attained by silence."

Jewel had been already and old man in the days before the first war when old men were treated with kindness, and he had never succeeded in getting used to the modern world. For a moment as he stood with his head thrust forward, people thought he was going to reply. Then quite suddenly he spread out his hands with a gesture of helplessness, shrunk back, and began laboriously to resume his chair.

The motion was carried.

In that last failed effort and shrinking back by Jewel, one can almost picture a scene of similar resignation of Jews rebelling in the face of Nazi soldiers, and finally realizing the futility of resisting only to be forced to walk resignedly to the trains that will carry them off to the camps...

Almost unbearable.

I'll also note a curious parallel image here with a similar one from Perelandra. The seemingly immense financial difficulties of the college have been portrayed by the Progressive Element and now the offer of the purchase of (most of) the wood by the NICE:

[Busby] refrained from offering any advice and merely mentioned the quite astonishing figure which the NICE was offereing. After that, the meeting became lively. The advantages of the sale discovered themselves one by one like ripe fruit dropping into the hand....

At the end of chapter three of Perelandra, Ransom has just experienced the intense joys of the floating islands and night has descended into utter blackness:

...But the darkness was warm. Sweet new scents came stealing out of it. The world had no size now. Its boundaries were the length and breadth of his own body and the little patch of soft fragrance which made his hammock, swaying ever more and more gently. Nigtht covered him like a blanket and kept all lonliness from him. The blackness might have been his own room. Sleep came like a fruit which falls into the hand almost before you have touched the stem.

My first thought was how different the situations were in which this image of dropping fruit is used -- one so sinister, and the other so lovely. But on second thought, I suppose they are not all that dissimilar. For we (if we were first time readers) do not yet know of the sininster purposes to which the NICE has wrangled to get the wood, so the sale should indeed seem like a perfect solution presenting itself to the "pawns" of the NICE. And as idyllic as the Perelandrean scene appears, we (if we have read the book before and know what is coming) can almost cringe at the gruelling trials that Ransom is to face in the near future.

…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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