11 August 2016

The Dark Tower

When we remember, we are not simply getting the result of something that goes on inside our heads. We are directly experiencing the past.
- C.S. Lewis

This book has a story, even before you open the cover.

I love a book that has an amazing story in itself. It was rescued from a bonfire, literally. The handwritten manuscripts for these stories (and many other papers) were going to be burned by C.S. Lewis's brother Warnie after his death, in November 1963, because he was downsizing and throwing things away. Walter Hooper showed up at the Kilns (the home of C.S. Lewis) just in time to save all the papers and manuscripts from the bonfire that Warnie had going. Walter had to take all the papers right then and there, or they would be burned. Warnie would not wait another day. This entire book of stories, plus a huge suitcase full of manuscripts was carried (albeit quite difficultly) on the bus and then dragged by Walter back into Oxford where he was staying. It is because of his efforts then, and his further editing efforts, that I get to read these words today.

And these are words that stick with me. The images Lewis provokes in the reader is memorable to where I find myself pondering these things for a long time after reading a chapter. The first story in this book is "The Dark Tower", which is an unfinished story written to take place in between Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra. This story is so creepy. I am amazed how Lewis could write the character of evil so distinctly in a story (and in the characters) and the way it connects with our own modern world is simply astonishing.

A group of men use a new device, a chronoscope, to project onto a screen a live-feed of Othertime, a world that looked similar to ours, but was thought to be another time entirely. Past or future, the men debated. They watched scenes move around a building and inside it (the dark tower, as they dubbed it), which became the central focus of some very odd behavior by the people who lived there in Othertime. People acted very strange, like automatons, because of a disturbing ritual they take part in, in one of the rooms in the dark tower. Idol worship? Brainwashing (stinging?)? The men watch the Othertime, trying to figure out what this place is, when it is, and what it all means. They soon discover, disturbingly, that the dark tower is the same building they are currently in, in Cambridge. The worlds are the same, yet in different times, or are they?

Things get even stranger, when they see a man on the screen who looks exactly like one of them in the room, Scudamour. A duplicate. How can this be? The evil that they see on screen makes them shudder, but there is nothing they can do, except when Scudamour and his duplicate switch places, everything is thrown topsy turvy. Scudamour finds himself in Othertime, and the evil man is in our world. Scudamour witnesses the terror underpinning Otherworld firsthand, but then also begins to learn about that world, and how it is parallel in time and space to our world, and now the paths between the two are linked with the chronoscope, which is now broken.

This first draft of the book is incomplete. It actually ends mid-sentence. There were no more manuscripts found, and no end to the story has been written, but I am still entranced by C.S. Lewis's ability to write about the nature of evil and the human reactions to it. His space trilogy books (this one included) all do that, and they are simply fascinating and so full of thought-provoking truths mixed in with old myths and modern social and political issues. It is amazing how relevant all these stories are today. I am just sad this story was not completed, but it sure has my imagination going.

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