Insight from the Inklings

Photo by David Jakab on

Sometimes, Middle-earth and Perelandra don’t seem so far away! Over the weekend, my friend Kyle mentioned returning to Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and McCullough’s John Adams for inspiration. They spoke to him of enduring hardship to build a better future. At the same time, I’ve been revisiting The Lord of the Rings films with my children. We hold to the “read the book first, then watch the film” philosophy as best as possible. Now that my daughter has finished the trilogy, we’ve set aside weekends to watch the extended versions of each film. Couple that with my first read through Lewis’s That Hideous Strength (of The Space Trilogy), and you have more deepening places than one can explore in a year! (And I’ve been thinking of the timely relevance of L’Engle’s A Swiftly Tilting Planet these days too. Can we heal the past to prevent the end of the world?)

At the end of The Two Towers, things look rather grim for Frodo and Sam. They haven’t been involved in the thrilling overthrow of Isengard with Merry and Pippin and a host of ents, nor the stunning arrival of Gandalf at first light on the fifth day to save Helm’s Deep. They are being led away from a crumbling Osgiliath having narrowly escaped a Nazgul, with treacherous Gollum as their guide. Frodo nearly kills Sam in a fit of rage, and then comes this:

“I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy. How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad happened. But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something. Even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didn’t. Because they were holding on to something.”

“What are we holding on to, Sam?”

“That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.”

From The Two Towers, Screenplay by Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens

I’m not so ignorant as to believe that those spearheading many of the violent riots in America have this altruistic hope in mind when they light up Wendy’s restaurants and spread anarchy in a well-funded, coordinated effort. They seem more like Sauron’s orcs ravaging the earth in a sick quest for power. But I hold with Sam, not because I’m some hopeless optimist. I can hardly read a newspaper headline without succumbing to despair. But then I remember…I know the end of the story. It is finished.

At the same time, Lewis’s That Hideous Strength also rattled a peaceful Sunday afternoon of reading on my front porch. I am new to the novel, having completed the first two books of The Space Trilogy in the past year. After a slow start (one should NOT try reading That Hideous Strength just before going to bed; it’s a powerful sedative for me), I came across chapter six. I’m sure I’ll better see the parallels to our time after I complete the novel, but I can already see how the NICE has infiltrated our world systems, as is being confirmed in reports almost daily. This particular passage (slightly reduced for this post – you’ll just have to read the book!) feels oddly familiar:

“What are we talking about?” said Mark.

“The disturbances at Edgestow,” answered Feverstone.

“Oh. . . . Are they becoming serious?”

“They’re going to become serious, sonny,” said the Fairy. “And that’s the point. The real riot was timed for next week. All this little stuff was only meant to prepare the ground. But it’s been going on too well, damn it. The balloon will have to go up to-morrow, or the day after at latest.”

“You mean you’ve engineered the disturbances?” said Mark.

“That’s a crude way of putting it,” said Feverstone.

“It makes no difference,” said Filostrato. “This is how things have to be managed.”

“Quite,” said Miss Hardcastle. “It’s always done. Anyone who knows police work will tell you. And as I say, the real thing-the big riot-must take place within the next forty-eight hours. In the meantime, you and I have to get busy about the account of the riot.”

“But-what’s it all for?”

“Emergency regulations,” said Feverstone. “You’ll never get the powers we want at Edgestow until the Government declares that a state of emergency exists there.”

“Exactly,” said Filostrato. “It is folly to talk of peaceful revolutions. Not that the canaglia would always resist- often they have to be prodded into it-but until there is the disturbance, the firing, the barricades-no one gets powers to act effectively.”

“And the stuff must be all ready to appear in the papers the very day after the riot,” said Miss Hardcastle. “That means it must be handed in to the D.D. by six tomorrow morning.”

“But how are we to write it tonight if the thing doesn’t happen till tomorrow?”

Everyone burst out laughing.

“You’ll never manage publicity that way, Mark,” said Feverstone.

From Chapter Six of That Hideous Strength by C. S. Lewis

Much could be said on this passage, but I have to admit, I still have quite a few pages to read in the novel, and we still have quite a few days ahead of us before the truth finally gets sifted out from all the chaff blowing about in the wind. But it will settle out, whether we like it or not. I believe it was Ben Shapiro who said it best: “Facts don’t care about your feelings.” If the facts show that you have cancer or gangrene, it doesn’t matter if you don’t like the facts, if they offend you, or if they don’t line up with your worldview. There’s no path to recovery, no healing until you face the facts. But this is all just fiction, right?

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