That Hideous Strength by C.S Lewis (Pan Books 1983) pp.286-294
The death of Queen Elizabeth II in this last week leaves a huge gap in my life and in the lives of many of her subjects. Her long reign means that you have to be a few years older than 70 to remember any other monarch and I have not reached that age yet. She was Queen for the whole of my life. That is until Thursday 8th September 2022. During her reign she graced our lives with her presence being a constant amidst all the grime of power politics. She was just there, and now she is with us no longer. May she rest in peace. May light perpetual shine upon her.
Her passing led me to think about a reference to monarchy and its significance in That Hideous Strength by C.S Lewis, a book first published in 1945 and written during the Second World War. At a time in which most people were thinking about the war with Nazi Germany Lewis was pondering other things. I regard this work as prophetic. Its themes are being enacted even now and will, I think, be so throughout this century.
The scene that I have been thinking about is a discussion between Elwin Ransom, Director of the Community of St Anne, and Merlin who has just emerged from the earth in Bragdon Wood after long centuries there. Merlin has learned that Ransom is the Pendragon and his true lord and has knelt before him and now they are engaged in debate about what to do with the N.I.C.E, the institute that seeks to harness the hideous strength in order to achieve absolute power.
Merlin was last above the earth in a time in which the king, Arthur son of Uther Pendragon, was both Lord of Britain and of Logres. They were one and the same thing, but this is the case no longer. Ransom is the Pendragon, Lord of Logres, but has no power in Britain. There is a king who, as Merlin says, “sits in Windsor”, and at the time in which Lewis wrote was King George VI, but he has no power in the spiritual conflict in which both Ransom and Merlin are involved.
It is this question of power that lies at the heart of the debate. Merlin, who has lived in earth for centuries and is of the earth in a way that few, if any of us are, even though we all come from the earth, argues that the N.I.C.E can be overcome by the power of earth. “You will need my commerce with field and water” he says, speaking of his power as a wizard that once he offered to Arthur. He speaks of an enchanted world that can be reawakened just as it was long years before. It reminds us of the last chapters of Prince Caspian in which the enchanted world is indeed reawakened to overthrow a tyranny, chapters that are particular favourites of mine among the Chronicles of Narnia.
Ransom makes it clear to Merlin that they no longer live in the enchanted world that Merlin knew in the Age of Arthur and of Logres. Merlin is not permitted to awaken the spirit that lives in the earth. “It is in this age utterly unlawful.” But there is power and the power that will overcome the N.I.C.E is that of the angelic powers, the gods who rule the heavens. In Lewis’s mythical world they are named the Oyaresu. In Tolkien’s they are the Valar. They are the great archetypal powers who will break through into the ordinary world and throw down the tower that Nimrod builds in order to reach heaven.
In such a world, Lewis says, the king who sits at Windsor has no power, but he is still the king according to the order of Britain. He will be “crowned and anointed by the Archbishop” in Westminster Abbey in the coming year as every monarch has been in this land for a thousand years. The Britain over which he will reign is a weak and feeble thing compared to the land in which his mother became Queen in 1952. Winston Churchill was her first Prime Minister. The current holder of that office is a negligible figure by comparison. But Charles is the king and I will be the king’s man having sworn an oath to serve him as a clerk in holy orders in the Church Established, by law, in this land. I will pray for him that “he, knowing whose minister he is, may above all things” seek God’s honour and glory. But like Ransom I look for another power to overcome evil in this land. I look for the euchatastrophe, for a moment when by dint of their inevitable hubris, the dark powers will pull down Deep Heaven and so overthrow themselves. And perhaps there will yet come a time in which Logres and Britain are reunited. I pray that this time will come.
18 thoughts on ““The Saxon King of Yours, Who Sits at Windsor, Now. Is There No Help in Him?” Thoughts on the British Monarchy from “That Hideous Strength” by C.S Lewis on the Death of Queen Elizabeth II.”
Prophetic indeed! The name “www.nice.org.uk” resolves to a valid server
It is also the body in the UK that determines which medicines can be prescribed by the National Health Service. But, of course, despite a certain American scepticism regarding free healthcare the N.I.C.E refers to something much more sinister.
Reblogged this on A Pilgrim in Narnia and commented:
On Thursday, when I heard about Queen Elizabeth’s passing, I shared some brief thoughts with a longer essay about what C.S. Lewis called the “tragic splendour” of royal ceremony. Lewis was referring to a coronation–and, as Stephen Winter says, King Charles III “will be ‘crowned and anointed by the Archbishop’ in Westminster Abbey in the coming year as every monarch has been in this land for a thousand years.” There will be another liturgy too, a funeral, another sacramental moment. Lewis struggled to find the word for what he was describing. He tried awe, pity, pathos, mystery, and “the situation of humanity itself” to capture an image where monarchy symbolizes humanity’s role as vice-regents on earth, where we are set apart as high priests of creation.
I woke up this morning, made some coffee, and read Stephen Winter’s latest essay on “Wisdom from The Lord of the Rings.” I admire Stephen’s weekly reflections and I try not to miss them–even in busy periods (like now). Stephen and I met digitally as writers both interested in faith, culture, and the Inklings. Stephen is an Anglican priest with a title like “Rector of the Severn Parishes”–though I always miss his title a little bit, partly because in my mind there are seven churches in the Severn Parish, though I might be wrong on that point too. However, as we hiked the Malvern hills together–where Lewis went to school for a period–Stephen pointed out the River Severn and its valleys. If I remember rightly, he pointed to the River Monnow, which divides England and Wales, and something both Arthurian and Shakespearean stirred within me.
Hiking with Stephen was a bit of an experiment in trying to feel the landscapes and towns that are behind and within C.S. Lewis’ WWII-era science fiction (you can read about it in “What is the Significance of Worc(h)ester in C.S. Lewis’ Ransom Cycle?” and “An Old Pictorial Map of Central Oxford (Are There Links to C.S. Lewis’ Fiction?)”). And it was also just visiting, friendship, talk, and food. I got to visit one of Stephen’s churches at a propitious moment and meet his family. It was a great weekend.
So I thought of Stephen and his church–the Church of England, C.S. Lewis’ church–when the Queen passed on. My grandmother, a closet Anglican, was worried in the 1980s about Charles becoming king. King Charles III is also the head of the Church of England. I am pleased that Stephen took this week to step out of his Tolkien-specific space to reflect on being “the king’s man having sworn an oath to serve him as a clerk in holy orders in the Church Established,” Stephen thoughtfully links his conversation to Lewis’ prophetic dystopia that concludes the Ransom Cycle, That Hideous Strength. This essay is worth reading because of Stephen’s peculiar perspective on the throne. It is a good note about the relevance of the novel–and there is an Alan Lee painting I had never seen before, which is brilliant. Mostly, though, it is a perceptive comment about power. There is power, Stephen notes–and power to overcome–but that power does not lie where we might expect.
I hope you enjoy Stephen’s piece.
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Very interesting indeed, perhaps you might find this interesting too.
Thank you, Stephen.
Apologies for my somewhat garbled comment, written in haste because the electricity was about to go off. And this one will probably be equally garbled, because I cannot see what I’m writing, as it won’t display properly on this browser, which only shows me to top half of one line as I type. But other browsers won’t let me in, saying it is an unsecure connection. I’d really like to discuss this some more, though.
Hi Stephen. I would be delighted to discuss any issue that you would care to raise and look forward to hearing from you again soon.
A fascinating read, thank you.
Thank you for letting me know that you enjoyed it.
Hi from a voice long lost but I felt a call to look you up tonight. My condolences on the loss of the Queen. It’s a huge blow, too much to take in right away. God bless her and God bless Britain. Prayers for you all and our beloved country.
Namarie, God bless, Anne Marie, anglophile from across the pond. 🙂
So good to hear from you, Anne Marie! I have been thinking of people who have supported my blogging these last years as I begin to write about The Two Towers once again and so I have been thinking of you with much gratitude. How is your own work going?
I think that it will take some time for the loss of the Queen to sink in. She was so much at the heart of the fabric of this country’s life. In the next few years we will start to know to what extent our institutions are held together by the office of the monarch and how much by the person of Queen Elizabeth. Thank you for your prayers. God bless and keep you.
Sorry for late reply. So busy with work mainly. At long last, the first of epic fantasy series, has come out and I think you would much enjoy it, dealing with spiritual warfare, good and evil, and all that good stuff. https://books2read.com/b/mBoRPM – if you want to take a look, I would be honored, the ebook is very cheap. One review even compared reading it to reading LOTR for the first time! I think sometimes I should return to the Shire and all, being as we are in the great battle of our time in the present day, just as much as the end of the Third Age. Pray for America, pray for the world. We will outlast this darkness and defeat it!
Namarie, God bless, Anne Marie 🙂
Many thanks for letting me know about what you have been doing, Anne Marie. I look forward to reading it.
Im not sure we really grasp the connection to the Queen that a Britons would. I would like to say that her character and devotion to duty were inspiring. She represents good and decent things.
I am pondering that connection a lot at the moment. It has been particularly strong with both the Queen and her father, George VI. The war was very important in this. Many regard the events of 1940 as a modern founding myth of this country when France had fallen, Britain was being bombed and neither the United States nor the Soviet Union had entered the war against Germany. The King was very present at that time, staying in London even though Buckingham Palace had been bombed itself and his young daughter was by his side. This image is very real even now. And she was a part of our lives as Princess and Queen for all of our lives. My sister was the manager of a railway station at one time. The royal train arrived at the station and her little boy presented flowers to the Queen. My sister has the photograph in her home. I wonder just how many households have such a photo. And it really helps that our head of state isn’t elected by half of the population while being hated by the other half! The monarch really is a symbol of unity while the politicians get on with fighting each other.
Excellent piece of writing.
“That Hideous Strength” went deep into my subconscious. It’s a very powerful book. I think the real Pendragon unites the magics of Earth and Heaven (rather like the Tao in Chinese thought).
Beautifully expressed and I agree with you completely.