Tuesday, March 31, 2020

The First and the Last - 'That Hideous Strength' Unveiled (II)

Nicholas Roerich, Path to Kailas (1932)


The train pulled away from the platform and disappeared into a long, apparently endless tunnel. The Director and Jane sat facing each other in the brightly-lit carriage. She turned and looked out of the window, but there was nothing to see in the darkness save her own reflection - long black hair and jade-green eyes - staring back at her. The seats were long and designed for many more passengers, but as they were the only people on board there was plenty of space to stretch out and even, should they wish, recline.

The Director laid his orb gently down beside him on the seat's blue upholstery and Jane did the same with her circlet. She glanced up and saw that they were not in fact alone. Four men in brown uniforms were standing together by the doors further down the train. But they stood in watchful silence and paid no attention to the passengers. Then the Director spoke. 'Today,' he said, 'you will meet two kings and see and understand the wider frame in which our current struggle has its place.'

'Where are we going?' asked Jane.

'To Mount Kailas, the holiest mountain in Tibet, possibly the world. Let me tell you the story.'

Jane sat back, folded her arms, and listened attentively.

'My name is Elwin Ransom. I am, as I said before, the Pendragon. I have been chosen - I don't know why - by the High Powers who watch over our land, to guard the country's soul, nurture her spiritual potential, and prepare for the day when this inner essence breaks through and Britain is reborn as a light unto the nations. There are portraits of all the Pendragons, as you have seen, in the great hall beneath St. Anne's-on-the-Hill. Some were English sovereigns too - Alfred, Harold, Charles - but most have been - and are in my case - unknown to history.

'It is a lineage of great renown, stretching back to Joseph of Arimathea, who brought both Christianity and the Holy Grail to these shores. The Grail was removed to Sarras, the sacred city, fourteen hundred years ago, but the Powers have told me that, if God's will be done, it will come again in eighty years as a herald of Christ's return. But that, so far, has not been my main concern. My task, these past seven years, has been to watch and pray in the chapel of the stone beds we passed through earlier. That is where, until two October's ago, Arthur and his Companions slept their enchanted sleep. And I was the Pendragon called upon by Heaven to blow the Horn of Catraeth and break the spell.'

'Where are they now, Sir?'

'In a secret place, with the holy ones of this isle. They have much to remember, much to relearn, much to repent of. It will take a long time. Eighty years, as I say. That is why we are on this train today, just as my sister and I were twelve months ago. It is slow work, Mrs. Studdock. We cannot do it all at once, however much we might want to.'

The Director fell silent, and a solemn, brooding look came over his face like a cloud.

'But what has it to do with us?' probed Jane, leaning forward keenly, as if by coming closer to the Director she could understand him better.

'Nothing,' he replied, the cloud dispersing almost instantly. 'But it has everything to do with what we're bringing with us.' He pointed at the orb and the circlet. 'These are two of the four Royal Jewels of our island. The other two - the spear and the stone - are with Arthur now. I am - I was - their steward. I presented the spear to him on this very day - October the fourteenth - last year, while my sister, who has since departed this world, placed the stone beneath his feet.'

'Then why are we going to Tibet.'

'Because, before they can be handed to the deep King of Britain, they must first be blessed by the greatest king of all - God's vice-regent on Earth - the silent watcher, the still point, the secret overlord of the planet. He has many names. Some call him Melchizedeck, others the Chakravatin, others the King of the World. And you and I will receive his blessing too before we travel back to return the Jewels to Arthur. Then my work will be complete.'

'Are you the last Pendragon then?'

'No. There will be more - one or two maybe - but only until Arthur comes openly again. We will have served our purpose then. We prepared the way for his first coming, you see, from the time of Joseph onwards. Then we watched over the hidden springs of the land while he slept. Now Arthur has a second chance, and if he succeeds in raising up the Heavenly City in what will be a time of terror and woe, then he will take both the inner and the outer kingships unto himself. He will be sovereign over the visible and the invisible, and the stage will be set, as at his first advent, for the reappearance of the Grail and the return of Christ in glory.'

This was heady stuff, but what puzzled Jane most was her own role. Why had the Director brought her along? Why had he given her the circlet and not the stone? She was about to ask, but she felt suddenly weary and overwhelmed with it all and her head began to nod and soon she was fast asleep.

Ransom assured Jane afterwards that what followed was real and not a dream, but she could never be sure because what she remembered next was walking up a hill with the Director in a cold, mountainous country, not waking up on the train as she expected. She was wrapped in winter clothes - hat, scarf, coat, boots, gloves - none of which belonged to her. The Director was similarly clad. They were carrying their Jewels, and the men in brown uniforms were walking with them - two in front and two behind.

They pushed on, up the foothills of a snowy, powder-blue mountain towards an imposing edifice glowing pink in the first rays of the morning sun. They passed through the gates, continued across the courtyard and came to two gigantic doors, which swung open from the inside the moment the guards knocked. They were led along a wide, high-vaulted, stone-flagged corridor. The arched windows were aflame with stained glass images of angels, saints, and holy men and women, and the whole passage was bathed in a lavender glow cast by the dawn light streaming in through the glass.

It was a peaceful, soothing place. Jane wished the walk would go on forever. All stress and anxiety were banished from her mind. But the corridor ended at length and Jane gasped when she saw what it opened out onto - a vast cave of rock and stone, an indoor amphitheatre, with many people present and all eyes fastened on Jane and the Director.

The guards disappeared and melted into the crowd. Jane saw that the men and women gathered there were standing in the same watchful manner that she had observed in the guards on the train. Then she perceived that the men were standing on the left, and they were dressed in blue, and the women were standing on the right, and they were dressed in red. A path had been cleared between them for Jane and the Director to walk through and at the end, on a scarlet dais, was what Jane could only conceive of as a mighty presence sat on a throne of gold shot through with sapphire blue. She knew straightaway that this was the 'King of the World' Ransom had spoken of. She could not see his face, nor the outline of his body. He seemed to be made entirely of light - silver and white - yet there was warmth there too. As Jane came closer, she felt it more and more, until she was standing in front of him, the Director by her side.

Ransom bowed low, then placed the orb on the dais at the feet, as it were, of the great monarch. Jane, quivering with nerves and excitement, followed suit with the circlet. The King towered over both of them then, and in a swirl of light she saw tongues of silver fire hovering over the Jewels, then over Ransom's head, and then, most dreadfully and most wonderfully, over her own.

Jane closed her eyes and felt the light pour down. Peace and stillness rippled through her, but more than that, healing and redemption, and more than that again, knowledge of the pattern of the universe and her own part in it, her relationship with the planets - Mercury, Venus, Moon and Sun, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn - and beyond them the dance of the fixed stars, and past even that high point, the angelic intelligences who sustain the created order, the same Heavenly Powers, Jane realised, who hold authority over Ransom as Pendragon and the island of Britain as a land chosen by God for decisive events to unfold in.

Jane bowed her head and knew that from this moment on her true life - the life she was born to live - would begin. She was part of the pattern now, a participant in the Great Dance and a servant of the Silver Fire - a vessel and conduit for transformation and grace.

'Behold the handmaid of the Lord,' she said quietly. 'Be it done unto me according to thy word.'

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

The First and the Last - 'That Hideous Strength' Unveiled (I)

I heard this story from a monk who lives in a small community, whose humble house stands in the shadow of the mighty walls of Caenarfon Castle in North Wales. He didn't tell me anything about how he discovered the tale, only that what follows is 'what C.S. Lewis either forgot to include or deliberately left out.' 

The story is in three parts - Part 1 today, Part 2 on Wednesday April 1st, and Part 3 on Wednesday April 8th.


'The Director will see you now,' said Grace Ironwood. She held the door open as Jane walked in, then closed it softly behind her and left. Jane was alone with the Director. He stood up immediately and started to speak, but she was so taken aback by the power and grace emanating from him that she couldn't take in a word he was saying. He had a full golden beard, and shoulders and arms which looked strong enough to hold up the whole house. Then she saw that he had gone quiet and was waiting for her reply. 'I - I'm sorry, Sir,' she floundered. 'I didn't quite catch what you said.'

'I was saying, Mrs. Studdock, that these difficulties we are having with the Belbury people are not so important as we think.'

'But, Sir...'

The Director nodded. 'I know, I know. Your husband is their pawn and soon they hope to have the whole world likewise under their power. Hitler was the same. But I am the Pendragon, and I am compelled to take a longer view. As it was in the war which has just ended, so it is now, and so it will always be. Come now, let me show you.'

He walked across to a wall packed from floor to ceiling with books and pulled a pair of shelves apart, exposing an empty space lit faintly by a spark of orange light. 'Follow me,' he said, stepping forward into the half-light. Apprehensively, Jane obeyed. The Director pressed the orange light - a button, Jane saw - which turned to green as the shelves closed of their own accord and she felt the floor drop down beneath her. They were in a lift; rapidly descending. After a minute or so, it stopped. The Director punched the button with his thumb and the doors slid open.

Jane looked out onto something like a huge underground cathedral, with pillars and arches everywhere and a dazzling array of candles. The Director led her along a wide central aisle; and through these arches, as she walked, Jane saw richly-coloured mosaic portraits of crowned figures, both male and female, adorning the walls.

They came to a round chamber, its floor-space almost entirely taken up with beds fashioned out of grey stone. There were no bed-clothes as such, but each bed had its own carved pillow. Jane couldn't make head nor tail of it and stood there with her mouth open and her hands on her hips, trying to discern some kind of pattern. There was a bed in the centre, she observed, and the others seemed to radiate out from it like the spokes of a wheel. But the Director had kept on going, and had gone ahead of her into a smaller chamber. Jane caught the glimmer of candlelight on a rough stone altar and scrambled after him, ducking under the arch to catch up. Then she heard the unmistakeable sound of a train clattering past nearby. She gazed questioningly at the Director, who was heading back towards her, carrying two strange objects - a golden circlet in his left hand and a ball of green and blue crystal topped with a silver cross in his right. He stopped and looked Jane in the eye, but she could tell straightaway he had no interest in explaining the sound. His eyes were keen and bright but their focus and attention were entirely on herself, not on what was happening around them. He handed her the circlet - it was warm to the touch - then carried on walking, out of both chambers and back into the nave before turning briskly right. He paused, with Jane at his shoulder, on the threshold of a lantern-lit passageway, between two royal mosaics.

The Director gave two small bows, first to the King on his left, then to the Queen on his right. An inscription in purple italics beneath the left-hand mosaic read, 'Mark III', and under its partner, 'Thomasina of the Northern Marches.' They crossed the threshold and pressed forward along the passage. Another train hurtled by - closer now - and Jane felt a gust of cool air on her cheeks. Soon the passage widened out and they were standing in a circular ante-chamber on a floor of polished marble. Through high rectangular openings - one straight ahead, one to to left, and one to the right - Jane perceived the metallic gleam of railway lines. Directly in front of her was a tall wooden post with signs jutting off towards the three pairs of tracks. Jane managed to read four of the place-names - Tintagel, Rome, Jerusalem, Mount Kailas - before the Director whisked her away.

'This way,' he said, ushering her off to the left. Already she could hear the train, and they hadn't been on the platform more than five seconds when it appeared - sleek and silvery to look at but as noisy and rattly as an everyday Tube service. The doors opened automatically and Jane and the Director climbed on board...