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The Dark Tower -- C. S. Lewis Print
Written by Mike Noel   
Sunday, 10 August 2008

The Dark Tower

When it comes to fiction C. S. Lewis is best known for his children's series the Chronicles of Narnia and his space trilogy.  There is, however, a collection of lesser known short fiction works.  The Dark Tower contains these works as well as a couple incomplete writings. The centerpeice of this collection is the 100 page beginning of the book The Dark Tower which was intended to be a sequel to Out Of The Silent Planet. There is another incomplete manuscript that tells the chronicles the events just after Troy was sacked. Two previously published short works and two unpublished, but complete, stories round out the collection.

The Dark Tower is an eerie tale that follows a group of acedemics as they explore an alternative reality through the use of a "chronoscope" (like a telescope but with time instead of space).  As expected, what they find at the other end of the chronoscope is not pleasant.  It portrays a scary juxataposition of the future and the past in an oppresive and evil form.  One of the group suddenly finds himself transported into the alternate time.  It is just as he is starting to get a grip of where he is that the manuscript ends.  

The other incomplete work is After Ten Years.  This story starts cramped up in the belly of the Trojan Horse while waiting inside Troy.  Soon the waiting army is released and Troy is sacked.  Remember that the purpose of taking Troy was to rescue Helen by Meneleas(sp?), her husband.  It turns out that Helen, the legendary beauty, has faded.  After ten years of seige she is no longer the prize she was thought to be.  Now Meneleas has to deal the difference between his fantasy of ten years and the reality before him.  After four chapters the story skips ahead to the end where we find that maybe the Helen of Troy wasn't the real Helen.  Instead she was an illusion created by the gods to test Meneleas.  Unfortunately the manuscript ends.  The entire middle section is missing and the illusion theme is never fully developed.

The two published works were both science fiction works.  In Ministering Angels Lewis satirizes the notion that space faring crews of men might need women to come along and perform certain "biological functions" for them.  Apparently a serious minded article had been published in which an academic made the claim that in our bold new world in which space travel was a reality we would need to shed the traditional (and now outdated) views of morality.  In Lewis's version of this story the "angels" who show up on the Martian colony don't turn out to be quite what is expected by this new morality.  

The second published science fiction short explores the idea of moving traditional myths outside of our planet.  I won't spoil the surprise but it is a short and fun story, feeling a lot like Asimov, about lunar exploration.

The Man Who Was Born Blind is one of the unpublished completed works. It is about a man who underwent cataract surgery and for the first time is able to see.  Yet he is confused because he is unable to locate the thing that everyone calls "light".  Whenever he asks people to show him "light" they can't.  Eventually his confusion leads to a tragic end.  Although it was subtle, I can't help but wonder if Lewis didn't have a bit of allegory going on in this story.

The final complete unpublished work is The Shoddy Lands.  Lewis is called upon by a former student and his fiance for a social visit. Almost as soon as the couple start talking Lewis slips into a shadowy and indistinct dream world.  No longer paying attention to the conversation, he explores the mysterious world where seemingly arbitrary things are clear while most things are blurry and hard to make out.  Eventually we find that he has slipped into the self-centered mind of his guest's fiance and is viewing her mind through his eyes.

This collection of stories shows a different side of Lewis than we have seen with his other fiction.  In some ways it is a darker and starker vision.  However, it clearly demonstrates Lewis's ability to evoke strong feelings as he explores the cracks and crevices of our minds.
Last Updated ( Thursday, 14 August 2008 )

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