Mark Studdock- the stuffy university don who wishes to be part of N.I.C.E.
Jane Studdock- wife of the above, also a seer.
N.I.C.E. (National Institute for Coordinated Experiments)
Francois Alcasan — “The Head”, a French scientist executed for murder early in the book. His head is recovered by the N.I.C.E.
John Wither — “Deputy Director” of the N.I.C.E. He is the true leader of the N.I.C.E.
Professor Frost — A psychologist and assistant to Wither.
Miss/Major Hardcastle (a.k.a “The Fairy”) — The sadistic head of the N.I.C.E. Institutional Police and its female auxiliary, the “Waips”.
Dr. Filostrato — An Italian physiologist, who has seemingly preserved Alcasan’s head.
Lord Feverstone (Richard Devine) -succeeds in bringing Mark into the N.I.C.E. He, along with Weston, kidnapped Ransom in Out of the Silent Planet.
Reverend Straik — “The Mad Parson”. He believes that any sort of power is a manifestation of God’s will..
Horace Jules — the nominal Head of the N.I.C.E.
Dr. Elwin Ransom — called “The Pendragon.” Upon being made the Pendragon he took the name King-Fisher.
Grace Ironwood — psychologist who helps Jane interpret her dreams; physician to Ransom.
Dr. Cecil Dimble — close advisor on matters of Arthurian scholarship and pre-Norman Britain.
Mrs. Dimble- wife of the above.
Ivy Maggs — Formerly a part-time domestic servant for Jane Studdock; now driven out of the town by the N.I.C.E. and living at St. Anne’s. Her husband is in jail for theft.
Merlinus Ambrosius (Merlin) awoken and returned to serve the Pendragon and save England.
Mr. MacPhee — A scientist, skeptic, and rationalist, and close friend of Dr. Ransom. He is mentioned parenthetically in Perelandra.
Mr. Bultitude — Last of the seven bears of Logres.
Arthur Denniston- old friend as Mark Studdock
I told you it was a complex book. I will be heavily annotating the summary for clarity. The annotations will look like this.
The books starts off with us being introduced to Jane Studdock, who is a newlywed of six months. She is contemplating why her young marriage is falling apart. Her marriage and “modern” views on marriage form the basis for her narrow minded opinions of other as well as aiding her in coming back to God. She is also disturbed by some very realistic dreams one of which is that a scientist’s head is removed from his body yet keeps on living. Also there is an old man with a white beard is being exhumed- and wakes up and starts living again.
We are next introduced to her husband Mark, who is one of those unfortunate men who was a follower in his youth. His obsession is to get in with the “in” crowd. He has recently been appointed as a don. He is friends with a thoughtless man named Curry, who reminds him that he did not achieve his position by talent, but rather through the machinations of Lord Feverstone, whom he is invited to meet for dinner.
The story unfolds back and forth between these two people. They represent the opposite sides in the upcoming battle. Although Jane has never been “religious” she is not able to completely cast off her Christian upbringing. Mark on the other hand has never believed in anything and thus is a representation of the “goats.”
The plot begins to unfold when N.I.C.E. approaches Mark’s College in order to purchase Bragdon Wood. Bradgon Wood is the supposed resting place of Merlin. N.I.C.E. also wants to incorporate the University into itself. Although it appears that the College makes the choice to sell, in reality N.I.C.E. holds the cards.
Later on that day, Jane has lunch with Dr. and Mrs. Dimble and is quite shocked when Dr. Dimble’s talk of Arthurian legend is disturbingly similar to the dream she had. Mark does meet Lord Feverstone for dinner. Here we see the beginnings of the Plan. Feverstone’s reason for getting Mark the position as a don is because N.I.C.E. is very interested in him, although Mark, poor fool that he is, doesn’t see it. Mark ends up being taken to Belbury home of N.I.C.E. for the weekend to see how he likes it. At first Mark doesn’t fit in; in fact Mark has no idea why it is that he is wanted by the organization or what the organization actually does. His experience improves when he is befriended by “Fairy” Hardcastle, who is quite a perverse hyper-feminist. Although Mark is confused, the reader realizes that the organization’s aims are to better mankind. They intend to achieve this by purging those not worthy, cleansing the world or organic life, and brainwashing the public. The night Mark arrives, Hingest who is also a don at his college decides to leave N.I.C.E. and tries to convince Mark to come with him. He is murdered on the way home…
Which is exactly what Jane dreams that night. The Dimbles convince Jane to go to the Manor at St. Anne’s to discuss her dreams with Grace Ironwood, who it seems is some sort of doctor/psychologist. As it turns out, Jane is not having dreams but rather visions. Jane’s comes from the Tudor family of the Warwickshire branch. It turns out that there was a seer in the family and that this sort of thing is genetic. Although Jane is disgusted by this discussion, you can clearly see that her visions have a larger significance and that Grace Ironwood is afraid of what Jane has told her. Eventually she runs into old acquaintances Arthur and Camilla Denniston who urge her to join the “right” side. This is difficult for Jane as she has put notions of right and wrong out of her mind. She eventually meets the Director, Dr. Ransom, to discuss her dreams. But the conversation interesting enough turns to her feelings for Mark. She does not hold an ounce of sympathy for him. In fact she completely blames him for the break down in their marriage. But after some discussion with the Director, Jane understands for the first time why her marriage is failing. She has really never humbled herself enough to truly love her husband. Here you see the contrast of the Dimble and Denniston marriages. These couples were taught to actually care for each other. They’ve grasped the concept that marriage isn’t all about living one’s own life. For this reason, there is a togetherness that defines these couples that is completely lacking in Jane and Mark. At first the Director does not let Jane join their Company feeling that it would become a problem as her husband works for the enemy. In addition, the Director wants Jane to be merciful and reach out to Mark, because he knows what is coming and doesn’t want Mark to be destroyed.
Meanwhile, Mark is becoming more ensnared in the twisted regime of N.I.C.E. But he doesn’t begin to understand what they are about. Namely, N.I.C.E. has contact with macrobes, which are beings higher than man. These macrobes are not from our world. These macrobes have given N.I.C.E. the following information which was partially alluded to in Out of the Silent Planet.
When the inhabitant of the moon, Sulva, fell under the influence of the bent Oysaru of this world, they began to systematically sterilize the moon. This is why the moon appears lifeless to us. On the side of the moon that we can’t see there is still a surface that has not been sterilized with atmosphere. Here too is a battle between the “progressives” and those who “won’t progress.” Ranson later on reveals that the inhabitants of Sulva are perverse. Upon marriage people do not have relations with their spouses. They have found a way to create pseudo bodies identical to their spouse which they animate in some ghastly way. Apparently real flesh does not appeal to them. No children are conceived naturally.
These macrobes have found a way to keep the body alive despite death achieving a pseudo immortality. This is what N.I.C.E. is in the initial stages of accomplishing with Alcasan’s head. I found this description rather unsettling because to a certain extent our society is like this now. Like the moon’s inhabitants, we too try to life in order to make it more “hygenic.” Think of all the anti-bacterial agents we employ on a day to day basis. Also this how far medicine has come- cardiac arrest does not mean death anymore. We can keep the body alive after a the point of “brain” death. The thought of sterilizing our planet or extending/manufacturing consciousness is anathema to us currently. And then there is the whole issue of sex. So much of today’s society has really sterilized sex. It is viewed as a strictly biological function rather than as a relational act. Even when it comes to conception. I understand the need infertile couples have for intervention, but some situations the whole test tube baby thing seems to dehumanize the process some how. Perhaps it is related to the lost of community relationships in our society today. When I consider how much of Nature around us we try to control, I some times wonder where we are headed. But I digress.
As a further means of bringing about a new order, N.I.C.E. has arranged to take over the College’s town of Edgestow by engineering riots as well as buy out to effectively control everything. Then they turn the town into a giant excavation. Meanwhile Jane continues to have more dreams about the old man and realizes she knows where he is buried. It turns out that N.I.C.E. excavation has trying to uncover this man who is none other than Merlin. The macrobe “Masters” require a vessel. As Merlin came from a time when men were more conversant with “powers,” they think he would be most appropriate. Ransom fears the earth will be destroyed if Merlin joins the wrong side. However, this proves to be unfounded because Merlin awakens on his own and shows up at the Manor looking for the Pendragon. It turns that Merlin would never have suited N.I.C.E. purposes as he was a devout Christian.
Meanwhile, we discover that N.I.C.E. was only interested in Mark because they wanted to obtain Jane and her abilities. When they try to press Mark, something in him defies them. He leaves N.I.C.E., but ends up being arrested for the murder of Hingist.
We see that although Merlin is a noble man through and through, he is from a different more savage time. Lewis seems to borrow from heavily from Tolkien’s idea on the English mythology with the fall of Numinor. In this series, there seems to have been a real Golden and Silver Age on earth. There was definitely a point where being conversant with “powers” was not the evil is it today. It seems that the problem with being conversant with powers in this day is that before the physical and spiritual worlds were closer together and now they are separate. I am speculating that this separation in the physical and spiritual world occurred soon after the Ascension because most miraculous abilities also disappeared around this time. Yeah, you’ll have to read it for yourself.
The powers do come. By these powers I mean the Oyarsu Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter. Merlin is empowered and then sent to Belbury. The end result is a combination of Babel and Sodom and Gomorah. Edgestow is completely destroyed by fire, earthquake and water. I found that Lord Feverstone became the modern day wife of Lot. He was given the opportunity to leave, and in fact was supernaturally taken out of Belbury. But as the town is being destroyed, he just had to take that final look back, and that sealed his doom! Oh yes, Mark escapes courtesy of Melin and makes his way to the Manor. He’s a changed man. He realizes that he was quite the fool; he also realizes how badly he has treated Jane with his “male right.” It is supposed that they live ever after more happily than the start of this book.
I hope the review made sense. It was complex! I think I felt like I had been hit by a truck the first time I read it. There was a great deal of symbolism and ancient mythology. I did have to look up stuff. But hopefully one of you found that helpful.