Hey, everybody! Welcome back to Tumnus’s Book Shelf, where we review any and all books by, about, and inspired by CS Lewis, the land of Narnia, and the Inklings. Today, we will be looking at the controversial collection, CS Lewis’ The Dark Tower and Other Stories.
Author: CS Lewis
Edited: Walter Hooper
Publisher: Mariner Books
A controversial collection, The Dark Tower and Other Stories contains two never-before-seen CS Lewis short stories, as well as some familiar favorites. The first new story is a novel fragment “The Dark Tower”. In this unfinished tale, Ransom and Lewis find themselves at a meeting at Cambridge University with some of their colleagues were they discuss the possibilities of time travel.
One of them, Orfieu, has developed a form of time machine called a Chronoscope that allows him to peak into the past or the future. With the help of his friend, another professor named Scudamore, they soon come to the conclusion that they are not looking into the past or the future but a parallel world. This Earth is populated with a race called “The Stinging Men” or men with giant stingers on their foreheads that they use to make mindless drones out of other people. They also discover doppelgängers for Scudamore and his fiancée, Camilla. Scudamore is pulled into Othertime and switches places with his double. Trapped in this nightmarish universe, Scudamore embarks on a journey home.
The other story is called “The Man Born Blind.” It is about a blind man, Robin, who gains the ability to see following an experimental surgery. His friend Mary is trying to help him readjust to this brand new life. Among the things she does for him is point out what different things are. He has spent his whole life in darkness and the entire world is new to him.
However, upon receiving his sight, all he wants to see is “The light” and wanders around trying to find it. Also appearing in this book are several stories that were previously collected in another volume, Of Other Worlds.
I have been sitting on this review for a long time, not because the book is a bad one, it was because there is a great deal of controversy over some of the contents, and I didn’t wish to have to moderate the debate that would ensue within the comment section. While the reprinted stories found in Of Other Worlds: Stories and Essays need no introduction as their review can be read here, the two main features “The Dark Tower” and “The Man Born Blind” do need some careful attention. Much of the controversy among Lewis fans and scholars is over whether or not CS Lewis wrote these two stories. While I could go into the arguments in favor of the story being a forgery, that would take much too long. Christianity Today has some excellent articles on their website detailing the controversy that can better elaborate on the issues than I could hope to attempt.
As such, for the sake of this review, I will operate under the perspective that CS Lewis wrote both of these stories. According to Douglas Gresham in an interview with us, the initial claims against Lewis’ authorship of these were made by a woman for purely financial purposes. Furthermore, both JRR Tolkien and Owen Barfield recalled hearing abut the “Man Born Blind”. Tolkien even mentioned it in a letter of his. Albeit when Tolkien heard the story, it contained a slightly different ending. It is probable that it had changed by the time he wrote it, the finale of “The Man Born Blind” was changed, as is the case when a writer tells a story.
With the words of Mr. Gresham, Professor Tolkien, and Owen Barfield proving that Lewis did write such a story, we can deduce that “The Man Born Blind” is in fact authentic Lewis. Further, Douglas Gresham pointed out that the claims against “The Dark Tower” have also been thoroughly discredited. However, fans will no doubt continue the debate forever. As such the only person who could have truly told us for sure is CS Lewis himself, and he is no longer with us. So, I hope you all will humor me for a moment, as we examine these two stories.
First is the novel fragment, “The Dark Tower”. Once again Dr. Elwin Ransom and CS Lewis as the narrator embarks on another adventure, this time on dealing with time travel. While the two of them are certainly present at a meeting with other brilliant minds at Cambridge, Ransom doesn’t feel much like Ransom in this story, but perhaps much of this was due to the fact it is a fragment, and there is not much in terms of character development.
We are left to assume that in terms of continuity it is probable that it is set sometime between Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra. A fair guess, as it was even implied at the end of Out of the Silent Planet that if humans were to leave Thulcandra (Earth)again, they would most likely have to travel through time, not only space. Much of the focus centers on the characters of Professor Orfieu, Mr. Scudamore and Scudamore’s fiancée, Camilla Bembridge.
The characters are adequately developed, in particular is the contrasting personalities between the Camilla in our world, and Othertime Camilla, who almost seems like one of the Eloi from HG Wells The Time Machine. The title of this story comes from a mysterious “Dark Tower” at the center of this world. The Stinging men are rather disturbing, and perhaps even more unsettling than the experiments conducted by N.I.C.E in That Hideous Strength. The Stingingmen are a totalitarian regime at its very worst.
There is very little in terms of “spiritual content” in this story, at least nothing overt. Unlike Narnia, The Space Trilogy really can’t be used as Evangelistic tools as there are no parallels either directly or indirectly to the Scriptures, and that is the case here. The only oblique references come from Professor Ransom who suggests that Othertime might be Hell, and a statement from Ransom saying he doesn’t believe in Reincarnation because he’s a Christian.
Unlike the other fragments of works by CS Lewis, like After Ten Years or the recent posthumous publication of his translation of The Aeneid, it doesn’t feel as compelling. It was self-evident that he was going to provide readers with a new, fresh look at two timeless tales. You also knew that just like with Till We Have Faces, while they would not be described as “life changing”, “faith-affirming,” “inspirational”, or “soul winning” books like some of his other works, they would have been counted as some of his finest.
Not so here. You really can’t tell where the story was going. If “The Dark Tower” really was written by CS Lewis, then it was probably one he didn’t really like and didn’t find much use for so he decided to abandon it and devote his time and talents elsewhere. We know from biographies and books on Narnia that it had happened with at least two possible sequels to The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, both which had plot devises used in later Narnian stories. That could have easily been the case with this installment for his space saga. As such, fans didn’t loose much by it not being completed.
The other story of contention is a Man Born Blind. Unlike “The Dark Tower” even detractors can notice that it contains more of the classic ear marks of CS Lewis that was very common in his short fiction. Further, it draws inspiration from a story in scriptures that Lewis was always fascinated with, Jesus healing the man born blind. The journey of the man, Robin, is short and to the point, and a little sad.
All Robin wants to do is “see the light” and doesn’t understand what a broad term that is. Unfortunately it leads to a lot of frustration and misunderstanding on his part. Because he has lived in darkness, his mind literally can’t comprehend the idea that “Light” is not just one simple object like a tree, or a rock. This leads to a very tragic encounter with a painter, the kind of person who tries to capture and share the light.
The twists at the end, much like in his other short stories would almost make for every excellent episodes of The Twilight Zone. Further, it sits comfortably along side other masterworks by the great pioneers of the genre.
Since most of these short stories can be found in another collection fans could easily skip this one .While “The Man Born Blind” is certainly worth picking up, fans won’t miss much by not reading “The Dark Tower” as it doesn’t really add or take anything away from The Space Trilogy. Overall, this collection is OK, but far from great.
3 out of 5 shields.
Order the book from Amazon.com.