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Essay

C. S. Lewis' science fiction novel, That Hideous Strength , begins with a chapter entitled, "Sale of College Property." Lewis tells us about Bracton, a small, fictional English college located in the small, fictional town of Edgestow — a picturesque English village. "No maker of cars or sausages or marmalades has yet come to industrialize the country town," he writes.

A powerful clique is working within the college. They refer to themselves as "the Progressive Element." They have worked hard to bring to Edgestow the National Institute of Coordinated Experiments — N.I.C.E. It will put both town and college on the map.

But there's a hangup. The N.I.C.E. must have a specific piece of property or it won't build its headquarters in Edgestow. The land they want contains Bragdon Wood and an ancient well surrounded by an ancient pavement dating back to Roman times.

The wood and well are Bracton's greatest treasures. They give the college it's identity and uniqueness. For centuries, Bracton without the wood or well has been unthinkable.

The story opens the day the sale of the wood would be voted on at the college meeting, but the agenda mentions neither wood or well. It simply says, "Sale of College Property." It is by far the most important and controversial item to be voted on, but it is not first on the agenda. It is near the end.

The meeting begins with a series of difficult financial problems, including a letter from an outside archeological society asking the college to take better care of the well. The bursar mentions this in relation to the clear need for a new and expensive wall to surround the wood. It begins to look as if the much-needed raise to the Fellows' stipends scheduled for this year will not be possible. As they break for lunch, one of them is heard to say, "That darn wood has been in our way all morning."

The Progressive Element managed its business really very well," Lewis explains.

Late in the afternoon, they finally reach agenda item, "Sale of College Property." When the idea is finally presented to the College, "The advantages of the sale discovered themselves one by one, like ripe fruiting dropping into the hand."

Those known to the Progressive Element as "Die-hards," "to whom Bragdon Wood was almost a basic assumption of life, could hardly bring themselves to realise what was happening." They tried to raise the obvious objections, but they were made to look ridiculous, just elderly obstructionists living in the past.

The item passes. The College has done what those outside the Progressive Element would not have considered possible when they awoke that morning.

It turns out to be the first in a series of disasters that would befall town and college — the domino at the head of the line.

My short essay does not do justice to Lewis' masterful storytelling. If you've not read his "Space Trilogy I highly recommend all three novels, but especiallyThat Hideous Strength .

The story of Bracton College and the sale of Bragdon Wood has become for me a parable both for Lewis' time and our own — especially our own. Today, at this moment as you read these words, western civilization is selling its soul.

We are in the midst of a horror film of our own making. We look at what''s happening and cry, "Don't go down that hallway! Don't open that door! Don't go in there! Don't giveaway the best part of yourself."

But horror movie characters, like the character we play in our nightmares, seem unable to do the obvious thing. They keep doing the stupid things. They make deals with the devil . . . deals that somehow never turn out well.

If, with me, you see the direction of our civilization, and feel a sort of revulsion to see over and over the exchange of things precious and eternal for the fleeting and profane, take heart. We may be nearing the end of the world as we know it, but there is a new world coming.

In the meantime — remain a peacemaker, keep pure your witness to the love of God, and keep looking up.

Sale of College Property
©2007-2017 Tom Gilbreath All Rights Reserved
Posted: 11-3-2008

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