The Dark Tower (1977 novel)

The Dark Tower (1977 novel)

"The Dark Tower" is a novel written by C. S. Lewis that appears to be the beginning of an abandoned science fiction novel intended as a sequel to "Out of the Silent Planet". "Perelandra" instead became the second book of Lewis' Space Trilogy, concluded by "That Hideous Strength". Walter Hooper, Lewis' literary executor, titled the fragment and published it in the 1977 collection "The Dark Tower and Other Stories". Lewis scholar Kathryn Lindskoog has challenged the authenticity of the work. For convenience the author of the text is referred to in this article as "Lewis" without qualification.

Plot summaries

The story deals with an early rendition of interdimensional travel. A fictional Lewis himself narrates, as he does in "Perelandra", but Elwin Ransom appears as a supporting character. The story begins with a discussion of time travel among several academics at a university (subsequently identified as Cambridge) during summer vacation. They conclude that it is impossible to violate the laws of space-time in such a way. However, after the discussion, one of the men (Orfieu) unveils an invention he believes allows people to see through time. The group uses this "chronoscope" to observe an alien world they call "Othertime" (he does not know if it is future or past), where a group of human automatons work to construct a tower at the bidding of the story's villain, the Unicorn, a devilish character with a single horn growing out of his forehead. The Unicorn stings people, apparently volunteers, causing them to become automatons (the "Jerkies").

After a while MacPhee, a character who appears in "That Hideous Strength", points out that the "Dark Tower" is in fact a replica of the new Cambridge University Library. This suggests Othertime is the far future, with a replica of an ancient monument being constructed.

It is discovered that Orfieu's assistant, Scudamour, has a double in Othertime. Increasingly, the observers wonder if Othertime really is the past or future, or whether it is some other reality. Scudamour's double grows a sting and becomes the new Unicorn. During one viewing session, Scudamour sees the Unicorn about to sting the double of his fiancee, Camilla. In a blind fury, he rushes at the screen, and somehow switches bodies with the Unicorn. The remainder of the text deals with his experiences in Othertime, as well as his colleagues' attempt to hunt down the Unicorn in this world.

In Othertime, Scudamour survives by playing on his authority, his only card, while he tries to learn. He discovers to his amazement that there is a chronoscope in the Unicorn's room where he stung victims — but it is now broken. He refrains from stinging Camilla, and tries to plan their escape. It appears there is some sort of war (being waged by the "White Riders") against the Othertime government. He reads in a library about the Othertimer's time-science. A theory is given of multiple timelines; these do not seem to split off from different outcomes, like quantum realities, but simply proceed separately. However, they can be controlled, and contact between them cam be made. References are made to the "changeling" myth. The law is stated that "Any two time-lines approximate to the exact degree to which their material contents are alike," and it is revealed that an experiment with a replica railway shed in the right place had already been successful in allowing a controlled transfer of minds. The text ends with Scudamour still reading.


In his introduction to "The Dark Tower and Other Stories", Hooper states that he rescued an untitled manuscript containing Lewis' handwritten draft of the story from a bonfire of the author's writings early in 1964, several months after Lewis' death. Apparently, the 64-page manuscript originally had at least 66 pages, but two of these are missing. If the text did at one time continue past the 66th page, these additional pages are also lost. As it stands, the narrative contains two gaps and comes to an abrupt end. "The Dark Tower" is an unfinished work, and there is no sign Lewis intended to finish it.

Judging from the story's setting, Hooper surmises that Lewis wrote it immediately after he finished "Out of the Silent Planet", in about 1939. Hooper reports that the late Gervase Mathew told him that he heard Lewis read "The Dark Tower" to the Inklings around that time. Anne Paxch posted in MERELEWIS that many who never attended any Inklings meetings heard CSL read his unpublished works elsewhere, and that she recalls Gervase Mathew and others discussing passages which later appeared in "The Dark Tower". Inklings scholar John D. Rateliff suggests that the story could have been written some years later, in about 1946, pointing to a reference in a letter by Lewis's friend J.R.R. Tolkien to a story by Lewis that could be "The Dark Tower". Alistair Fowler had clear memories of the "Stinging Man" character in an unfinished manuscript which Lewis showed him in 1952.

Authenticity and relation to the published novels

The uncertain provenance of the surviving text is problematic, leading Kathryn Lindskoog and others to claim that it is a forgery. Lindskoog advanced the theory that the story is a forgery written by Hooper or at his behest. Indeed, Lindskoog claimed that much of the work bearing Lewis's name, edited by Hooper, that had appeared since Lewis's death in 1963, was highly suspect. She claimed that "The Dark Tower" resembled stories by other writers, including "A Wrinkle in Time" by Madeleine L'Engle (1962) and "The Planet of the Dead" by Clark Ashton Smith (1932).

Others accept that the story is by Lewis, as the author's estate and the publishers assert by publishing it under his name. The oppressive atmosphere of the book is reminiscent of Lewis's own "That Hideous Strength" (1945) and David Lindsay's "A Voyage to Arcturus" (1920), which Lewis acknowledged as an influence. That the plot and characterization are not satisfactory seems unsurprising in a story abandoned by its author in an unfinished state.

"The Dark Tower" does differ from the published novels in the so-called Space Trilogy in style, characterization, setting, and subject matter. For example, Ransom becomes a marginal character, and the action takes place partly in an alternate universe. However, it is not clear whether Lewis intended "The Dark Tower" to be a part of this sequence of novels, and there is in any case a marked shift of mood and focus between "Perelandra" and "That Hideous Strength", the latter being more loosely and broadly plotted, much longer, and different in focus: less intent on presenting a science fiction story with a Christian theological slant, and more intent on tackling specific religious and social issues.

Alastair Fowler, Regius Professor Emeritus of Rhetoric and English Literature at the University of Edinburgh, to whom Lewis served as a doctoral supervisor, wrote in 2003 that he saw portions of "The Dark Tower" including the Stinging Man and discussed them with Lewis in 1952. [ Harry Lee Poe, "Shedding Light on the Dark Tower," Christianity Today, February 2, 2007.]

uggested developments

Walter Hooper noted, in his afterword, that Scudamour's fiancee is once given the surname Ammeret, and suggests a basis in the characters Sir Scudamour and Amoret in "The Faerie Queen" Book III. Amoret was carried off by an enchanter and had to be rescued. This seems highly plausible given the fairyland themes. Another allusion to note is the probable reference of Orfieu to "Sir Orfeo", a medieval narrative poem merging the Orpheus myth with the trip to fairyland.

The construction of the tower is clearly important. Lewis's time-lines are quite coherent in terms of the science fiction of his generation; it is often forgotten by readers that he was seriously interested in science fiction long before it was fashionable. In terms of the law that "Any two time-lines approximate to the exact degree to which their material contents are alike" the tower is obviously a repeat, on a grand scale, of the Othertimers' successful but small experiment with a railway shed constructed in the same space as ours. However, although Lewis was a reader of all sorts of science fiction, he himself was not interested in writing the technical side: he wrote in 1955 that "The most superficial appearance of plausibility--the merest sop to our critical intellect--will do.... I took a hero to Mars once in a space-ship, but when I knew better I had angels convey him to Venus" ("On Science Fiction," in "Of This and Other Worlds"). This seems contrary to the direction of "The Dark Tower", which could be interpreted either as evidence of inauthenticity or of why Lewis thought it was going badly wrong.

Whether Lewis had any idea of how this threat to our world would develop is extremely doubtful. The text includes an interesting detail in an idol which has a face the Cambridge observers recognize, and which is, the narrator says, "still there" at the end of the events to be narrated. Whether this was meant to suggest links to contemporary world events, or just a half-formed idea, is unclear. The story could be interpreted as the germ of a dystopian novel like "That Hideous Strength": the Stingingmen and Jerkies could be intended to mean the Conditioners and the Conditioned as described in "The Abolition of Man". The idol with many bodies and one head may express Lewis' horror, expressed in many of his works, at the absorption of the individual into an undifferentiated collective: in "Perelandra" he speculates that "what the Pantheists falsely hoped for in Heaven, the wicked really receive in Hell".

One possible interpretation of the text, assuming it to be genuine, is that it shows some Lewis creative thinking, a compound of his "pictures", before these were satisfactorily put together and made to work, and which in fact Lewis was not able to make work.


* Fowler, Alastair. "C. S. Lewis: Supervisor." Yale Review, Vol. 91 No. 4 (October 2003), pp. 64–80
* Hooper, Walter. "Introduction". "The Dark Tower and Other Stories". Harvest Books, 1977. ISBN 0-15-623930-2
* Lewis, C. S. "The Dark Tower". "The Dark Tower and Other Stories". Harvest Books, 1977. ISBN 0-15-623930-2
* Lindskoog, Kathryn. "Light in the Shadowlands: Protecting the Real C. S. Lewis". Multnomah Pub., 1994. ISBN 0-88070-695-3
* Lindskoog, Kathryn. "The C. S. Lewis Hoax". Multnomah Pub., 1988. ISBN 0-88070-258-3
* Rateliff, John D. "The Lost Road, The Dark Tower" and "The Notion Club Papers": Tolkien and Lewis's Time Travel Triad". "Tolkien's Legendarium: Essays on" The History of Middle-earth. Greenwood Press, 2000. ISBN 0-313-30530-7
* Lewis, C.S., Brian Aldiss, and Kingsley Amis. "Unreal Estates" "Spectrum IV". Pan Books, London, 1965. [For Lewis's interest in SF]

Further reading

*Downing, David C., "Planets in Peril: A Critical Study of C. S. Lewis's Ransom Trilogy". University of Massachusetts Press, 1992. ISBN 0-87023-997-X

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