Missionary on Earth?[i]

The final story of Lewis’s trilogy centers around Mark and Jane Studdock, who are having problems in their marriage. Jane reflects that marriage is something like solitary confinement and has “proved to be the door out of a world of work and comradeship and laughter and innumerable things to do….

Jane, somewhat to her consternation, has the qualities of a prophet, a person who sees things in dreams that foretell or forbid the future. But her first vision is more of a nightmare and is confirmed by a notice that she reads in the newspaper.

Mark is not a visionary; he is a position seeker—a climber—at a small university, where he has been a sociologist for five years. Mark wished to be elected to a Fellowship but needs connections to make it happen. Lord Feverstone, now so called, was Devine in the story of the voyage to Mars. He is the man who has helped Mark get his fellowship at Bracton, although Mark does not learn of this until much later.

The college is engaged in the business of selling part of its property which the N.I.C.E., the National Institute of Coordinated Experiments, wishes to purchase for experimental purposes. After some discussion, the board approves the motion to sell the property.

The first part of the story intersperses discussions between Mark and his colleagues at the university as they make plans for NICE to purchase its land while Jane and her friends try to understand what is happening to Mark, the university, and NICE. Although Mark has a fellowship elsewhere, he is being offered an unclear position at the university, but one that will compromise his integrity and eventually his marriage. Jane, on the other hand, is only vaguely aware of what is going on with Mark’s decision or the effects that NICE will have on her own life. Her friend, Mrs. Dimble, offers soothing advice like “Husbands were made to be talked to. It helps them to concentrate on what they’re reading.”

Mark and Jane are not missionaries—but they represent couples that are caught up in the affairs of the world around them to such an extent that they drift apart, incapable of mutual understanding and normal interaction. Missionary couples often live their own separate lives, so Mark and Jane can easily stand for such couples.

Jane continues to have dreams that foretell the happenings of NICE, as well as certain people, but she cannot tell Mark for she seldom sees him. Mark is trapped in the university setting and unable to discern what is happening around him because “his education had had the effect of making things that he read and wrote more real to him than things he saw.”

Many missionary couples have been put in the same situation. Their work becomes so important that it is the only thing that is real in life. They reveal this in their personal.

Mark is put in charge of writing PR articles that explain the position of the university in a positive light in regard to NICE, which the rest of the community sees negatively. This is necessary in part because of a riot that was allowed and supported by the university in order to gain credibility for the NICE program.

Often missionary agencies have their publicity agents, people who are in charge of putting a spin on stories that will entice benefactors. While it may be stretching the point to compare such missionary agencies with NICE, missionary agencies should continuously monitor and examine the information they give to the public, ensuring absolute—not relative—truth on all matters.

Mark comes in contact with Miss Hardcastle, a woman who is wise in the ways of the world and the university. She gives him advice on how to curry favor with those in authority by writing the information they want and in a way that will convince the public to have good will toward NICE. Mark has scruples, but his desire for inclusion at NICE and acceptance into the inner circle there overcome his moments of questioning and any conscience about whether he is doing the right thing or not.

There are always senior missionaries who have been around “forever” and know the ropes. Sometimes their advice should be questioned before it is followed. Missionary agencies have writers whose task it is (naturally) to convince the public of their good work.

In the meantime Jane is contacted when those at NICE learn of her ability to dream and foretell events. They see her as having a gift that will aid them in their future dealings to procure the properties that they need for NICE.

Those who have gifts and talents, including missionaries, are sometimes contacted by government authorities who would like to gain the information they have on cultures and then use if for their own advantage. I recall an instance in Papua New Guinea when I was the Director. An expatriate government person contacted me about having our missionaries use their radios to obtain and covey information for the government. I objected, even if some of the material might have been useful and legitimate.



[i] The full story is found in C.S Lewis, That hideous strength. London: Bodley Head, 1945, Macmillan, 1945. An abridged version prepared by Lewis was published under the title The Tortured Planet. [My copies are the Pan Books edition, 1952 and a re-issue of the 1945 edition by Scribner, 2003.] The website http://www.solcon.nl/arendsmilde/cslewis/reflections/e-thsquotes.htm, compiled by Arend Smilde, contains a full list and explanation of the quotations and allusions in That hideous strength.