"Sale of College Property"
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
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
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
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
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.
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