The Great Dance and the Great Chaos
More thoughts on alignment courtesy of C.S. Lewis
My read through of C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, That Hideous Strength) is nearing its conclusion and many thoughts have been buzzing in the empty cavern of my mind. The one that buzzes loudest is hung up on what is, in actuality, a minor point in the overall story. That being the contrast between the Great Dance and the workings of the Black Archon of Earth. This contrast is not directly pointed out by Lewis, (unless it is done so at the end of That Hideous Strength) but it quite plain if you read the books back to back as I have. This minor point does more to illustrate what I mean in my Logos and Alignment post than all my blustering in-eloquence.
The contrast is first set up at the end of Perelandra, when we get the description of the Great Dance Maleldil has arranged. The entire passage is long and quite beautiful, well worth a read on its own. However, the following quotes sum up the important points for this article:
“In the plan of the Great Dance plans without number interlock, and each movement becomes in its season the breaking into flower of the whole design to which all else had been directed. Thus each is equally at the centre and none are there by being equals, but some by giving place and some by receiving it, the small things by their smallness and the great by their greatness, and all the patterns linked and looped together by the unions of a kneeling with a sceptred love. Blessed be He!” - C.S. Lewis, Perelandra
He thought he saw the Great Dance. It seemed to be woven out of the intertwining undulation of many cords or bands of light, leaping over and under one another and mutually embraced in arabesques and flower-like subtleties. Each figure as he looked at it became the master-figure or focus of the whole spectacle, by means of which his eye disentangled all else and brought it into unity — only to be itself entangled when he looked to what he had taken for mere marginal decorations and found that there also the same hegemony was claimed, and the claim made good, yet the former pattern not thereby dispossessed […]- C.S. Lewis, Perelandra
The Great Dance is the plan for the whole universe that Maleldil has made. It is immeasurably complex, and each piece of it, from the smallest grain of sand to the largest universal truth, has a role to play. Observing it one may find innumerable patterns and goings on, which all fall in their proper place and time and keep the Dance going. This is what it means for the universe to have a Logos. It can only be this way because Maleldil decrees it so from outside the Dance, as the Dance pleases Him. This is Law is its purest form, and to align oneself with it is to seek to do one’s part in the Dance. While one’s part my, initially seem confusing or unimportant, that is not the case. All things resolve to further the dance in a way that is uniquely beautiful and thought out.
Contrast this with how the N.I.C.E operates in That Hideous Strength. When Mark Studdock is enticed to join by Lord Feverstone, it is under the guise of joining a secret plan. A great plan even. Once inside Belbury however, the experience he gets is Kafkaesque. He is unable to have clearly defined what his job, salary, or really even what the N.I.C.E. does. At first, this seems to be because the villains of the story are intentionally stringing him along. But as the story unfolds, it becomes clear that no one knows what is going on and that their really is no plan at all. Authority figure after authority figure is propped up, only to be discarded as a mere pawn in another’s plan mere pages later. It is an exhausting ordeal both for Mark and the reader. It is also the most notable trait of the enemy, the seeming plans within plans which lead to nowhere, or even hinder the enemy’s own goals. In one example, the military leader, Fairy Hardcastle, sets a riot in the town of Edgestow, and the same night tries to apprehend Jane Studdock. The riot causes this attempt to fail. The enemy trips over its own schemes. In the end, the enemies final attempts to scare Mark into joining are the very thing that give him a reason to actually repent of all the evil he’s done and reflect on his life. Ultimately, this leads to his salvation and return to the right side. This theme of the enemies own complex schemes backfiring on them is constant. The enemy at the N.I.C.E, and by extension the Black Archon, seem to come off more as bumbling buffoons. Dangerous bumbling buffoons to be sure, but buffoons none the less.
This is because Lewis was hinting at a deeper truth. Chaos is not Evil because it is Chaotic, Chaos is Chaotic because it is Evil. The Black Archon makes a crude mockery of the Great Dance in his own house, via complex plans that go nowhere, pitting pieces of his own forces against each other in petty competition. It is chaotic because it mocks the complex order of the Great dance. The Black Archon rebelled against his rightful place in the Dance long ago, and enticed man to rebel as well. In doing so, he never lost his innate desire for the order that came with the Dance, even if he now hates the dance itself. From that desire and hatred springs the petty conflicts, the pointless bureaucracies, the endless Kafkaesque initiations. It is in defiance and imitation of the order of the Dance. It is little wonder that the first of the final initiations for one being brought into the “inner circle” of those in direct contact with the Black Archon is to be seated in a room that is just a little off. The ceiling is lined with dots that appear to have a pattern, but do not. The door frame is slightly off center, enough to drive a person crazy. This is indeed the key inversion. The Great Dance is order even in apparent chaos. The Great Chaos is the surface appearance of order without the actual substance.
I bring this up as another way to explain why Law and Chaos carry moral judgments with them. If one chooses to disobey the Law of the Universe, one will naturally cause and experience chaos. Like choosing to put gasoline in the oil tank of an engine. It is not that Chaos is being morally judged for being confused and chaotic, it is that confusion arises from the moral condition of being evil. Its a very elegant explanation that will fit into any constructed setting, since any setting will have a “way things ought to be” baked in. Even if that is wildly different from our own world’s Logos.
As I said there are more thoughts a-rattlin’ around in my skull, so expect more content about the Space Trilogy, loosely tied to the table top of course. So for now,