10 July 2016

Merlin and the servant problem

In C.S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength, the druid Merlin, having been woken from over a thousand years of suspended animation, is talking to the Director of a community of people, and commenting on the hospitality he has received in their house, and on the way the Director lives.
‘Sir’, said Merlin in answer to the question which the Director had just asked him. ‘I give you great thanks. I cannot indeed understand the way you live and your house is strange to me. You give me a bath such as the Emperor himself might envy, but no one attends me to it; a bed softer than sleep itself, but when I rise from it I find I must put on my own clothes with my own hands as if I were a peasant. I lie in a room with windows of pure crystal [...] but I lie in it alone with no more honour than a prisoner in a dungeon. [...]

You seem to live neither like a rich man nor a poor one: neither like a lord nor a hermit.’ *
Merlin’s comments may have been Lewis’s oblique way of referring to the modern intellectual’s difficulty of finding people willing to save him from having to do everything for himself — already a significant issue in 1945 when That Hideous Strength was published.

* C.S. Lewis, The Cosmic Trilogy, Bodley Head 1989, p.649.