This is the third volume of the Space Trilogy by C. S. Lewis, which fulfilled his end of a deal he made with J. R. R. Tolkien. Finding a dearth of books they actually wanted to read, they set out to write them. Lewis would write about space travel and Tolkien about time travel. Alas. the latter only began the sadly short The Lost Road and the much longer but also unfinished The Notion Club Papers (both found within The History of Middle-earth series). I wish he had finished both, not to mention The Fall of Arthur. I hope I don't die with books unwritten. But I digress...
Lewis began his Trilogy with Out of the Silent Planet, continued it with Perelandra (loved this! especially Ransom's struggle, so like Frodo's, to fulfill his vocation), and concludes it here. In the previous volumes, we spent time on Mars and Venus. In this tale, we are back on the silent planet, our own Earth.
Newly married Jane Studdock is troubled by nightmares she later learns are actual event and is a gift (or curse) powers around her wish to use for good or ill. Her husband, Mark, is a professor at Bracton, an English college more than 700 hundreds old. He desperately wishes to be considered part of the Progressive Element at the school.
Bragdon Wood on the school's property is even older than it, with ties to the time of Merlin. N.I.C.E. (The National Institute of Co-ordinated Experiments) wishes to buy the Wood for their headquarters. Even though I have only read this classic for the first time this year, I already knew N.I.C.E. was not nice, but the college is in financial distress and the money offered to purchase the wood proves irresistable.
Mark attends the meeting that decides upon the sale, while Jane lunches with Mr. and Mrs. Drimble. Mr. Drimble was Jane's tutor in school and an expert on all things Arthurian. Jane's strange dream intrigues the man. That night, Mark attends a dinner where he hears of N.I.C.E.'s vision of the future, which is truly frightening to anyone with sense (and unfortunately still alive and well today in the real world). But Mark readily agrees to help the organization implement their plans and so begins his slow slide into hell.
Upon recommendation from Mr. Drimble, Jane goes to see Miss Ironwood. She hopes to get a cure for her nightmares, but the woman tells her she cannot cure her because she is not sick. She has not had nightmares; she has received visions of reality which Miss Ironwood hopes Jane will use to help save the whole of mankind, which is in great peril. If Jane tells anyone else of her dreams, she could place herself in terrible danger. But if she places her visions in the service of Miss Ironwood and her unnamed cohorts, she would be a tremendous boon to the entire human race. Jane says she wants nothing to do with anything like that. She just wants her nightmares to end.
But the dreams do not stop. Jane and Mark are soon caught up in a great battle between light and darkness and on opposite sides. Who wlll prevail?
I liked this book overall, It is chilling how accurate it still is, more than 70 years later, about how the so-called Progressive Element operates with the manipulation of the media to misinform the public, their goals to eliminate undesirable elements of the human race, and their work toward making man immortal. It gets rather too strange shortly after the appearance of Merlin (though not because of his appearance). Before then, the strength of Lewis' writing shows through. Let us heed the warnings he gives.