At last I came to the cross-roads by the little Wesleyan chapel where I had to turn to the left under the beech trees. I ought to be seeing the lights from Ransom's windows by now--or was it past black-out time? My watch had stopped, and I didn't know. It was dark enough but that might be due to the fog and the trees. It wasn't the dark I was afraid of, you understand. We have all known times when inanimate objects seemed to have almost a facial expression, and it was the expression of this bit of road which I did not like. "It's not true," said my mind, "that people who are really going mad never think they're going mad." Suppose that real insanity had chosen this place in which to begin? In that case, of course, the black enmity of those dripping trees--their horrible expectancy--would be a hallucination. But that did not make it any better. To think that the spectre you see is an illusion does not rob him of his terrors: it simply adds the further terror of madness itself--and then on top of that the horrible surmise that those whom the rest call mad have, all along, been the only people who see the world as it really is.
Surely that was the cottage. It was very well blacked-out. A childish, whining thought arose on my mind: why was he not out at the gate to welcome me? An even more childish thought followed it. Perhaps he was in the garden waiting for me, hiding. Perhaps he would jump on me from behind. Perhaps I should see a figure that looked like Ransom standing with its back to me and when I spoke to it, it would turn round and show a face that was not human at all. . . .
I have naturally no wish to enlarge on this phase of my story. The state of mind I was in was one which I look back on with humiliation. I would have passed it over if I did not think that some account of it was necessary for a full understanding of what follows--and, perhaps, of some other things as well. At all events, I can't really describe how I reached the front door of the cottage. Somehow or other, despite the loathing and dismay that pulled me back and a sort of invisible wall of resistance that met me in the face, fighting for each step, and almost shrieking as a harmless spray of the hedge touched my face, I managed to get through the gate and up the little path. And there I was, drumming on the door and wringing the handle and shouting to him to let me in as if my life depended on it.
There was no reply--not a sound except the echo of the sounds I had been making myself. There was only something white fluttering on the knocker. I guessed, of course, that it was a note. In striking a match to read it by, I discovered how very shaky my hands had become; and when the match went out I realised how dark the evening had grown. After several attempts I read the thing. "Sorry. Had to go up to Cambridge. Shan't be back till the late train. Eatables in larder and bed made up in your usual room. Don't wait supper for me unless you feel like it--E. R." And immediately the impulse to retreat, which had already assailed me several times, leaped upon me with a sort of demoniac violence. Here was my retreat left open, positively inviting me. Now was my chance. If anyone expected me to go into that house and sit there alone for several hours, they were mistaken! But then, as the thought of the return journey began to take shape in my mind, I faltered. The idea of setting out to traverse the avenue of beech trees again (it was really dark now) with this house behind me (one had the absurd feeling that it could follow one) was not attractive. And then, I hope, something better came into my mind--some rag of sanity and some reluctance to let Ransom down. At least I could try the door to see if it were really unlocked. I did. And it was. Next moment, I hardly know how, I found myself inside and let it slam behind me.
In this passage from the novel Perelandra by C.S. Lewis, an unnamed narrator is paying a visit to a friend called E. Ransom at his cottage in the countryside during the Second World War – evidenced by references to the blackout and the text’s date of publication (1944). As the narrator draws closer to the cottage, he becomes very aware of the darkness and his fear of it, and speculates that he might be losing his mind. When he finally reaches the cottage – his terror increasing the closer he gets – he finds a note from his friend explaining that he has been called away for a short time and will return later than evening. At first the narrator is tempted to leave, but his fear of the darkness forces him to enter the cottage. The irrational fear that the narrator feels is the primary focus of the passage.
A great deal of stress is put on the fact that it is very dark – it is mentioned in both line3 and 4, and the avenue of beech trees is described as having a “black enmity” (line 8). This gives a much more sinister quality to the setting of the passage, and is underscored by the use of words such as “horrible expectancy” (line 9), “loathing” (line 23) and “retreat” (line 35), and the statement that “one had the absurd feeling that [the house] could follow one” (line 39). The darkness may also have a more symbolic meaning – the narrator states that his ‘humiliating’ account is necessary “for a full understanding of what follows” (line 21), so it is possible to infer that the darkness and feeling of foreboding that the narrator feels is foreshadowing a later conflict. Personification is also used to highlight the menacing tone of the extract – as well as having a feeling that Ransom’s house “could follow one” (line 39), the narrator also describes the avenue of beech trees as having a “black enmity” (line 8) and a “horrible expectancy” (line 9), and the road has a “facial expression” (line 5). This gives an impression of the narrator’s overactive imagination, spurred on by a fear he does not understand and cannot rationalize.
Connected to this, there are frequent references to madness and irrationality; for example in line 7 there is a reference to “real insanity” and in line 11 “the terror of madness”. There are also references to childishness in lines 15 and 16 when the narrator briefly suspects that Ransom might be waiting in ambush in the garden of the cottage. Both of these references give the fear the narrator feels a much more basic nature – it is not an intellectual fear, but a more primal one that the narrator “…can’t really describe…” (line 22). He attempts to calm himself early in the passage by calling the menacing nature of the beech trees a hallucination, but this only frightens him more, adding the fear of madness to his existing malaise. He also states that the mad are “…the only people who see the world as it is” (line 12), implying that the terrifying world he sees during his ‘madness’ is the true world, and again foreshadowing a future menace. The punctuation of the passage – frequent dashes, ellipses and full stops – gives a fragmented feeling to the text that reinforces the idea of words being unable to accurately express his fear as it is as if the narrator is stopping and starting in his explanation.
The narrator has a strong voice in this passage, helping to establish his character. His intense and irrational fear is evident through his use of words like ‘spectre’ (line 10), ‘terror’ (line 10), ‘loathing’ (line 23) and ‘dismay’ (line 23), and verbs such as ‘fighting’ (line 24), ‘shrieking’ (line 24), ‘drumming’ (line 26), ‘wringing’ (line 26) and “shouting…as if [his] life depended on it” (lines 26-27). However, in retelling this story to the reader he is ashamed of his fear, shown through his use of the words ‘humiliation’ (line 20), ‘childish’ (line 14), and ‘whining’ (line 14) and desire to ‘pass over’ the episode, as well as the “rag of sanity” (line 40) that prevents him from letting Ransom down. Additionally he attempts to justify his fear of the ‘facial expression’ of the road by asserting that “[w]e have all known times when inanimate objects seemed to have almost a facial expression…” (lines 4-5)
Although the character of Ransom is not physically present in the extract, his importance to it is undeniable. It is his cottage that the narrator is going to stay in – from the note left on the door it is clear that the two are friends as the narrator has a “usual room” (line 33) and is trusted enough to be in the cottage in Ransom’s absence. It can also be deduced that Ransom is highly educated, as he has been called up to Cambridge where the highly respected university is. However, the most important reference to Ransom is earlier in the passage when the narrator has a suspicion that Ransom is lurking in the garden, or that he might see “…a figure that looked like Ransom standing with its back to me [but with] a face that was not human at all…” (line 18). This thought gives Ransom an alien quality, and perhaps foreshadows the narrator’s discovery of a new and previously unknown side to Ransom, or the exploration of inhumanity (or non-humanity) in the text.
In conclusion, this passage is effective foreshadowing of an ominous situation perhaps involving the narrator and his friend Ransom. The focus on the menacing atmosphere and the narrator’s fearful response serves as prediction of a future occurrence, while references to madness emphasize the irrationality and inescapability of fear, setting the stage for the action that will inevitably come with Ransom’s return from Cambridge.