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The Dark Tower, Page 2

C. S. Lewis

  ‘But aren’t the particles in my nose changing all the time anyway?’ said I.

  ‘Quite, quite,’ said Orfieu. ‘But that doesn’t help. You’ll have to have some particles to make a nose in 3000 if you’re going to have a body then. And all the particles in the universe by 3000 will already be employed in other ways—doing their own jobs.’

  ‘In other words, sir,’ said Scudamour to me, ‘there are no spare particles to be had in the universe at any given moment. It’s like trying to get back into college after you’ve gone down: all the rooms are occupied as they were in your time, but by different people.’

  ‘Always assuming,’ said MacPhee, ‘that there is no real addition to the total matter of the universe going on.’

  ‘No,’ said Orfieu, ‘only assuming that no appreciable addition of new matter to this planet goes on in the very complicated way, and at the great pace, which would be required by Lewis’s hypothesis. You agree with what I’ve been saying, I suppose?’

  ‘Oh certainly, certainly,’ said MacPhee slowly, and rolling his R’s. ‘I never thought there was any kind of travelling in time except the sort we’re all doing already—I mean, travelling into the future at the rate of sixty minutes an hour whether you like it or not. It would interest me more if you could find a way of stopping it.’

  ‘Or going back,’ said Ransom with a sigh.

  ‘Going back comes up against the same difficulty as going forward, sir,’ said Scudamour. ‘You couldn’t have a body in 1500 any more than in 3000.’

  There was a moment’s pause. Then MacPhee spoke with a slow smile.

  ‘Well, Dr Orfieu,’ he said, ‘I’ll away back to Manchester tomorrow and tell them that the University of Cambridge has made a remarkable discovery; namely, that a man in 1938 can’t get to 1939 in less than a year, and that dead bodies lose their noses. And I’ll add that their arguments completely satisfied me.’

  The jibe recalled Orfieu to the real purpose of our meeting, and after a few moments of keen but not unkindly chaff between the two philosophers we settled ourselves to listen again.

  ‘Well,’ said Orfieu, ‘the argument that we have just gone through convinced me that any kind of “time machine”, anything that would take your body to another time, was intrinsically impossible. If we are to have experience of times before our birth and after our death it must be done in some quite different way. If the thing is possible it must consist in looking at another time while we ourselves remain here—as we look at the stars through telescopes while we remain on the Earth. What one wants, in fact, is not a sort of time flying-machine but something which does to time what the telescope does to space.’

  ‘A chronoscope in fact,’ suggested Ransom.

  ‘Exactly—thanks for the word; a chronoscope. But that wasn’t my first idea. The first thing I thought of, when I had abandoned the false trail of a time machine, was the possibility of mystical experience. You needn’t grin, MacPhee; you ought to cultivate an open mind. At any rate I had an open mind. I saw that in the writings of the mystics we had an enormous body of evidence, coming from all sorts of different times and places—and often quite independently—to show that the human mind has a power, under certain conditions, of rising to experience outside the normal time-sequence. But this, too, proved to be a false trail. I don’t mean merely that the preliminary exercises seemed extraordinarily difficult and, indeed, involved a complete abandonment of one’s normal life. I mean that the further I looked into it the more clearly I saw that the mystical experience took you out of time altogether—into the timeless, not into other times, which was what I wanted; now—and what’s amusing you, Ransom?’

  ‘Excuse me,’ said Ransom. ‘But it is funny, you know. The idea of a man thinking he could become a saint as a minor detail in his scientific training. You might as well imagine you could use the stairs of heaven as a short cut to the nearest tobacconist’s. Don’t you see that long before you had reached the level of timeless experience you would have had to become so interested in something else—or, frankly, Someone Else—that you wouldn’t be bothering about time-travel?’

  ‘Um—well, perhaps,’ said Orfieu. ‘I hadn’t thought of it in that light. Well, anyway, for the reasons I’ve just mentioned, I decided that mysticism was useless for my purpose. It was only then it occurred to me that the real secret was much nearer home. You know the enormous difficulties in any physiological explanation of memory? And you may have heard that on metaphysical grounds there is a good deal to be said for the theory that memory is direct perception of the past. I came to the conclusion that this theory was right—that when we remember, we are not simply getting the result of something that goes on inside our heads. We are directly experiencing the past.’

  ‘In that case,’ said MacPhee, ‘it is very remarkable that we remember only those bits of it which fall within our own lives and have affected our own physical organisms.’ (He pronounced it ‘arganism’.)

  ‘It would be very remarkable,’ replied Orfieu, ‘if it were true. But it isn’t. If you’d read the story of the two English ladies at Trianon with an open mind, MacPhee, you would know that there is on record at least one indisputable instance in which the subjects saw a whole scene from a part of the past long before their birth. And if you had followed up that hint, you would have found the real explanation of all the so-called ghost-stories which people like you have to explain away. And by that time it might have dawned on you that there is a great deal in your mental picture of, say, Napoleon or Pericles, which you can’t remember reading in any book but which agrees in the oddest way with the things that other people imagine about them. But I won’t go on. You can look at my notes for yourself after dinner. I, at any rate, am perfectly satisfied that our experience of the past—what you call “memory”—is not limited to our own lives.’

  ‘At least you’ll admit,’ said I, ‘that we remember our own lives much more often than anything else.’

  ‘No, I don’t admit even that. It seems that we do, and I can explain why it must seem so.’

  ‘Why?’ said Ransom.

  ‘Because the fragments of our own lives are the only fragments of the past which we recognise. When you get a mental picture of a little boy called Ransom in an English public school, you at once label it “memory” because you know you are Ransom and were at an English public school. When you get a picture of something that happened ages before your birth, you call it imagination; and in fact most of us at present have no test by which to distinguish real fragments of the past from mental fictions. It was by a bit of amazing luck that the ladies at Trianon were able to find objective checks which proved that what they had seen was part of the real past. A hundred cases of the same kind might occur without such checks (in fact, they do) and the subjects merely conclude that they have been dreaming or had an hallucination. And then, naturally, they keep quiet about it.’

  ‘And the future?’ said MacPhee. ‘You’re not going to say that we “remember” it too?’

  ‘We wouldn’t call it remembering,’ said Orfieu, ‘for memory means perception of the past. But that we see the future is perfectly certain. Dunne’s book proved that—’

  MacPhee gave a roar like a man in pain.

  ‘It’s all very well, MacPhee,’ Orfieu continued, ‘but the only thing that enables you to jeer at Dunne is the fact that you have refused to carry out the experiments he suggests. If you had carried them out you would have got the same results that he got, and I got, and everyone got who took the trouble. Say what you like, but the thing is proved. It’s as certain as any scientific truth whatever.’

  ‘But look here, Orfieu,’ said I, ‘there must be some sense in which we don’t see the future. I mean—well, hang it all, who’s going to win the boatrace this year?’

  ‘Cambridge,’ said Orfieu. (I was the only Oxford man present.) ‘But, to be serious, I’m not saying that you can see all the future, nor that you can pick out those bits of the future you happen to choose.
You can’t do that with the present—you don’t know what money I have in my pocket at this moment, or what your own face looks like, or even, apparently, where your matches are.’ (He handed me his own box.) ‘All I mean is that of the innumerable things going through your mind at any moment, while some are mere imagination, some are real perceptions of the past and others real perceptions of the future. You don’t recognise most of the past ones and, of course, you recognise none of the future.’

  ‘But we ought to recognise them when they arrive; that is, when they become the present,’ said MacPhee.

  ‘How do you mean?’ asked Ransom.

  ‘Well,’ said MacPhee, ‘if I’d had a mental picture last week of this room and all you fellows sitting there, I grant you I should not have recognised it then as a picture of the future. But now that I’m really here, I ought to remember that I had a prevision of it last week. And that never happens.’

  ‘It does happen,’ said Orfieu. ‘And that explains the feeling we often have that something which we are now experiencing has all happened before. In fact this occurs so often that it has become the basis for the religion of half the world—I mean, the belief in reincarnation—and of all theories of the Eternal Recurrence, like Nietzsche’s.’

  ‘It never happens to me,’ said MacPhee stoutly.

  ‘Perhaps not,’ said Orfieu, ‘but it does to thousands of people. And there is a reason why we notice it so little. If there is one thing that Dunne has proved up to the hilt it is that there is some law in the mind which actually forbids us to notice it. In his book he gives you a series of examples of an event in real life resembling an event in a dream. And the funny thing is that if the real event comes first, you see the resemblance at once; but if the dream comes first, you just ignore it until it is pointed out to you.’

  ‘That,’ said MacPhee drily, ‘is a very remarkable law.’

  ‘Try his examples,’ said Orfieu. ‘They’re irresistible.’

  ‘Obviously,’ said Ransom, ‘there must be such a law if we are going to have the experience of living in time at all. Or, rather, it’s the other way round. The fact of having minds that work like that is what puts us into time.’

  ‘Exactly,’ said Orfieu. ‘Well, if we once agree that the mind is intrinsically capable of perceiving the past and the future directly—however much it suppresses and limits the power in order to be a human mind and to live in time—what is the next step? We know that all the mind’s perceptions are exercised by means of the body. And we have discovered how to extend them by means of instruments, as we extend our sight by the telescope or, in another sense, by the camera. Such instruments are really artificial organs, copied from the natural organs: the lens is a copy of the eye. To make a similar instrument for our time-perceptions we must find the time-organ and then copy it. Now I claim to have isolated what I call the Z substance in the human brain. On the purely physiological side my results have been published.’

  MacPhee nodded.

  ‘But what has not yet been published,’ continued Orfieu, ‘is the proof that the Z substance is the organ of memory and prevision. And starting from that, I have been able to construct my chronoscope.’

  He turned round and indicated an object which had, of course, engaged no small part of our attention ever since we first entered the room. Its most obvious feature was a white sheet about four feet square stretched on a framework of canes as if for a magic-lantern performance. On a table immediately before it stood a battery with a bulb. Higher than the bulb, and between it and the sheet, there hung a small bunch or tangle of some diaphanous material, arranged into a complicated pattern of folds and convolutions, rather reminiscent of the shapes that a mouthful of tobacco smoke assumes in still air. He gave us to understand that this was the chronoscope proper. It was only about the size of a man’s fist.

  ‘I turn on the light, so,’ said Orfieu, and the bulb began to shine palely in the surrounding daylight. But he switched it off again at once and continued. ‘The rays pass through the chronoscope on to the reflector and our picture of the other time then appears on the sheet.’

  There was a pause of a few seconds and then MacPhee said, ‘Come on, man. Are you not going to show us any pictures?’

  Orfieu was hesitating, but Scudamour, who had risen, came to our aid.

  ‘I think we might show them something right away,’ he suggested, ‘provided we warn them not to be disappointed. You see,’ he added, turning to us, ‘the trouble is that in the alien time which we’ve succeeded in striking the days and nights don’t synchronise with ours. It’s now six o’clock with us. But there, or then, or whatever you like to call it, it is only about an hour after midnight, so that you will see hardly anything. It’s a great nuisance to us because it means that all our real observation has to be done at night.’

  I think that all of us, even MacPhee, were a bit excited by now, and we urged Orfieu to go on with his demonstration.

  ‘Will you have the room darkened or not?’ he asked. ‘If you don’t, you’ll see even less. If you do, of course, anyone will be able to say afterwards that Scudamour and I were up to some tricks.’

  There was an embarrassed silence.

  ‘You’ll understand, Orfieu,’ said MacPhee, ‘that there’s no personal imputation—’

  ‘All right, all right,’ said Orfieu with a smile. ‘Ransom, you won’t be able to see there, you’d better come to the sofa. Now, have you all got a clear view of the screen?’


  Except for a faint buzzing there was complete silence in the room for some moments, so that noises from without became noticeable and the memory of that first glimpse through the chronoscope is for ever associated in my mind with the distant roar of traffic from beyond the river and the voice of a newsboy, much nearer, crying the evening paper. It is strange that we were not more disappointed, for what appeared on the screen was not in itself impressive. It darkened a little in the centre, and above the darkness there came the faint suggestion of some round object slightly more luminous than the surrounding whiteness of the sheet. That was all; but it took us, I think, nearly ten minutes to get tired of it. Then MacPhee gave in.

  ‘You can darken your room, Orfieu,’ he grunted.

  Scudamour instantly rose. We heard the curtain-rings rattle on the rods; the curtains were heavy and close-fitting; the room vanished and we became invisible to one another. The only light was now the light that flowed from the screen.

  The reader must understand at once that it was not like looking at a cinema screen. It was far more real than that. A window seemed to be opened before us, through which we saw the full Moon and a few stars; lower down, the mass of some large building. There was a square tower in the building and on one side of this the moonlight shone. I think we made out the billowy shape of trees; then a cloud passed across the Moon and for a few moments we were in utter blackness. No one spoke. The cloud passed on, driven by night wind, and the Moon shone out again, so bright that some of the objects in the room became visible. It was so real that I expected to hear the noise of the wind in the trees and almost imagined that the temperature had fallen. The cheerful, unimpressed voice of Scudamour broke in upon the awe which was beginning to creep over me.

  ‘There’ll be nothing more to see for hours,’ he said. ‘They’re all asleep there.’

  But no one suggested that we should pull the curtains and return to daylight.

  ‘Do you know when it is?’ asked Ransom.

  ‘We can’t find out,’ replied Orfieu.

  ‘You’ll observe,’ said MacPhee, ‘that in terms of astronomical time it can’t be very far away. The Moon’s just the same, and so are the trees, from what we can see of them.’

  ‘Where is it?’ I asked.

  ‘Well, that’s very difficult,’ said Orfieu. ‘In daylight it looks as if it ought to be in our own latitude. And theoretically the chronoscope should give us a different time in the very same place—I mean the place the observer is in. But then the d
ays and nights don’t coincide with ours.’

  ‘They’re not longer, are they?’ asked MacPhee suddenly.

  ‘No, they’re the same. It’s 2 A.M., about, in their time, which means that noon for them will come about 4 a.m. tomorrow morning.’

  ‘Do you know what time of the year it is there?’

  ‘Early autumn.’

  And all the while the clouds kept moving over the face of the Moon and parting to reveal the towered building. I do not think that any revelation of some distant place, not even a peep at the landscape of the planets that wheel round Sirius, could have awakened in me quite such a spectral sense of distance as the slow, harmless progress of that windy night, passing we knew not when.

  ‘Is it in the future or the past?’ I queried.

  ‘It is in no period known to archaeology,’ said Orfieu.

  Again we were silent and watched.

  ‘Have you any control over its direction—I mean, its direction in space?’ asked MacPhee.

  ‘I think you’d better answer that one, Scudamour,’ said Orfieu. ‘You’ve really had much more practise with the thing by now than I have.’

  ‘Well,’ said Scudamour, ‘it’s not very easy to explain. If you try to twiddle the screen round so as to try to get a bit of the landscape, say, to the left of the Dark Tower—’

  ‘The what?’ said Ransom.

  ‘Oh—Orfieu and I call this big building the Dark Tower—out of Browning, you know. You see, he and I have had to talk about these things a good deal and it’s convenient to have names. Well, if you tried to see what was further to the left by turning the whole thing round, you wouldn’t succeed. The picture just slides off the screen and you get nothing. On the other hand, the view does change of itself every now and then, following what Orfieu and I call “interest lines”. That is to say, it will follow a single person up the stairs and into the Dark Tower—or a ship along a river. Once it followed a thunderstorm for miles.’