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That Hideous Strength by C S Lewis (Dec 5 2005)

2.4 (1948)

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  • By Paul Emmons on June 15, 2006

    Having enjoyed this novel again and again for a generation, I believe that it is prophetic and even more relevant today than when it was written. Now that recent filmings of Lord of the Ring and the first Narnia book have delighted critics and the public alike, is it too much to hope for a high-quality cinematic version someday of _That Hideous Strength_? Lewis would be most pleased, I daresay, if any such adaptation were set in our own time, because we need its messsage now.By the time Mark Studdock arrives at Belbury, he is a confirmed brown-nose with considerable experience in pursuing his life's ambition: joining the esoteric Inner Circle of whatever. It is striking, then, how much difficulty he has in the NICE even determining who is in this group. Feverstone, Filostrato, Hardcastle, and Straik, for instance, all confide to him that their own respective purviews are of the institute's essence, while various other departments are peripheral or merely for public consumption. By the end of the book, the chaos proclaims that none of these figures, nor anyone else, is effectively in charge.In this respect, Lewis brilliantly anticipated insights that the late William Stringfellow would articulate in the 1960s and 70s: that institutions are among the contemporary world's most characteristic manifestations of the demonic "powers and principalities" mentioned in the Bible. They inevitably take on lives of their own and go off the rails. Eventually they justify any and all means towards the end of their own survival and hegemony. They enslave and "deplete the personhood of" every human being involved with them-- even (and perhaps especially) those who imagine that they are in control.Of course, the church as an institution being hardly exempt from these problems, clergy would react to Stringfellow's analysis with hostility proportionate to their power. Ironically, the works of this theologian long lay in unread obscurity in seminary: while students in, of all places, law school continued to turn to them when they wanted to learn how corporate structures really operate. As we 21st-century Americans find ourselves steeped in the waking nightmare of an unfolding vindication of Stringfellow's prophetic thought, it is heartening at least to see a growing interest in it-- books lately republished and his ideas taken up and further developed e.g. by Walter Wink. For an illustrative novel, however, _That Hideous Strength_, written by C.S. Lewis some 25 years earlier, may yet be unsurpasssed.Some commentators have incomprehensibly indicated that the NICE people were materialists. Pas du tout. They are probably ex-materialists, but by the time we meet them are devotees of the occult. The reader grasps the inevitability of this progression. As Muggeridge (and perhaps Chesterton earlier) observed, those who cease to believe in God don't believe in nothing. Rather, before long they'll believe in anything. Lewis must have been aware of the occult dabbling practiced by high-level Nazi figures. While there are always atheistic individuals, it is unlikely, despite their best efforts, that their grandchildren will inherit a trait that requires so much mental assiduity to maintain. There have been no viable large atheistic societies. The Belburians, however, present themselves as materialists and are not prepared, and would probably never be prepared, to publicize their real allegiance: it is esoteric, elite, and exclusive by its very nature, not to be shared by the likes of you and me.Sitting in the garden, one of them exclaims, "Bloody racket those birds make!" Such a sentiment is revealing and chacteristic of one who, as the novel describes in detail, far from being a materialist, has cultivated a disgust for all things physical and who dreams of transcending it. Add this trait to a quest for esoteric knowledge and we have the two most classic marks of the gnostic.I have no doubt that Lewis intended the book partly as a warning against this mode of thought, which Christian orthodoxy has found profoundly and decisively incompatible. He illustrates what kind of people are tempted to take it up, why they do so, and to what bad ends it will lead. Since Lewis's death, it has become fashionable among post-modernists and certain feminists to express their pique and scorn for Christianity by affecting a sympathetic reconsideration of gnosticism, suggesting that its eclipse was only an historical accident or the effect of a political power play. We could do with this book as an antidote.

  • By Catsmate on March 12, 2008

    Firstly let me say I'm an atheist; I find all religious beliefs to be rather silly.However this book (even more than its predecessors) is awful. It's not so much about Lewis's religious beliefs as about his politics and personal life; the whole thing is a huge compendium of Blimpish Tory ranting against anything vaguely liberal in Britain post-1945. Far and away Lewis's worst and most infuriating book. It is also embarrassingly, offensively, sexist ("Write no more books, have children instead").There is quite a lot of messed up sexism in the whole trilogy, even more so than Lewis's work in general. It seems to (mainly) boil down to a lot of the "essentialist male = closer to God" nonsense and monarchy-worship (Lewis was an ardent monarchist and distrusted democracy, as shown in this and other books).It seems to me that Lewis (to paraphrase Patricia Schroder) was scared by the whole notion of a woman who has a brain and a uterus.Lewis must have been going through a pretty bad time personally during and right after the war, to write such a bizarre, mean-spirited, book. Perhaps it's more about Lewis's own doubts, and his reaction to the general loss of religious faith caused by the war, as the book seems to be written to bolster his *own* faith.Also the book is downright illogical in it's perception of god (e.g. the Merlin character's pronouncements against Jane for using birth control; obviously Lewis's god couldn't cope with a diaphragm.......). If this is God's will, that we be governed by the apparent mentality of a sulky child, then indeed it is a toss-up which side is good and which evil

  • By Dave_42 on July 1, 2006

    "That Hideous Strength" (1945) is the third book in the Space Trilogy, but in many ways it is completely different than the first two books: "Out of the Silent Planet" (1938) and "Perelandra" (1943). The first two books are written almost exclusively from the perspective of Dr. Ransom, but in this book it is usually Mark or Jane Studdock's perspective and never Dr. Ransom's. The first two books were fairly short novels, but this one is longer than both of the first two combined. The first two books take the reader to Mars (Malacandra) and Venus (Perelandra), but this book stays on Earth (Thulcandra). The first two books have a single protagonist, while this book has a group trying to work together.The story is set in post-war England in a small university town (Edgestow). Mark Studdock is a young professor who seems driven to always make his way into the inner circle. His wife, Jane, is being troubled by some disturbing dreams which the reader soon learns are clairvoyant. Through the early part of the book, Mark is pulled into the group N.I.C.E. (National Institute for Coordinated Experiments), while his wife finds herself pulled toward the group of heroes which oppose them. Much of the novel is about the gathering of the forces. Mark is drawn to N.I.C.E. by his ambition, but he does question many of the actions and thus finds himself in a tenuous position. Jane does not want to oppose Mark, but when N.I.C.E. tries to arrest her she has little choice but to go with the other side.There are some very interesting aspects of this book, and it definitely takes some chances in bringing in the King Arthur story and blending it with the Eldil story established in the first two books of the series. Lewis is clearly talking about fascism in many places in this book. For example, N.I.C.E.'s goals include elimination of people they consider backward and selective breeding. They control the state functions such as the police, as well as industry, educational institutions and the media. Lewis also takes aim at materialism and how it is ultimately incompatible with ethics. Lewis brings in some religious themes as well, such as the Tower of Babel scene near the end where the leaders of N.I.C.E. are no longer able to understand each other's language. In fact, the books title is taken from a poem and refers to the Tower of Babel.There were also some things which did not work for me in this novel. I did not understand why he felt it necessary to make Lord Feverstone in this story be the same person as Mr. Devine in "Out of the Silent Planet". He never makes use of that aspect, and the two characters do not really act the same way. The story also takes a long time to develop, and it probably would have been better served to move the story forward at a quicker pace as he did in the first two books. That being said, Lewis did turn this around from what I thought was the weak-link in the series, "Perelandra". This book was nominated for the Retro Hugo in 1996 for novels written in the year 1945.


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