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.
C. S. Lewis wraps up his "Space Trilogy" right back on planet Earth where it is up to a cadre of ordinary folks, mythical beings, and brute beasts to thwart the forces of supreme wickedness. With the assistance of the Director--a man familiar to readers of the previous two books in the trilogy--this strange collection of characters is pitted against a vaguely-familiar, propaganda-driven totalitarian regime ironically called by the acronym NICE.
This book is Lewis at his satirical best--an uppercut landed to the jaw of secular, anti-family, "post-christian" society.
What is particularly striking about this book is who Lewis fingers as the advance-guard for the evil that sadly dominates on Earth, ever trying to extend its power: a bunch of place-seeking, ethics-free, jive-talking academics who have long left any pretense to reason and science behind. Instead, they are driven by a misguided altruism that manifests itself, ultimately, as complete misanthropy.
In this regard, Lewis must be regarded as prescient. Anyone who has spent any time in American academia will immediately sympathize with the plight of the characters in the book who *dare* to stand up to the censorial, elitist, marxist/leninist, anti-religion, pro-death agenda so prevalent among the "progressive" leadership of the university. Lewis had these people's number fifty years ago.
In short, this book is a fun read and though couched in humorous terms, is deadly serious at its core.
on June 11, 1997
Many fans of Lewis' work rate this least of the Space Trilogy books; it lacks "Out of the Silent Planet"'s wonder and "Perelandra"'s lyricism. However, for a look at where a situationally-moral, rationalist, humanist society is bound to wind up, it is priceless.
The main characters are a young couple who got married out of love and are finding it hard going in "the real world". The wife, Jane, has an unusual ability to 'dream true' and when her dreams start applying to her own life, she finds it unsettling. Her husband, Mark, a young don (or professor) is no help; he's too wound up in college politics (and some very loathesome friends) and the possibility of a job with a new scientific foundation to pay much attention to her.
The story really begins moving when the foundation, called Belbury, begins moving in on everyday life. But, as always with Lewis, there is a moral opposite ready to stand against Belbury; in it, we find an old friend and several new ones.
This book is astonishingly accurate about where society is now -- as with some of Lewis' other observations (Screwtape's toast to the college comes to mind), it's hard to remember that Lewis wrote them nearly 50 years ago -- they're that close to current events and modern society.
on November 18, 2000
Silly heading, but nobody reads them anyway. I think. The third and last book in the trilogy (you did read the others, right?) and about as far from science fiction as you can possibly get . . . there's a definite shift, Lewis seems to be bringing in more fantasy and religious allegorical elements as the series continued, with the end result here. The tale is subtitled "A Fairy Tale for Grown-Ups" and that's what it boils down to. If you're like me, you'll have read this right after reading the other two books (which were great, by the way) and you'll be immediately confused. Instead of focusing on the nifty Dr Ransom, you get a young couple Mark and Jane. Jane's having weird dreams that keep coming true and Mark isn't really paying attention because he's trying to get into the political "circles" as the local university where he works. However, little does he know that evil is lurking there and the folks are plotting some very dark things. Herein comes the good guys and after being introduced to lots o' supporting characters, some of which are interesting, some less so, you finally meet the man himself: Ransom. The problem I have, and this has been said elsewhere, is that he's apparently the "Pendragon" (but also the Fisher King . . . weren't they two different people?) but there's absolutely no explanation as to how that happened. Lewis probably figured it wasn't important and not relevant to the story itself, heck, Ransom's discussion of how he inherited the mantle of the Pendragon is basically tossed off in one sentence. The first half of the book mostly focuses on the college and the dread blokes there, but when Ransom and company shows up finally, things get very trippy indeed. Perelandra was a strange novel because of setting but I could deal with that, Lewis piles so much allegory on the plot that it gets almost ridiculous. And then Merlin shows up. That's right. Merlin. He's kinda fun actually but much like Ransom becomes, he's little more than a voice, you don't get any indication of his motivations. All that said though, this is a nifty way to end the series, the climax left me a little flat, especially after the buildup in the first two books (Merlin makes some stuff happen and the gods blow some stuff up) but Lewis' mastery of the English language saves this completely, this guy was passionate about this novel and you can tell, it crackles from every page and you can really feel it toward the end in almost every word. There's a nice "Britishness" about the book as well, a sense of the sheer age of Britain and its history. The ending is kind and gentle and you're left with a good feeling when you finish the book. If you don't like Lewis for his "preachiness" then stay far away if you don't like thinking, because he's using this more to illustrate a point more than anything else, but it's fine writing and a fine cap to an interesting series. And for those of you who started reading this series because it was science fictional, don't stop now, y'all could stand to read something different every once in a while. It won't hurt. Really.
on December 28, 2005
I have read this book several times and each time I pick it up find it hard to put it down. C.S. Lewis' satirical insights and observations of human nature are not only the stuff of genius but just as relevant now as they were sixty years ago.
The story is engaging from the very beginning, even though it starts "innocently" enough with the course of a young married couple who put their own selfish ambitions ahead of each other. They are drawn into spiritual worlds quite opposite from one another and the story just continues to build in scale and tension as it heads for its climax. C.S. Lewis was a marvel in particular of his understanding of how evil minds operate (see "The Screwtape Letters"), their political machinations, and how they can suck others into a web of self-destruction by appealing first and foremost to the ego.
I am not surprised to read some of the reasons for some of the negative reviews posted here as they reflect common disappointments with this, the third book in the so-called "Space Trilogy." For one, this third book is different in tone and setting and use of characters than the previous two, perhaps undermining expectations for readers of the first two novels. Don't let that affect your judgment of the book because it is a brilliant conclusion to the series, and one of the reasons I think so is because of the differences I mentioned. A recurring theme in C.S. Lewis' writings is how people put God in a box with preconceived notions of religiosity and that theme is constantly visited in "That Hideous Strength". So it is only appropriate if this book does not fit in with readers' preconceived notions of plot and setting!
Further, if one does not approve of Lewis' depiction of the roles of husband and wife, then one must also take issue with the Bible itself, for it is from that source that Lewis draws his point of view on the subject.
Wonderful, entertaining and wise, "That Hideous Strength" is full of the kind of clever insights and different ways of looking at things that make C.S. Lewis' writings so endearing. It is my favorite book in the series.
on September 11, 2006
This is the third and final book in C.S. Lewis's amazing Space Trilogy. This book was written as a sequel to the immensely popular Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra but Lewis also wrote it so that the story can stand on its own. So if you haven't read the first, you can start here.
That Hideous Strength, unlike the first 2 books in this series, where Ransom leaves earth and fights evil in space and on other planets, the battle in this book takes place on earth.
Ransom must lead a group of faithful believers against National Institute for Coordinated Experiments or N.I.C.E., an organization that believes that Science can solve all of humanity's problems. He must battle the people in this organization, super aliens trying to invade and control earth and use its population against other planets and against God.
On top of all of that, Merlin has arisen from his long sleep and has arisen in England's time of greatest need. But the question is, who will find him first - N.I.C.E. or Ransom and his team? The fate of the world, and possibly the universe, rests on this question.
Lewis called this story an adult's fairy-tale. It is a mix of sci-fi and fantasy, and a book that will keep your attention as you raptly turn the pages to find out where Lewis will lead you.
on January 24, 2016
This is the third and best book of C.S. Lewis' trilogy about Dr. Ransom. Though aspects of the other two stories are mentioned, it isn't necessary to have read them to enjoy this book, which holds its own. In this one Dr. Ransom has returned from his space travels, but he is a minor character this time, though his character does influence key events. The main characters are Mark and Jane Studdock, a young married couple with typical modern ideas. Mark craves to be part of the "inner circle" at his university, and Jane is already tired of her marriage, especially since it's clear Mark's professional goals have top priority by a long margin.
The story startled me with its very clear portrayal of how an evil organization manipulates its members and, through them, public support of its goals. This part of the story in particular is extremely relevant today. In one chapter, Mark is persuaded to submit several articles to different newspapers that intentionally mislead, manipulate and divide the local population. Several chapters later, Mark is astonished at the results --- as larger and larger numbers of people are forced out of their homes or summarily imprisoned, either for not supporting the organization's increasingly militaristic strategies for control or just because they are in the way, their former friends and neighbors are apathetic, saying they "obviously deserved it" because they were "in the way of progress".
This alone makes the book well worth reading. I believe similar strategies are being used in the media today.
C.S. Lewis was a prolific Christian writer. This and the two other books of the trilogy have a strong Christian theme underlying the science fiction stories. For readers looking for books similar to the Chronicles of Narnia, this may be a little too different and adult-themed to satisfy (as one who has re-read the Narnia books until they fell apart, I could never really love this trilogy). Also, the science fiction is interesting, but I'm not really a science fiction fan and the whole interplanetary backstory for Elwin Ransom as well as the bizarre interpretation of the character of Merlin from Arthurian Legend didn't grab me.
However, the examination of how intelligent propaganda deliberately turns neighbors against each other and clears the way for an evil group of people to replace government was fascinating and very well done. C.S. Lewis was certainly paying attention to propaganda strategies during WWII. I think that's how this part of the story so clearly emerged.
C.S. Lewis would not have named this series the Space Trilogy. He used the term Deep Heaven for "the packed reality that men call empty space." Everyone else doesn't have a problem with the title so much as the fact that the boxed set of the three books is continually out of print.
Of the three books, I think the second, Perelandra, alternately called Voyage to Venus, is the best. Yet the effect of reading the trilogy together and in order is better than that book alone. The first book, Out of the Silent Planet, is gripping so far as it goes. A friend of mine said the second book, Perelandra, was the best book she'd ever read. But I'd never considered the third book, That Hideous Strength on its own merits until I read an essay by philosophy prof Richard Purtill entitled "That Hideous Strength: A Double Tale." Before that I viewed the last book as starting rather slow, even though it picks up half way through and pulls the three books through to a dazzling ending.
The trilogy is written at a higher reading level than the Narnian Chronicles (the latter were meant for kids), although it's arguably easier to read than The Lord of the Rings. Note: Purtill's essay is scheduled to be included in the revised edition of Lord of the Elves and Eldils: Philosophy and Fantasy in Lewis and Tolkien due out sometime in 2006, along with his most popular essay, "Did C.S. Lewis Lose His Faith?" which argues against the view implied in the film Shadowlands that he did.
The Narnian film may be introducing readers to the books, which, whatever one thinks of the film, is a good thing. But readers closing the Chronicles will be glad to find their way into Lewis' Deep Heaven and the rest of his fiction.
on September 8, 2003
Lewis's writing these days is widely regarded as of exclusive interest to the God Squad and that is a pity. Certainly this is a work of pretty straightforward religious propaganda, a supernatural thriller written by someone who takes the supernatural stuff with the utmost seriousness but, hey, so is "The Exorcist" and that needn't disqualify it from entertaining the unconverted.
This novel is the last and the only earthbound instalment of Lewis's Space trilogy. It's a theological; thriller in which the forces of darkness are seeking to destroy humanity through the agency of the sinister National Institute for Co-ordinated Experiments or NICE.
The plot had two distinct threads. One involves Mark Studdock, a young don at the rather All-Souls-like Bracton College in the fictitious English town of Edgestow (which Lewis in a preface insists is not based on Durham). Mark is a weak man with a desperate desire for recognition and inclusion and is all to easily sucked into the unpleasant world of NICE. He fondly imagines they are headhunting him in recognition of his many talents but in fact they are mainly interested in him as a way to get at his wife, Jane, whose visionary dreams they perceive, rightly, as a threat. And Jane is the subject of the second plot line. While Mark is being sucked in to the world of the baddies at their headquarters at Belbury, a former blood transfusion centre, Jane is falling in with the goodies, a disparate band of desperately nice people at the manor at St Anne's, under the leadership of the charismatic Director, the Ransom of "Out of the Silent Planet" and "Perelandra".
The St Anne's parts of the story are the less impressive. Ransom has been turned by his experiences on Mars and Venus into an outrageously charismatic, ageless and near-superhuman religious leader who is really a lot less interesting than the very human Ransom of the earlier stories and who spends most of his time delivering rather dull and condescending anti-feminist lectures to Jane. (We are constantly told she would ordinarily have found such lectures insufferable but he is just so charismatic, you see...) Recently fashionable stuff about the wisdom of being a "surrendered wife" really just recapitulates Ransom's line here though Lewis surely writes far better than more recent advocates of such doubtful ideas and perhaps succeeds making them as attractive and compelling as it is humanly possible to make them.
The Belbury-Mark story is a lot more fun and comprises a splendid and acute essay in political satire. The picture it paints of a grimly rotten beaurocratic institution guided by what pass for "progressive" social ideals is one of the nicest things Lewis ever wrote. (Lewis's intellectual agenda here echoes in a fictional context thoughts he develops in "The Abolition of Man", one of his most interesting non-fiction essays.) Particularly well done is Belbury's "Deputy Director" Wither, whose talks a wonderful and hilarious form of verbal anti-matter that is all too recognisable as only a slight exaggeration of the worst sort of British public sector Managementspeak. The news management techniques espoused by the NICE are again satirically telling and in a strikingly contemporary way: New Labour, one fears, would have loved the NICE with their fascination with spin and "modernization".
Perhaps the best and most insightful thing about the book is the characterization of Mark Studdock, an extremely telling, frighteningly plausible portrait of a man drawn into collaboration with evil not by wickedness but by weakness, a desperation to belong, to feel himself accepted in the world of those who wield the power and pull the strings. It's enormously unlikely that Hitler's Germany or Mao's China contained enough simply wicked people to sustain such poisonous regimes. But it is also enormously likely that they contained many many people who were foolish and weak in just the ways Mark Studdock was, people whose collaboporation makes them appropriate objects more for pity than for hatred.
The climax is inevitably rather over the top, involving as it does the resurrection of the Arthurian druid Merlin whose ancient powers are crucial to determining the outcome of the conflict. Obviously things get a bit bonkers at this point but Lewis is rare among thriller writers for his scholarship and has the erudition in matters Arthurian to carry it off as well as anyone ever could. A real curiosity then, strange and sometimes a bit nuts but also very well-written, satirically telling, often psychologically and politically insightful and very readable.
on October 7, 1999
A truly stunning book! Interesting how this book seems to be getting either 5 stars or 1 star. Like the story itself, there is polarization, no middle ground. This satirical comedy blends brilliant characters with an accelerating plot. The BEST thing is the true-life charecterization of the "bad guys" and the "good guys". Modern 2-D writers paint the bad guys as blatent, psycopathic killers from the get-go. Lewis' bad guys are killers in disguise: socially acceptable, educated sophisticates who have literally duped themselves and they all distrust and despise each other. The good guys (i.e., "fat Mrs. Dimble saying her prayers") are human, but trying really hard to do right.
The second-best thing is all the spiritual/biblical parallels and symbols. It makes a powerful backdrop for Christians and a nagging echo, with a ring of truth, for atheists (or what Lewis called, "materialists").
The third-best thing was comedy. This was the funniest book I've ever read, but it's really not a comedy, no matter how you slice it. I can't remember the last time a mere book brought laughter to the point of tears and loss of bodily function (real-Merlin-fake Merlin and the banquet speeches at Belbury). Read 'em and weep.