on August 18, 1997
It seems that people either like That Hideous Strength the best or least of the Space Trilogy. I think the reason is that That Hideous Strength is very different than the other two books. It took me a couple of chapters to realize that this book was not going where Perelandra and Out of the Silent Planet went, but when I realized that I could enjoy the book on its own merits. In fact, this is my favorite book in the trilogy. Although a Christian theme runs throughout the trilogy, when it is presented in That Hideous Strength it becomes more accessible. The evil in the book could and does happen. The basic good in the book is no less extraordinary (with certain exceptions). The adventures of Ransom on other planets in the first two books of the trilogy were to prepare him for the battle on Earth in That Hideous Strenth. An interesting phenomenon of this book for me was that when I was reading about Mark and the N.I.C. E. I longed for the story to switch to Jane and the group at St. Anne's. The people at N.I.C.E. were so disagreeable and petty and backstabbing that it made me realize what C. S. Lewis was saying about the nature of evil (or the devil). This book can be read for its story alone, but it is much more rewarding if you think about the ideas and beliefs present as well.
Even if you are not religious or a christian the book can inspire you to think about what you believe in.
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 Englandd'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 8, 2009
Lewis, like his friend and fellow philologist Tolkien, dealt in the creation of realistic myth. This well paced novel culminates his Space Trilogy, commencing with Out of the Silent Planet and continuing with Perelandra, based on the theme of natural and beneficial order versus the illusion of unchecked, destructive "human progress."
While one may take objection to many of Lewis's ideas on religion - I myself do - the unseen world of the eldils, or angels - both good and bad - that he constructs is so grandiose and fascinating that I for one forgive him all offences.
The story opens quietly in a small English town, where a modern young woman - modern for 1945 that is - endures the frustrations of marriage to an underpaid fellow of a minor university. From this innocent beginning, the pair become entrapped by the machinery of a satanic group bent on world domination.
Step by step they are enticed into a satanic plan for world domination, yet, while the plot snares them with all the devilish menace that a reader could wish for, its grasp on their lives is achieved by everyday, believable manipulations: the threatened loss of employment, the flattery of recognition, the temptation of money, power and fame. Eventually the Satanists overreach themselves, and the novel culminates in an imaginative battle of good and evil, with both spiritual and brute physical forces on either side.
The writer George Orwell argues that the inevitable triumph of good over evil weakens the novel, but I don't agree. To me, its charm lies not in its ending but in the skill with which the story is told. It says much for this story, that though science has overtaken it during passage of half a century and more, its lives as though written today.
I particularly enjoy Lewis's construction of opposed hierarchies, and the subtlety with which both good and bad characters are drawn. But how remarkable it is that we are often drawn more to the bad characters! My favourite amongst these is Wither, an ancient villain, whose massive but crumbling intellect hides behind a façade of amiable vagueness as he schemes his way towards ultimate power.
Ending on this note, is it not strange and intriguing that a strong Christian apologist like professor Lewis should need to spice his calm beliefs with garnishes of magic, naturism and warlike demigods?
Graham Worthington, author, Wake of the Raven
on May 8, 2004
I have been a life-long C.S. Lewis fan, and first tackled this book when I was probably about 12, returning to it often throughout the years (I am now 32). One of my favorite passages concerns the descent of the Eldila (especially Jupiter) into St. Anne's, although I thoroughly enjoyed the work as a whole. It can be a bit slow-going in parts, and definitely is "British" in numerous of its references, but all in all it's a great end to the series and a very instructive and entertaining story. Two quick comments here: an earlier reviewer wondered why Merlin was necessary and couldn't anyone have taken his role upon themselves. Lewis writes in the book how Merlin was needed because in life he had opened himself to the influence of spiritual powers in a way others hadn't, and that "opening" was what made him uniquely suited to the needs of the situation in the novel. As to the other reviewer's comments about Lewis not knowing a thing about women, and his views on contraception, it would seem that a fairer statement would be that Lewis' views did not correspond to the reviewer's, rather than a condemning statement about his views. I say this especially since I know many women who have absolutely no problem whatsoever with the views Lewis articulates in the book. Happy reading to all!
on October 28, 1999
I only recently discovered the Trilogy, never having been much of a Lewis fan, and read them in order. Each book has its charms, but I especially enjoyed the way That Hideous Strength built on the "circles" of the Bad Guys, both at Bracton college and later at Belbury. Mark Studdock, a person possessing neither distinction, character, nor a talent for evil, has lived his life - and ruined it thereby - in a search for admission to 'the inner circle,' and any circle will do. He learns that each concentric circle, in addition to being more exclusive as he supposed, is also more evil and more banal.
The characterization of Stoddock is superb. Likewise the relationship between Mr. and Mrs. Dimble and a few other minor characters. The book is almost worth reading just to gain the acquaintance of Mr. Bultitude.
Others are far less engaging. MacPhee - one of the most unidimensional characters I have ever read - is a continual annoyance. The whole build-up with Merlin, only to have him turn out completely powerless until "possessed" by the eldils, makes no sense to me at all. And then he - what? Explodes? Couldn't anyone have done that? And why do God and the angels need an Arthurian wizard, anyway?
But the biggest disappointment was Ransom himself. He went from being a lifelike, engaging fellow, in the first two books, to an idealized shadow. We never really learn how he goes from being a Cambridge don to a wealthy landowner and "the Pendragon." Who are these people who bequeath St. Anne's to him on the condition that he take the name "Fisher-King?" How did he become the Pendragon? No explanation.
This was hard to accept from such a brilliant writer. But that's not to say the book is unworthy of attention. I expect to read it again, probably soon, and will probably get more insights from it the second time through.
I believe much of the problem the Trilogy has with readers of my generation is that it is always classed as Science Fiction, which it certainly is not. People read it expecting familiar formulas, and don't know how to react when it turns out to be religious allegory. They should read more carefully. As with most of what he wrote, Lewis intended to illuminate more than to entertain.
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 February 3, 2000
The Space Trilogy of which "That Hideous Strength" is the final installment is spiritual adventure candy for the soul. This is the first novel other than the Screwtape Letters that CS Lewis let's his comic side out to play.
In the end the real issue is how the self anointed elite hatch their plans as if they alone matter and will decide what is best for those who don't matter. Quaint setting and uproariously funny moments do not detract from the sinister longings of the inner circle.
Despite very eloquent and persuasive analysis to the contrary, the State, and other power groupings will not "wither away" anymore now than in CS Lewis' time. In fact the tyrannical impulse is alive and well and strangely enough abetted increasingly by both political parties and the media. If you enjoyed this trilogy. Check out "Transfer-the end of the beginning by Jerry Furland. "Transfer" is the first book in a trilogy as well. And, like Lewis, Furland can tell tell a story.
on December 22, 1999
The N.I.C.E. (Nat'l Inst. for Controlled Experiments) wants that part of Bracton College's land that is said to contain the body of Merlin. Mark Studdock is drawn into the N.I.C.E, whose temporary headquarters are elsewhere, even as his wife Jane sees at first hand the things the N.I.C.E is doing. The two follow different paths throughout the book, each on different sides without realizing it. And it turns out that Merlin never really died, and furthermore, really was buried at Bracton College....The plot is much more complex than that, but that's the skeleton, stripped completely of flesh so as not to give away any surprises. The characterizations are good--some great. Jane is good--Mark is much better; literature has seldom had such a likeable twerp. Feverstone, Curry, Dimble, Ivy, the tramp, are all good. (McPhee, criticised as being 'unidimensional' by a previous reviewer, is, ironically enough, based on a man Lewis knew well.) Some of the best parts of the book are those that describe the politicking that goes on at Bracton and at N.I.C.E, and amusing little comments are strewn regularly throughout the text. However, the same previous reviewer is right on the mark in saying that the change in Ransom is both disappointing and unexplained, and I personally find some of Lewis's remarks on men and women grating. Some are funny, as when Jane wonders when Mark will really be back, thinking, 'for when men say that they will be away two days they mean that that is the minimum, and they hope to be away a week.'The way Jane despises women who shop for a new hat to comfort themselves and then turns right around and does the same thing is good too. What grates is the author's placid assumption, not that masculinity is good, but that it is the highest good, and that good spiritual beings grow more masculine as they grow more spiritual and perfect. That sort of thing can be ignored, however, especially on the second time through, and it's a rare reader who won't want ot read this book again. And then again.
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.
on September 2, 1999
All right, there are problems with this book. Lewis' NICE conquers not only England, but the entire world, while the world hardly seems to notice or care. Lewis never has been able to describe any organization that included more than a pub-full of members convincingly. His "international conspiracy" comes off a bit like Spectre without the pirhanhas or pretty girls. He tries McPhee out in the role of house skeptic and house clown, but he doesn't really work in either. And Lewis can't seem to make up his mind if he wants his good guys to practice Christian miracles or pagan magic; where in the Bible do angels possess people? (Comes of hanging around Charles Williams, I guess.)
So why do I keep on reading the book? Partly because, like a stew, I can push the ingrediants I don't like to the side. And partly because the book contains some tasty little stylistic and conceptual tidbits, like the proper names, which Lewis fills out with some classic parody, the fun of bringing Merlin back to modern England, and the contrast between the tramp and the magician in the climactic scene.
But as Lewis said of Macdonald, the preaching, which would be a defect in other books, is what really saves this one, in my opinion. That Hideous Strength shows a remarkable understanding of the mechanisms of human depravity and redemption. The book is far better on this score than George orwell's antiutopian classic, 1984. Moreover, there are some wonderfully prophetic and insightful passages. The book has, in my opinion, aged extremely well, as technology and the New Age movement have taken the old dream of man as God to new levels in recent years. Was NICE a prophecy of what computer and biotech geniuses are going to do with the human mind in the 21st Century? We'll wait and see.