Tal Cohen's Bookshelf: A Collection of Personal Opinions about Books
That Hideous Strength / C. S. Lewis
Reviewed by Tal Cohen Friday, 26 February 1999
(Continude from the review of Perelandra.)

Third in Lewis’s Cosmic Trilogy, That Hideous Strength is longer than the two previous volumes combined. It is also very different from them in several aspects.

The first noticeable difference is, I believe, in readability. The book is written in a much more fluent style, and it is easier to read; combine this with the plot, which is often highly absorbing, and the result is almost a page-turner.

That Hideous Strength describes an attempt to build a modern Tower of Babel in England during the 1940s. A “scientific” institute called N.I.C.E. (“National Institute of Co-ordinated Experiments”) -- headed by the friends of Dr. Weston, familiar to readers ofthe first two books -- tries to establish complete human control over nature, including the face of the Earth and the human body itself.

(From the book) The time was ripe. From the point of view which is accepted in Hell, the whole history of our Earth had led up to this moment. There was now at last a real chance for fallen Man to shake off that limitation of his powers which mercy had imposed upon him as a protection from the full results of his fall. If this succeeded, Hell would be at last incarnate. Bad men, while still in the body, still crawling on this little globe, would enter that state which, heretofore, they had entered only after death, would have the diuturnity and power of evil spirits. Nature, all over the globe [...] would become their slave; and of that dominion no end, before the end of time itself, could be certainly foreseen.

N.I.C.E. controls the press, and only a small group of people -- “The Logres”, as they call themselves -- really understand what is going on, and hope to stop it. But they do not know how.

A young couple, Jane and Mark Studdock, finds itself on different sides of the divide. Mark joins N.I.C.E. as a better alternative to his former job as a college professor, and he apparently refuses to acknowledge what he encounters there. Jane, on the other hand, realizes she has the unique ability of “dreaming true”, or seeing real events in her dreams, and she is recruited by the Logres.

As part of the general improvement in the quality of writing, the characters in That Hideous Strength are remarkably much more believable, and certainly much less trivial. Jane and Mark are probably the prime examples, but other characters are also well-developed. This is a very refreshing change over the two-dimensional characters encountered in Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra. The evil characters, however, are rather flat, apparently on purpose: each is a caricature of a man with a single evil trait taken to the extreme, with indicative names like “Frost” and “Wither”.

But much as the writing style improved, the book is lacking in depth. Sadly, this third volume does not provoke thought nearly as much as its predecessors did. It does not offer a serious philosophical debate. In Perelandra, Lewis argued that a scientific replacement for religion would be an evil thing. Here, this is taken for granted. And it almost seems as if Lewis not only opposes pseudo-scientific philosophies, but also anything modern in general; old, “traditional values” are deemed clearly superior to any modern thought, for example in family lives.

(From the book) “Things were easier for us. We were brought up on stories with happy endings and on the Prayer Book. We always intended to love, honour and obey, and we had figures and we wore petticoats and we like waltzes...”

“Waltzes are ever so nice,” said Mrs Maggs who had just returned and given MacPhee his slab of cake, “so old-fashioned.”

A few scenes do offer some food for thought; personally, I think the best one is the part in Chapter 15 where Mark is being tested before being fully “initiated” into N.I.C.E. Suddenly, he finds that he cannot openly reject Christian symbolism which he previously believed meant nothing to him. Yet even this discussion on the meaning of symbolism in religion is hardly a compensation for the relative lack of depth in the book. And while most of the new characters are reliable, we find our hero Dr. Ransom elevated from the status of a mortal to become The Pendragon, heir to King Arthur and a human being who is not destined to die -- an awkward transformation to say the least.

The result of these two opposing trends (in the quality of writing and in the depth of the debate) is that many readers of the Cosmic Trilogy consider it to be the best of the three books, while others regret that it was ever written. In my opinion, neither viewpoint is right -- it is simply a different kind of a book by Lewis that happens, plot-wise, to be the sequel of the two others.

(From the book) A suspicion which had crossed her mind once or twice before now returned to her with irresistible force -- the suspicion that the real universe might be simply silly.

Find this book using Wikipedia
A Trilogy in Four Parts?
There’s an ongoing debate regarding the hand-written manuscript of a book called The Dark Tower, which some claim was Lewis’s original draft for a the third volume in The Cosmic Trilogy. The draft is radically different from That Hideous Strength. However, others believe that the unfinished manuscript was faked by Walter Hooper, who worked with C. S. Lewis for a short period in 1963.

More details about this (and about Hooper and his work with Lewis) can be found in The C.S. Lewis Hoax, a book by Kathryn Lindskoog; and in the alt.books.cs-lewis newsgroup FAQ.

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