When Christmas break started, I made myself a promise. At that point, I owned one and two-half books by C.S. Lewis that I'd never finished reading. And I was bound and determined to finish one of the two books that I'd started but never finished.
I picked That Hideous Strength.
I chose that book because it's the third book in a trilogy. I'd quite enjoyed the first book. I'd endured the second book. I'd given up on the third one after I was five chapters in, and there was no mention of the main character from the first two books. But then I picked it back up and, after sifting through sentences the size of paragraphs and words I didn't know existed, I found a quite enjoyable novel.
And also a slightly terrifying novel.
That Hideous Strength is, by Lewis's own admission, a novel that portrays the points he made in his philosophical work The Abolition of Man (which I've read about three times and finally understand). But there's a definite sci-fi twist. There are alien-angels and inferior gods and for some reason, the magically revived Merlin. Yes. As in sword-in-the-stone Arthurian legend Merlin.
Oh. And there's a reanimated severed head. I will never look at Futurama the same way again.
There seem to be two moral threads to That Hideous Strength. The first discusses the abolition of man--in other words, a group of men (in this case, a "scientific" organization called N.I.C.E.) decides that the next step in human evolution is to eradicate most organic life and transfer the consciousnesses of select individuals into immortal machines. It comes with serious 1984 vibes and a few uncanny resemblances to real life. One of the main characters, Mark Studdock, is tasked with writing "fake news" articles praising the works of N.I.C.E. and generally manipulating public opinion. Terrifyingly familiar.
The second moral deals with--of all things--marriage and gender roles. And to be quite fair, I don't think C.S. Lewis does it very well. The aforementioned Mark Studdock isn't exactly a model husband, but he doesn't deal with (or even recognize) his shortcomings until the last few chapters of the book. It's his wife Jane, the second protagonist of the book, who gets most of the chewing out. Things like submission and birth control are discussed in ways that would get C.S. Lewis banned from Twitter.
One of the things I quite liked about this book, though, is the characters. Sure, you've got a few boring old college board members that all sort of blend together. But you also have McPhee, the Irish skeptic who made me laugh aloud. You have Mr. and Mrs. Dimble, the essence of a charming elderly British couple. You have "Fairy" Hardcastle, the N.I.C.E.'s female chief of police and a heavily-implied lesbian sadist. And, fortunately, you also have Dr. Ransom, who's been so changed by his experiences in the first two books that he's nearly given a demigod's status.
I read the reviews. Tolkien called it "That Hideous Book" (probably teasingly, as he was good friends with the author). George Orwell noted that it was good, but could be better. I'm inclined to agree. That Hideous Strength is a good book. I can see why I put it down, and yet I'm glad that I picked it back up again.
Are you familiar with Lewis's Space Trilogy? If so, tell me your thoughts in the comments below! God bless you, dear readers, and don't forget to review Where the Clouds Catch Fire and Where I Stand on Amazon!
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.