I have not gotten all my strength back since I got sick in August and it seems I am really sluggish in getting my reviews up. I’ve read a bunch of books, but haven’t reviewed them yet. So I am recycling a review from a couple of years ago. I hope you enjoy it.
That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
When I first read That Hideous Strength, it was my least favorite of Lewis’ Science Fiction trilogy. Now I believe it is my favorite.
Evil forces have gathered for a showdown on Earth. We have seen some of this in the first two books but now the “bent” Eldil and their minions are showing their hand in hopes of destroying Earth.
It is insightful to see how much the evil Eldil hate mankind, because, of course, they hate mankind’s Maker.
They are a pragmatic sort, however, and tell whatever lies, power hungry, perverse men are willing to swallow to achieve that end.
Our story starts out with a young couple, Jane and Mark. Jane and Mark are a modern, progressive couple and they have no patience with old fashioned notions of women and men’s roles. Jane’s ambition is to finish her thesis and Mark’s ambition is to join the “inner ring” at the National Institute of Coordinated Experiments or N.I.C.E. for short.
This starts the trouble because Mark is invited to join N.I.C.E. He thinks. They certainly have invited him and have intimated that they want him, but for what? He cannot get a definite answer as to what his occupation would be or that he is even hired. When he demands clarity, he is warned that he will offend the director. Anxious to please, Mark subsides.
Meanwhile, Jane is having some very non progressive, non modern dreams. They are strange and disturbing and it seems they have something to do with an ancient man lying in a tomb.
All is not as it seems, to coin a phrase. It turns out the institute is not interested in Mark but want Jane. Her dreams will tell them the location of this mysterious man. Why do they want him? They believe he possesses power that will help them control the world.
At least that is what the men think. In reality, it is the Eldil who want the man to help them destroy the world. They play on certain men’s lust for power to achieve their ultimate goals.
Lewis creates a brilliant expose on human nature and our reality on a metaphysical level.
Each person is a type and Lewis reveals their nature by narrating their thoughts to the reader. We smile and sometimes laugh in acknowledgement because we recognize ourselves and others in the different characters. We also are filled with loathing as we recognize the perversity and arrogance that characterizes so many people in our world.
I especially appreciate his descriptions of the men at N.I.C.E. Each one wants something from the Eldil. One wants superior knowledge and scientific advancement; another seeks supernatural experiences, a third wants freedom to experiment on animals and humans for his personal increase in knowledge and biogenetic engineering. Not one cares how many people they expend to achieve their selfish goals and they see the Eldil as a means to their own ends without considering that they are actually meeting the Eldils’ ends.
In the end each of them find themselves, their person, individuality, and finally their soul, absorbed by the Eldil.
Dr. Ransom, the man who traveled to the planets in the first two books, is keeping a group of people safe from N.I.C.E in his house. These are the few that have not either capitulated to N.I.C.E.’s side or been jailed. Jane, at first unwillingly, then later most willingly joins them.
Ransom informs his small group that the scientists and professors at N.I.C.E. do not realize that the Eldil hate them as much as they hate everyone else and as soon as their usefulness is gone, these “intellectual” men will find themselves deserted and finally destroyed.
There are moments of real horror. The Head of the institute turns out to be exactly that; the decapitated head of a criminal who was executed in France. One scientist obsessed with creating life from dead men, like his own Frankenstein, has invented a method to infuse the head with saliva, blood, and oxygen. The Head then speaks and gives orders.
This is scary enough but worse revelations about the Head are around the corner and I won’t reveal anything else so as not to spoil it for the reader.
There are also turning points. This happens primarily in Jane and Mark who at first are against Ransom’s side and his group in that they dismiss them as antiquated and backwards in their “old fashioned” thinking about morals or believing in a Spiritual world. Both come around as they personally experience undeniable evil.
Mark’s conversion is the best part. He transforms from being a self-absorbed toady to seeing N.I.C.E. for what it really is and no longer fears rejection of the “inner circle” or losing his job. Once he becomes fearless, he stops thinking only of himself and the reader sees Mark become more fully a man, more fully human as though the character change fleshes him out to where previously he was merely a thin out line of a person.
I should point out that not all Eldil are evil. As we learn in the first book, Out of the Silent Planet, most Eldil are good. Only the ruling Eldil of planet Earth is “bent” as the good Eldil call it.
And we eventually learn that Earth is not completely deserted by good Eldil. They are also here on Earth. They have traveled from other planets to battle the evil Eldil, something the bent Eldil did not anticipate.
I find the whole story a perfect analogy to the battle going on Earth now between good and evil.
And, as with all of Lewis’ work. The reader is never deserted. We are reassured that good and the Author of good conquers evil. And again, we learn to love Lewis’ characters as much as Lewis obviously loved people and consequently made lovable reflections of humans in his stories. We love them because we see them around us.
Lewis once said of Nathaniel Hawthorne that “he shows the darkness in men without ever providing light to pierce that darkness” (I am paraphrasing because I wrote it down from memory).
Lewis succeeds in piercing the darkness with his light-suffused stories.
View all my reviews
Postcard. I sent it to someone in Russia.