That Hideous Strength
, by C.S. Lewis (1943)
I started Perelandra
years ago, and gave it up: couldn't get into it. But a professor friend of mine said I ought to check out C.S. Lewis' space trilogoy, of which Perelandra
is the first, and gave me a copy of That Hideous Strength
. The three (the other is Out of the Silent Planet
) compliment each other but can be read alone. I was skeptical that I would like That Hideous Strength
better, which explains why it has been sitting on my shelf for nearly a year.
I took it down a few weeks ago and started reading. And as I often find, a book I expected to dislike turns out to be an engrossing read. It is the story of Mark and Jane Studdock, who separately get mixed up in something far bigger than they, and (though they are adults) grow up in the process. Mark is a college professor with ambitions to be part of the "in" crowd, which leads him to get involved in the N.I.C.E., an organization with big plans to scientifically improve England. But their real plans seem to be more about remaking England by removing undesirables.
Meanwhile, Jane has strangely found her dreams are strangely prophetic: she knows the news of the day before it happens, through her dreams. She confides her troubles to a kindly older couple, who suggest she talk to a man called only the Director. The Director tells her that he is part of a group of people opposed to the work of the N.I.C.E, and moreover, that the real power behind both himself and the N.I.C.E. are greater powers, which men ignorantly calls "demons" and "angels."
The "angels" whose servant the Director is eventually come down to Earth and set things right, setting Mark free as they do, and he---thoroughly disillusioned from all his philosophical pretensions---heads off to find Jane. The readers don't get to see their reunion, but the implication is that both have cast aside their small-mindedness and are ready for a far deeper relationship.
It's an excellent story: better, I think, than Perelandra
(though I never finished it, to be fair). Mark and Jane are not exactly completely drawn characters: both represent Modern Man (or Woman), with philosophical education but no knowledge or appreciation of the spiritual. And the plot is mostly concerned with their redemption through their separate experiences with the N.I.C.E. Clearly Lewis wants to demonstrate the danger of modern philosophies, and their final emptiness. But though it could have easily read like a sermon masquerading as a story, it doesn't: it's mostly a good story that keeps the reader involved in unraveling the complexities of the N.I.C.E., and trying to discover who the Director really is. I enjoyed it.
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