That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A thinking man’s “science fiction” predicting the post-modern preoccupation with power politics. “Despair of objective truth” in the sciences and academy generally leads to “a concentration upon mere power” (539).
Lewis contrasts well the hideous strength of the kingdom of darkness – its intimidation, threats and bondage leading to death – with the kingdom of light’s power to free and give life. As usual he injects a heavy dose of philosophy, which might lose the more casual reader. Many characters represent movements. Fairy Hardcastle is Sadism. MacPhee is the skeptic. Filostrato is modernism’s revulsion against organic things. Arthur and Logres are the Kingdom of God.
A major theme is what Lewis calls the attraction of the “Inner Ring.” Many people spend their lives trying to get in to the circle of influence they are yet outside of. This makes them very susceptible to be manipulated and willing to compromise their principles. Most men are afraid of being excluded from some set, and will do almost anything to avoid it. This is the hideous strength for which he titles the book.
He also shows the connection between ideas and political consequences. The evil Institute sets up shop next to a college in a small town. The ideas asserted by the progressive professors fit well with the Institute’s plans, though in the end they are just using the college to grasp power.
The conversion of the main character at the end is well done. The veil of self-deception drops. He sees his ugly sin for what it is. He (and she) “descends the ladder of humility” (last page). “He knew now what he must look like in the eyes of her friends and equals…. How had he dared?.... the loud-voiced or tongue-tied creature, all boots and hands, whose true place was in the stable” (717). But it isn’t just self-loathing. They also come to true love for one another that leads to serving each other, joy, and life. While the Institute beheads and kills one after another until nothing is left, those who find Truth wind up making love and having children.
Part of Lewis’ brief against modernism includes the Pendragon, Merlin and the gods of Mercury, Venus, Moon, Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter. The Christian reader today is likely uncomfortable with such magical elements and forces. We may abstract them today as the power of rhetoric (Mercury) or love (Venus), but few deny the very existence of such forces. Lewis, following the old Medieval view, connected them with angelic principalities and powers.
Read this book.
Relativism leads to intimidation politics and death.
We are self-deceivers to the core.
We share the world with animals and angels, but it is occupied by the enemy.
Fight against the hideous strength within and around you, with humble obedience to your Creator.
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