"That Hideous Strength" by C. S. Lewis. Reviewed by ~lagrev-nocfep

by ~darlur, published on

What a complex book, I realize, every time I come back to That Hideous Strength. In many ways, it is Lewis' thickest book: most viscous, densest. THS manages to be both evergreen and a product of its time. That Hideous Strength is the third book in Lewis' The Space Trilogy, but it can stand alone. It shifts tone strangely from Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra. It is a cluttered book, as if Lewis wanted to squeeze every idea he'd had in ten years into it.

The settings run the gamut from sleepy English colleges to modern Big Science™ to Arthurian legend to cosmic intervention. It deals with events of cosmic importance but couches them in early 20th-century ethical concerns around vivisection and the like.

Lewis is characteristically good at examining motivation and internal psychological states. Where he fails, I think, is in painting fully believable secondary characters: too many of them are ciphers, and the novel could be a little more tightly constructed around fewer characters. The great villain is only briefly introduced and used. The ending, of course, is a deus ex machina, but then so is Christianity itself.

The moral universe is closely related to that of "The Inner Ring" and The Discarded Image. The central question he spurs in the reader is where have you been compromised, and will you repent and escape? Indeed, I dislike Mark Studdock for the mirror he holds up to me. Many modern urges and impulses and habits are skewered as copes we adopt to shield ourselves from the absolute demand of Deep Heaven. Or rather: were adopted by those before us, as we have lost the thread generations ago. That Hideous Strength is sometimes cited by traditionalist Christians who feel threatened by the technocratic authoritarianism of thought that now dominates, but that doesn't seem quite right. Indeed, the world of THS is a world enchanted and a world in which the powers of N.I.C.E. are ascendant but defeatable. We live in a world in which N.I.C.E. has already triumphed and the actions to be fought are rearguards. (Lewis hints at the terrifying sway of media both as Fake News and as all manner of pornography.) For all that, may we quit us like men.


Vivisection is back in the news thanks to Neuralink.