I will readily admit that when I first read That Hideous Strength I was not impressed. From 2010, past-Andrew wrote, “don’t even bother reading this one,” and “[That Hideous Strength] has very little plot connection with the first two books, and introduces totally different characters.” So I was tentative when I had finished Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra, because that meant tackling That Hideous Strength once more. So did the book hold up under a re-read, or was I disappointed again? Read on for more:
That Hideous Strength is a difficult book to read and recommend. While there’s a lot there, and it ended up being one of my favorites of the trilogy, I can definitely see how a younger me would have hated the book. If possible, much of the book is even slower than Perelandra, and a lot of the action is abstracted into psychology and conversation. While Perelandra and Out of the Silent Planet also featured a lot of this, they took place on alien planets that gave the entire book somewhat of a luster. By comparison, That Hideous Strength takes place on Earth — ugly, muddy, earth.
Lewis primarily follows the stories of Mark and Jane Studdock. Ransom has been relegated to a background role as “The Director,” the leader of a small organization opposing the N.I.C.E. (National Institute for Coordinated Experiments). In the small town of Bracton, Mark finds himself suddenly thrust into the N.I.C.E. with many chances for power and promotion. Almost simultaneously, Jane finds herself in the Director’s crowd, and both face huge questions that may involve the fate of the whole planet.
While That Hideous Strength casts Mark (and the N.I.C.E.) and Jane (and the Director) as opposing forces in a drama, Lewis is more concerned with philosophy than action in this book. While that’s not to say that the book is a boring read, the main thrust of the book will examine what happens when man tries to overthrow the natural law of God and nature. If that’s up your alley, this book will resonate with you. Set in the context of the first two books of the Space Trilogy, I found That Hideous Strength a thrilling conclusion, set in the practical world of our own planet, and made all the darker by the bright, airy, experiences of light we’ve been taken through in the first two books. I found it an exciting and appropriate end to the Space Trilogy.
That said, I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone. Some people, such as my five-years-younger self, probably wanted a good sci-fi story and were disappointed to find philosophy instead. If your bent is story and action, this is not the book for you. But having studied some of the real-life philosophy that led to the imaginary N.I.C.E, I found Lewis’ book incredibly rewarding and insightful. Lewis can definitely write for adults, what’s more, he buries more inside his books than you will ever uncover in one read. That Hideous Strength is a good ending to the Space Trilogy story, but more than that, it’s a rich and rewarding study of philosophy, set in the realms of fiction. So as long as that’s clear to you going in, I highly recommend C.S. Lewis’ That Hideous Strength and the entire Space Trilogy.
Published on 6 April, 2016. Last updated on