Discerning Reader Editorial Review
Reviewed 12/02/2008 by Mark Tubbs.
Recommended. A one-of-a-kind, dualistic, futuristic novel in which the Lamb wins, but not in the way you might expect.
To render it in Lewisian fashion, one would be loath to give away the plot of such a fine specimen of literature. Not that Lewis would say this about his own work, you understand. That Hideous Strength is a modern classic, and this review ought not to divulge any of the plot twists and turns that make this almost 400 page book a simply enjoyable (and eccentric) story, not to mention the richness of its themes and allusions.
Alongside Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra (originally titled Voyage to Venus), these three books comprise what has been come to be known as Lewis’ Space Trilogy, sometimes also called the Cosmic Trilogy. Speaking of space, I cannot quite figure out what Scribner’s cover illustrations have to do with the book, because the entire action of the novel takes place on terra firma – called Tellus or Thulcandra in the book. My HarperCollins UK cover features a rearing bear about to descend upon a white-coated scientist while colonnades tumble all around. Those of you who are allusively aware will note the echoes of Samson, but once again I will avoid “giving the game away,” as George Orwell put it in his 1945 review of the book. Speaking of Orwell, this book resembles some early twentieth century classics in terms of theme and content, such as Orwell’s 1984, G.K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, and to some extent Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent.
However, on another level, That Hideous Strength is utterly unlike the Orwell, Conrad, and Huxley titles, due to Lewis’ inclusion of the supernatural element. Orwell expressed his disappointment thusly: “Unfortunately, the supernatural keeps breaking in, and it does so in rather confusing, undisciplined ways.” Those of us who are Christians are apt to chuckle at Orwell’s umbrage – as Lewis no doubt did as well – and say, “Of course it does.” To discover the ways in which it breaks in, though, you will have to read the book.
In case you are feeling frustrated by the lack of plot revelation in this review, here is a paraphrase of what I tell my students about the book before they study it:
Whereas Ransom goes to other planets in the first two books of the Space Trilogy, That Hideous Strength takes place on earth. This doesn’t mean, however, that other planets aren’t involved. As in the first two books, the scientific advancement of the human race is at the philosophical front and centre, but this book takes it much farther. The age-old conflict of technological versus agrarian features heavily, as does traditional English mythology. There are 1.5 resurrections in the book, and we aren’t talking about Jesus Christ. Enjoy!
Over sixty years later, That Hideous Strength still rises to Orwell’s 1945 commendation: “by the standard of the novels appearing nowadays this is a book worth reading.”