That Hideous Strength

Book cover: 'That Hideous Strength'
Clive Staples Lewis
Macmillan Pulblishing Co. Inc.
C.S. Lewis "Space Trilogy"
Number of pages: 
382 pages
Grade / Age level: 

Despite the fact that That Hideous Strength is the third book in the Space Trilogy none of it takes place in space. In fact it takes place in one of the most cozy, domestic settings you can think of. It is set in the small towns and College lounges of early 20th century England. The good guys live at St. Anne's - which is just a large home - and is named (here we go again with Lewis) after the Grandmother of our Lord. What could be more comforting?

This is NOT a comforting book. The intrigue and activity is startling. And 'Hideous' was a word well chosen.The National Institute of Co-ordinated Experiments is abbreviated N.I.C.E. - but it is not. It is at once exciting, unfathomable and scary.

But to the story. We are back at College now. Our main character is Mark Studdock. A professor of course! He is just being brought into the 'in' crowd. This crowd is so much more progressive. And it is a key, he is sure, to some real recognition and power that he feels he deserves. That his wife, Jane, and he get estranged is not a big concern to him - he will have time to fix that later, when he is a big man. He is getting more and more 'in' as the book goes on. But N.I.C.E. has an air about it that makes the reader nervous (Lewis is a really good writer!!). There is something big going on at N.I.C.E. Mark is being promoted to the highest ranks. But they still won't tell him what is going on. And it all seems like chaos from within. And yet it is something he perversely wants more of. You are caught by a sense of it and then realize how good Lewis has made this allegory for sin and the subsequent seductive flirtation with evil that can spiral into the folly of Babel.

Meanwhile his wife has taken up residence with people at St. Anne's whom she slowly learns to trust. Jane is a very modern sort of girl. But she learns about other mindsets and sees the follies of her own while at St. Anne's.

"I thought love meant equality," she said, "and free companionship."

"...Yes we must be guarded by equal rights from one another's greed, because we are fallen. Just as we must all wear clothes for the same reason," said the director."Equality is not the deepest thing."

"But surely in marriage..."

"Worse and worse," said the director, "Courtship knows nothing of it..."

That is SO TRUE!!! Five words is all it took! Lewis is introducing his characters to new ideas again. We get to listen in. By seeing both sides converse and contrast you can't help but stop and think for yourself from time to time.

And there is the Pendragon. And there is Merlin. And then there is Mr. Bultitude, the pig. Sorry, can't tell you more. You have to read it!

This book explores good and evil in a very modern setting. Despite the fact that the setting at first looks quaint and ridiculous (set in the 1940s or some such for goodness sake! - they didn't even have stem cells!) it becomes clear that the underlying ideas about science are very current and the quaint and ridiculous is how most of today's theories will look in a few short years.

This book is also rich and deep. And while the first reading will be occasion for more than enough discussion further readings are well warranted. Just look at the worn and used cover of mine!

This book probably should not be read before the second half of high school.

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