Customer Review

5.0 out of 5 stars My favorite of the Space Trilogy, and argueably the first fan fiction about Tolkien's Middle-earth, 24 Oct 2012
This review is from: That Hideous Strength (Kindle Edition)
[Throughout the years, I have written a number of reviews that have never been published online on Amazon. These writings comprise two types of reviews: unfinished reviews, abandoned during various stages of composition, and completed reviews that for life reasons were never posted. Of the later type, back in September 2001 I wrote a cache of work, a full sixteen reviews* of several different C. S. Lewis books which have never been released. I have issued these reviews in October 2012 on Amazon.com, over a decade after they were initially written. However, these reviews were heavily edited and in several instances radically and drastically revised. I am publishing these reviews now for the first time in their original, unrevised format as written in 2001, with bracketed additions added for occasionally necessary clarification. Mike London 10-23-2012]

That Hideous Strength, the third volume in Lewis's Space Trilogy, stands as central novel of his that gives me the most pleasure in reading it. While Till We Have Faces is certainly his best work, That Hideous Strength is the central novel in my own imagination that I most sympathize with in terms of where I want to go with my own fiction.

There is so much in That Hideous Strength that absolutely fascinates me, and much of the themes I also want to deal with in my own fiction. The abuse of language stands as one of the most terrifying elements in the novel. Wither stands as one of my personal favorites on the side of the N. I. C. E, as does Fairy Hardcastle. Wither is very developed and incredibly diabolical, and Fairy is a very masculine woman involved in sadistic police torture. The Nazis have a very strong place in this work. Much of the more hideous and hellish scenes in this book comes from the inclusion of the N. I. C. E as the dominant villainy that works evil throughout the text. Much of what they want to do tie into the Nazi movements, and each are equally terrible.

The inclusion of Merlin makes it a much more interesting text, for there is the key theme of Nature against Anti-Nature, and Merlin very much is in harmony with Nature. What makes this such a strong work is that each group parallels the other, and wherever there is a vision of total evil there also stands an equally dramatic picture of that which is good.

One thing that the critics seem to really harp on is the fact that this text has such a complex structure, but for myself that is one of the most exciting things about it. It is the fact that Lewis manages such a huge cast of characters, and does so rather well, that makes this one of my favorite of his novels, and certainly my pick for the Space Trilogy.

While I respect Perelandra and find it a very fine artistic effort, it is this book that I keep picking up to reread when I make my jaunts through Lewis's imaginative gauntlets. This is truly the most fascinating of the Space Trilogy.
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[In 2007, I wrote and published this review on Amazon.com]

THS is the third installment in his Space Trilogy. For those who have read the previous two novels (though this is self-contained enough to read as a stand-alone work), they will find themselves introduced to a whole new series of characters, some devilish, some not.

The first time I've heard of the trilogy, it was from a pastor's wife. I was only then reading THE LORD OF THE RINGS (this was back in 1994), and I decided I would try it. Being a fan of Narnia (although I do not like Lion nearly as much as the others), I figured this would be good also.

THAT HIDEOUS STRENGHT, which is longer than the other two books combined, is a book like no other I've read. Everytime I read it I get something new, and, even though I don't much care for the Arthurian element in the story, this is probably my favorite of all of Lewis's fiction, even though he has better (TILL WE HAVE FACES). The novel is reach in characters and ideas (sometimes too much), and I've never read anything else that gives me the same feeling or experience that I get when I read this novel. This is among my top three that I most often return too of Lewis's fiction. Anyway, on to the review.

Lewis, in finishing up this Space Trilogy, presents us with the most complex novel in the series. Lewis reaches for and touches on so many different themes and social concerns throughout the course of the novel, it is impressive on the range of his thought. This book can be the most difficult of the three (although its still highly readable), because so much is going on, and it has been harshly criticized for the amount of material Lewis tried (unsuccessfully, some would argue) to cover in voicing his own social concerns.

Another interesting element of the novel is its relationship to Middle-earth. Lewis makes it quite clear in the novel when he brings in element's of Tolkien's mythology that he is setting his universe in the same imagined space that Tolkien's occurs in. Lewis specifically mentions Middle-earth several times in the novel, and brings in Numenor (a misspelling of Numenor). A careful reading shows THS may be the very first case of fanfiction ever for Tolkien, a full eight years before LOTR was published (though Lewis knew the at that time unfinished work quite well when he was writing THS).

Before we get started you should now more about the novel's genre, as the Space Trilogy is commonly classified as SF. As far as science fiction goes, there are some elements of SF present in THS, but Lewis calls it a fairy tale for a reason - this isn't really science fiction, not the kind you'd find Asimov or Heinline or Clarke. This more mythic than anything, much like PERELANDRA (read my review for my thoughts on that novel), and not really SF-based at all.

The novel is about the corruption of men and women, and how two sides, one good, one evil, are trying to capture Britain. The novel focuses primarily on two journeys taken by a husband and wife.

The main characters are Mark and Jane Studdock, a modern couple who are lost to God and to each other. Jane begins having dreams that are visions of events that are really happening, and ultimately goes to meet with Elwin Ransom about the issue. Meanwhile Mark, a fellow at a college, gets a new employment opportunity with the N. I. C. E. (National Institute for Coordinator Experiments), and so starts his journey into their hellish world. The NICE is ultimately a satanic organization, and appears very much an Orwellian creation. They are trying to take over the government, have their own police force, and control the presses. The N. I. C. E. would be something Orwell would write if he were Christian. Ultimately we find out they are trying have taken the head of a dead criminal, imbibed it with life, and have given themselves over to satanic forces. The Head is demonically possessed. It is through this demonic possession that Satan gives orders to the heads of the NICE. This strength that the NICE as is what the title refers to. The title is drawn from a medival poem about Babel, which also fits in quite nicely as at the novel's climax God confuses men's speech.

The opposing forces, lead by Ransom, is the perfect counter picture to the NICE. There is a love for all things that grow and give life. They are a small group of people waiting for directions from Ransom's superiors (God and angels) to begin combat with the NICE. There are several charming and endearing characters on Ransom's side, including Dr. Dimble (a old don who is married but has no children), and MacPhee, a non-Christian whose function is to be the Skeptic.

The main action of the novel follows Jane and Mark moving about in their new circles. Ultimately we find out both have been trying to get to Jane, which is why the NICE wants Mark in the first place. She is a dreamer, and so she may be able to find Merlin, who has been swept out of time for the last fifteen hundred years. Both sides assume Merlin will be on their side. When Ransom's group finally finds Merlin first, turns out Merlin is Christian.

Once Merlin arrives, the waiting that Ransom's group has been doing for most of the novel is at long last completed. The time for action has come. Ultimately Merlin himself descends upon the NICE, and in one of the most bloody and gruesome scenes in modern literature Merlin eradicates NICE. Animals that were being experimented on by the Institute also escape and join in the carnage.

At the end of the novel, Mark and Jane are reunited, and the gods descend upon St. Anne's (the house Ransom's group are at) and carry Ransom away. The ending is very much a celebration of sacred Christian sexuality, and the novel closes as Mark and Jane are together in a bridal chamber they have been preparing. Lewis's intention for the two characters is they obviously make love, and in all likelihood get pregnant that night.

The third book, THAT HIDEOUS STRENGTH, is longer that the first two combined. In Sayer's biography (I think it's Sayer - if not its in the Green-Hooper biography) a statement is made that THAT HIDEOUS STRENGTH is a Charles Williams novel written by C. S. Lewis, and having reading some Williams I now see why they say that. Tolkien felt William's influence spoiled it, with too much Arthurian mythology incorporated into it. I'm personally not a big fan of King Arthur stories, but this does give me a broader appreciation for them. Many readers may wonder why both sides have such an intense desire to obtain Merlin. Lewis assumes too much knowledge of the reader here. According to legend Merlin is an incubus, a child without a father.

THS may very well be the best of the trilogy, but there are several weaknesses in it.

1. For one, much of the novel is spent in realistic settings. Though we are naturally horrified by the NICE, we don't want them so brutally killed as they are at the end of this book. Its main weakness is it jumps from modern to mythical too soon. It is a novel of ideas, and then at the climax the story becomes mythical, with a violent ending.

2. Another topic that concerns critics is Lewis's use of violence in THS. Lewis was invoking Dante throughout, but the real problem, as Downing says in PLANETS IN PERIL, that the transition between the modern satirical novel and that of mythology occurs too quickly here. Another fault THS has is the flat villains who can only be bad, and on the good side some of the characters have the same fault.

3. Lewis assumes to much of the readers on the matter of Merlin. Unless your familiar with Merlin, you will not know why both sides are so keen to obtain him. Merlin was an incubus, and had no father. That being the case, both sides thing Merlin is something similar to an eldil, or angel, and for both sides he would be a powerful addition to their forces. Ransom is also concerned if the other side captures him they will never find Merlin, and if Merlin is not Christian, Merlin doesn't know how to contend with him, but knows he must

4. In the OSP and PERELANDRA, Ransom is an engaging, though flawed, human, a person the average reader can really relate too. In THS though, he is much more distant. He's never as accessibly human in THS as he was in the other installments. Ransom never seems fully realised as a character as he did in the previous two novels. Ransom becomes much more idealised, whereas in the two previous books Ransom was just like the average sincere Christian man, with struggles and faults. Now, he is the leader and seems to be beyond reproach.

After citing these faults, please do not come to the conclusion I do not like THS; far from that actually. This is my personal favorite of the three, despite the perceived faults.

This is highly recommended. It's notable this is one of Lewis's best selling works - despite the previously cited criticisms, this is Lewis at the top of his game. And what a game it is!
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[In Late 1999 or early 2000 I also wrote this abandoned, unfinished review to "That Hideous Strength"]

The first time I've heard of the trilogy, it was from a pastor's wife. I was only then reading THE LORD OF THE RINGS (this was back in 1994), and I decided I would try it. Being a fan of Narnia (although I do not like Lion nearly as much as the others), I figured this would be good also.

THAT HIDEOUS STRENGHT, which is longer than the other two books combined, is a book like no other I've read. Its main weakness is it jumps from modern to mythical too soon. It is a novel of ideas, and then at the climax the story becomes mythical, with a violent ending. Also, Lewis assumes to much of the readers on the matter of Merlin. Merlin was an incubus, and had no father.

*(These reviews covered all seven books of "The Chronicles of Narnia", the three novels of "The Space Trilogy", "The Abolition of Man", "The Four Loves", "A Preface to Paradise Lost", a revised version of my 2000 review of "Till We Have Faces", "Surprised By Joy", and "The Screwtape Letters".
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