WIR #18: That Hideous Strength

That Hideous StrengthLewis, C. S. That Hideous Strength. New York: Collier Books. Copyright © 1946 C. S. Lewis.

C. S. Lewis web sites:
http://www.cslewis.com/
http://www.cslewis.org/
Into the Wardrobe


I am now reading That Hideous Strength. I've read the first two volumes in this trilogy once or twice before, but never this one. Why? I'm not sure. There have been times when I've started to read a book but could not finish it only to find that years later, when I started it again, I was not only able to finished it but came away from it thinking that it was one of the best books I had ever read. That experience has led me to believe that I've not been able to read them the first time around because I was not yet ready for them. Perhaps that is the case with That Hideous Strength, as well. We shall see. I've heard that Lewis makes use of Arthurian mythology in this book, and that alone makes me think that I'll enjoy it as I'm a fan of the King Arthur legend. The title of Chapter 7, "The Pendragon," seems to verify this.

The blurb reads:

In this last book of the Space Trilogy, which begins with Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra, the remarkable Dr. Ransom makes his way through a tale of devilry peopled with megalomaniacs, superior beings from other planets, and creators of dangerous scientific experiments. As he wrestles with the battle between science and ethics, Dr. Ransom takes readers on a journey of suspense, mystery, and challenging arguments.

The full title of the book is That Hideous Strength: A Modern Fairy-Tale for Grown-Ups, and the title is inspired by a quote from Sir David Lyndsay, from Ane Dialog, wherein he is describing the Tower of Babel:

The shadow of that hyddeous strength sax myle and more it is of length.


This be the English of Chaucer and there is much of that I don't understand. In this quote, clearly "sax myle" modifies "shadow," but I've no damned idea what it means. That doesn't preclude my liking this quote, not least because of the marvelous and archaic spelling of "hyddeous."

Lewis, in the introductory paragraph in his preface, gives justification for his calling this a "fairy-tale":

I have called this a fairy-tale in the hope that no one who dislikes fantasy may be misled by the first two chapters into reading further, and then complain of his disappointment. If you ask why — intending to write about magicians, devils, pantomime animals, and planetary angels — I nevertheless begin with such hum-drum scenes and persons, I reply that I am following the traditional fairy-tale. We do not always notice its method, because the cottages, castles, woodcutters, and petty kings with which a fairy-tale opens have become for us as remote as the witches and ogres to which it proceeds. But they were not remote at all to the men who made and first enjoyed the stories. They were, indeed, more realistic and commonplace than Bracton College is to me: for many German peasants had actually met cruel stepmothers, whereas I have never, in any university, come across a college like Bracton. This is a "tall story" about devilry, though it has behind it a serious "point" which I have tried to make in my Abolition of Man. In the story, the outer rim of that devilry had to be shown touching the life of some ordinary and respectable profession. I selected my own profession, not, of course, because I think fellows of colleges more likely to be thus corrupted than anyone else, but because my own is the only profession I know well enough to write about. A very small university is imagined because that has certain conveniences for fiction. Edgestow has no resemblance, save for its smallness, to Durham — a university with which the only connection I have had was entirely pleasant.

And there you have it, and thus I begin.

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