That Hideous Strength (CS Lewis)

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Very few novels can claim to be perfect at every level.  This is one of them.

Grammar Stage Inquiry: The What

On the surface level, a Deep State governmental agency takes control of England and they are resisted by a small group of classical scholars. This book must be read on multiple levels. The first one is the Deep State takeover.  The second level is the reduction of man to a material machine. The third level, the most important one, takes place on cosmic plane: the macrobes (fallen beney ha-elohim) vs. the eldils.

What is the most important event in the book, in which the character(s) change?

Mark has several “changes.”  The first for evil, when he agrees to write a false news report.  While that’s evil, and Lewis plays the evil quite seriously, it’s basically Journalism 101 today.  His second change is when he realized that his secular materialism won’t save him in the end. Jane changes when she gives up her radical egalitarianism and accepts the reality of hierarchy.

  1. Logic Stage Inquiry [The Why and How]

Is this novel fable or chronicle? It is a fairy-tale for grown ups, or at least it was Lewis first wrote it.  It’s probably more like a fulfilled prophecy today. If anything, Lewis understated the danger. The villains in this story engage in occult channeling, astral projection, and the like.  This stuff really didn’t get going in the West until about a decade after Lewis wrote. There is even a scene of what was later to be “MK-ULTRA.” Lewis was decades ahead of secularists on seeing this, which means he was at least a half-century ahead of Evangelical do-gooders.

What does the central character(s) want? Mark wants to be “accepted” by the “inner circle.”  Mark is stupid. Jane is more complex. She wants the romance that hierarchy and monarchy bring, but she refuses to surrender her radical feminism.

What strategies does the character(s) use to overcome their difficulties? Jane needs to “giver herself over” to a reality that is hierarchical.  That language is deliberate, for she chafes at any attack on her autonomy.  Mark had to realize that his secular education and upbringing failed him. Even classical paganism would have been superior, for at least it hadn’t cut out man’s heart.  The social sciences, falsely so-called, did. Lewis illustrates the problem in one golden passage:

“It must be remembered that in Mark’s mind hardly one rag of noble thought, either Christian or Pagan, had a secure lodging. His education had been neither scientific nor classical — merely “Modern.” The severities both of abstraction and of high human tradition had passed him by: and he had neither peasant shrewdness nor aristocratic honour to help him” (Lewis 168).

 What is the logical exhaustion, which demonstrates a philosophy about human nature? This is the narrative version of The Abolition of Man.  In the nonfiction, Lewis decried the reducing of man to a functional machine.  In this version, Lewis shows what man would be like as a machine.

III.  Rhetorical Stage of Inquiry [The So What?]

Do you sympathize with the characters?  Which one(s), and why? Jane is more likable than Mark.  Mark is a complete idiot. Even on evil principles, he doesn’t understand the game enough to just shut up and work the system. He is, quite simply, stupid.

Lewis’s description of Mark’s cowardice, and the fact that cowardice stems from his worldview, is nothing less than perfect.  The phrase “and Mark found that his change was complete” recurs throughout the novel, leading the reader to suspect that Mark changes an awful lot, which suggests a shallow character.

Dimble’s complete dismantling of Mark is one of the high points of Western literature.  This is the essence of “manly dialogue,” of which I must quote in full:

“Suddenly the immobility of Dimble’s face changed, and he spoke in a new voice. “Have you the means to bring her to book?” he said. “Are you already as near the centre of Belbury as that? If so, then you have consented to the murder of Hingest, the murder of Compton. If so, it was by your orders that Mary Prescott was raped and battered to death in the sheds behind the station. It is with your approval that criminals — honest criminals whose hands you are unfit to touch — are being taken from the jails to which British judges sent them on the conviction of British juries and packed off to Belbury to undergo for an indefinite period, out of reach of the law, whatever tortures and assaults on personal identity you call Remedial Treatment. It is you who have driven two thousand families from their homes to die of exposure in every ditch from here to Birmingham or Worcester. It is you who can tell us why Place and Rowley and Cunningham (at eighty years of age) have been arrested, and where they are. And if you are as deeply in it as that, not only will I not deliver Jane into your hands, but I would not deliver my dog” (Lewis 202).

I’ll give Mark this much credit (or at least, Lewis’s skill in describing him), he is willing to work through his worldview by the end of the book.

Did the writer’s times affect him? Yes.  This is when the Deep State and New World Order were suddenly blooming.

Do you agree?  Is this work true about the human experience? This book is a mirror of human nature.  It needs to be studied as a textbook.

And some passages in this book demonstrate Lewis’s near-perfect command of the English language:

“All day the wind had been rising and they found themselves looking out on a sky swept almost clear. The air was intensely cold, the stars severe and bright High above the last rags of scurrying clouds hung the Moon in all her wildness — not the voluptuous Moon of a thousand southern love-songs, but the huntress, the untameable virgin, the spear-head of madness. If that cold satellite had just then joined our planet for the first time, it could hardly have looked more like an omen. The wildness crept into Jane’s blood.”

and great syllables of words that sounded like castles came out of his mouth. Jane felt her heart leap and quiver at them. Everything else in the room seemed to have been intensely quiet; even the bird, and the bear, and the cat, were still, staring at the speaker. The voice did not sound like Dimble’s own: it was as if the words spoke themselves through him from some strong place at a distance — or as if they were not words at all but present operations of God, the planets, and the Pendragon. For this was the language spoken before the Fall and beyond the Moon and the meanings were not given to the syllables by chance, or skill, or long tradition, but truly inherent in them as the shape of the great Sun is inherent in the little waterdrop. This was Language herself” (2019).


“ It seemed to each that the room was filled with kings and queens, that the wildness of their dance expressed heroic energy and its quieter movements had seized the very spirit behind all noble ceremonies…. Before the other angels a man might sink: before this he might die, but if he lived at all, he would laugh. If you had caught one breath of the air that came from him, you would have felt yourself taller than before. Though you were a cripple, your walk would have became stately: though a beggar, you would have worn your rags magnanimously. Kingship and power and festal pomp and courtesy shot from him as sparks fly from an anvil. The pealing of bells, the blowing of trumpets, the spreading out of banners, are means used on earth to make a faint symbol of his quality” (302).


This is my favorite novel of all time.  I have read it five or six times. The characters are perfectly developed.  Even the bad guys are remarkably well-done. It is the mark of a good writer that can create a likable bad guy without sacrificing anything.  Lewis does this in Feverstone, who is almost funny at times.




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