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The Space Trilogy #3

That Hideous Strength

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The third novel in the science-fiction trilogy by C.S. Lewis. This final story is set on Earth, and tells of a terrifying conspiracy against humanity.

The story surrounds Mark and Jane Studdock, a newly married couple. Mark is a Sociologist who is enticed to join an organisation called N.I.C.E. which aims to control all human life. His wife, meanwhile, has bizarre prophetic dreams about a decapitated scientist, Alcasan. As Mark is drawn inextricably into the sinister organisation, he discovers the truth of his wife’s dreams when he meets the literal head of Alcasan which is being kept alive by infusions of blood.

Jane seeks help concerning her dreams at a community called St Anne’s, where she meets their leader – Dr Ransom (the main character of the previous two titles in the trilogy). The story ends in a final spectacular scene at the N.I.C.E. headquarters where Merlin appears to confront the powers of Hell.

534 pages, Paperback

First published December 1, 1945

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About the author

C.S. Lewis

1,418 books40.2k followers
Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name.

Clive Staples Lewis was one of the intellectual giants of the twentieth century and arguably one of the most influential writers of his day. He was a Fellow and Tutor in English Literature at Oxford University until 1954. He was unanimously elected to the Chair of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge University, a position he held until his retirement. He wrote more than thirty books, allowing him to reach a vast audience, and his works continue to attract thousands of new readers every year. His most distinguished and popular accomplishments include Mere Christianity, Out of the Silent Planet, The Great Divorce, The Screwtape Letters, and the universally acknowledged classics The Chronicles of Narnia. To date, the Narnia books have sold over 100 million copies and been transformed into three major motion pictures.

Lewis was married to poet Joy Davidman.
W.H. Lewis was his elder brother]

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,545 reviews
Profile Image for Douglas Wilson.
Author 284 books3,529 followers
July 20, 2017
Stupendous. Just great, and also read in January of 1990. Also read in May of 2009. Also read in June of 1985. Also read in July of 1980. Finished it again on an Audible version in August of 2015. And yet again in Audible in September of 2016. And one more time on Audible in July of 2017.
Profile Image for Cindy Rollins.
Author 22 books2,018 followers
December 23, 2021
Read this with my Patreon this time around and continue to love this book. I will keep reading it until I am grown up enough to understand it all. Then I will go to Heaven and talk to Lewis about it.
Profile Image for Mandy Stigant.
98 reviews11 followers
July 13, 2016
I finished it while 30,000 feet in the air. It was a night-time flight, and after I finished the last page i set it down, turned to look out the window and while my mind wandered and mulled on what i had just experienced with the book, I saw that we were skirting to the side of a storm. The lightning was bouncing from cloud to cloud and it wasn't unlike my thoughts and the way my heart felt; I was elated, and I couldn't think of anywhere I'd rather be when I finished that book -- short of outside the plane. With wings of my own.

I will admit it took me 2 tries to read it. Not as easy to get through as the first 2 books are, because the beginning is a bit slow, even dry. On attempt #2, once I got through page 60 or so, however, I could hardly put it down, and it immediately became one of my favourite books of all time.
Profile Image for Stephen.
1,516 reviews11k followers
May 4, 2011
FIRST: A complaint from a member of my reading group who read the book ONLY because of the very cool bear on the cover: Photobucket

In defense of Mr. Angry Bear, I must agree that while the giant, kick-ass bear on the cover may not be exactly false advertising, it is certainly in the category of misleading...similar to beer commercials telling you "drink this beer and hot people will be all over you” when the reality is closer to “drink enough of our beer and you will think the people all over you are really hot.

Anyway, pissed off grizzlies and dishonest beer merchants aside, I will turn to the book itself. This is the final installment of the Space Trilogy which I have enjoyed significantly more than the Chronicles of Narnia (though I have only read the first 3 of the latter and so will reserve final judgment until I complete them). The plot of this story is somewhat complex and would be hard to explain in detail without spoilers so I will just provide some very broad strokes.

In addition to expanding on the unique Christian-based mythology that Lewis introduced in the first two books in the series, he adds two new central themes. The first is a heavy dose of “Arthurian fantasy” which I though was somewhat unique in its delivery. The second, and the central premise of the book as a whole, is a harsh criticism of the philosophy of Logical Positivism (i.e., the rejection of theology and mysticism in favor of knowledge based on facts that can be objectively determined without resort to the individual views of the observer)*. This last theme is so pervasive in the the narrative, that I found it interesting to discover that this book is really a fictional version of the same arguments Lewis proposed in his non-fiction The Abolition of Man (which I hope to read as well in the near future).

The story takes place in England and involves the struggle of our hero, Elwin Ransom (hero of the first two books), and his company of followers against the mysterious and powerful organization known as N.I.C.E. (National Institute of Coordinated Experiments) which embraces all of the evils (as Lewis sees it) of Logical Positivism. Ransom's group, on the other hand, adhere to a spiritually grounded version of Natural Law (i.e., that there are universal laws that are set by nature and that there are actions that can be seen as objectively good or objectively evil and not subject to selective interpretaiton by the observer)*.

*NOTE: My summary of the Logical Positivism and Natural Law is very general and probably not very good, but hopefull sufficient for purposes of explaining the viewpoints of the opposing sides in the novel).

As far as my reaction to the story, I think that the writing is excellent and the plot that Lewis creates is complex and nuanced and requires the reader to pay attention (something I usually like). I also think that his arguments in defense of Natural Law and against Logical Positivism are very passionate and well laid out, regardless of whether or not you agree with them. I always enjoy it when you can tell that an author really feels strongly for the subject matter he is writing about and that is certainly clear of this work.

That said, I didn’t enjoy this as much as the preceding volumes, especially Perelandra which I thought was just fantastic. I think I was just not interested enough in the distinctions between the two central philosophies and so the central argument was not as compelling to me. Thus, while I enjoyed it, I was left a little disappointed based on my expectations left over from Perelandra.

Still, overall it was a good conclusion to the Space Trilogy and this is certainly a series that I would recommend people check out, especially if they are fans of the Narnia series.
Profile Image for Lisa (Harmonybites).
1,834 reviews331 followers
March 14, 2012
I have a love/hate relationship with C.S. Lewis. There's a lot I admire in his writing but enough I deplore in his worldview that even though I keep being drawn to his works, I can't call him a favorite. I mostly loved The Screwtape Letters and Narnia, which I read as an adult, adored Till We Have Faces (my favorite Lewis work), was moved by his book A Grief Observed and found Mere Christianity and the first two books in the Space Trilogy interesting. There was only one book by him until this one that I had dropped mid-read because I found it just too exasperating--and that was The Abolition of Man. Significantly, he cites that book in the Preface saying he delineated in that essay the point he was making through fiction in this book. I noted in the first two books of the Space Trilogy that for all they might seem to fall into the science fiction genre, both books are actually anti-science fiction. In the first book Out of the Silent Planet, the hero, Ransom spoke of the purpose of the book as "a change-over from the conception of Space to the conception of Heaven." (And I prefer Space--greatly.) The thrust of the first two books is against the humanistic message of science fiction itself and the books decry the very idea of space exploration and colonization.

That's very much a line that is continued in That Hideous Strength, but that isn't what caused me to put the book down deciding not to torture myself further. Yes, the anti-science, anti-technology line irked me. As did the evident contempt for all those who aren't believers in Christian orthodoxy--let alone atheists. And as an American and (small "r" and "d") republican and democrat I bristle at Lewis' evident fondness for the whole class system from how you address servants to the belief in the curtsy as an essential social skill to the love of monarchy--and what may seem quaint in that respect in Narnia just seemed at its most noisome here. But no, what really got to me was the attitude towards women. I've defended Lewis in reviews against those who have called him sexist based on Narnia. Truly, Narnia has wonderful heroines. Even compared in terms of current science fiction and fantasy what struck me was how important and strong were his female characters and how gender balanced were his cast of characters in a very testosterone-laden genre. But it really was just really too much in The Hideous Strength. The contempt heaped on "emancipated women," characters like Hardcastle that seem to signal that just being in an nontraditional profession for a woman means you're perverted and a fascist. And Jane. Oh, Jane. You know where I couldn't take it anymore? It was the "Pendragon" chapter. Here's two quotes:

She said at last, "I suppose our marriage was just a mistake."
The Director said nothing.
"What would you - what would the people you are talking of - say about a case like that?"
"I will tell you if you really want to know," said the Director.
"Please," said Jane reluctantly.
"They would say," he answered, "that you do not fail in obedience through lack of love, but have lost love because you never attempted obedience."


Jane said, "I always thought it was in their souls that people were equal."
"You were mistaken," he said gravely. "That is the last place where they are equal. Equality before the law, equality of incomes - that is very well. Equality guards life; it doesn't make it. It is medicine, not food. You might as well try warming yourself with a blue-book."
"But surely in marriage . . . ?"
"Worse and worse," said the Director. "Courtship knows nothing of it; nor does fruition. What has free companionship to do with that? Those who are enjoying something, or suffering something together, are companions. Those who enjoy or suffer one another, are not. Do you not know how bashful friendship is? Friends - comrades - do not look at each other. Friendship would be ashamed . . ."
"I thought," said Jane and stopped.
"I see," said the Director. "It is not your fault. They never warned you. No one has ever told you that obedience - humility - is an erotic necessity. You are putting equality just where it ought not to be.

No, just no.

And yes, there were things I liked that make me wish I could tolerate this novel better. There's a reason after all I keep coming back to Lewis. He's a great writer with truly striking, shapely prose and at his best has a prodigious imagination and a winning sense of humor and a great way of infusing fiction with ideas--sometimes all too blatantly--but often brilliantly. Even here there were things I relished. His depiction of the process for instance by which Mark Studdock was corrupted was terrifically done. And I had to smile at the way he named his characters--very Dickensian. Some of those on the villain's roll included Lord Feverstone, Miss Hardcastle, Mr Frost, Withers, Steele, Curry. And you can't get better than the acronym for the sinister organization of baddies--N.I.C.E. And it's not as if I disagree with all of Lewis' message--the whole scenario of controlling humanity in the name of "Order" and scientific principle was chilling and resonated with me. I loved how Lewis was working in the Arthurian theme into a story set in mid-twentieth century England. And as I love the Arthurian genre, that was very much a highlight and it took a lot to finally break me away from that. But after that encounter between Jane and Fisher-King I thought it was time to part company before the urge to tear my book in half and start shredding the pages took hold of me--especially since this was about twice the length of the two earlier books. I couldn't imagine being able to get through the rest with my sanity intact.
Profile Image for Lee  (the Book Butcher).
256 reviews67 followers
July 19, 2021
the final installment of C.S Lewis' Christian sci-fi trilogy. This is one of the biggest flops of a trilogy i can remember. After out of the silent planet i was determined to finish the trilogy even if all signs pointed towards it finishing badly.

Out of the silent planet was such a promising start. Set on mars Lewis adds in Christian theology and sets the stage for an epic battle of good and evil. Perelandra was basically a retelling of Adam and Eve. In That hideous Strength Lewis takes us back to earth which let me be clear is a mistake on a grand magnitude. C.S Lewis appeal is his ability to create imaginative worlds. I will make a rule to never read works by him based on earth, that's of course if i ever read any of his works other than a Narnian reread again. First problem is his patented descriptive narrative style. that has teachers spouting the mantra "Show don't tell"! Second is it's almost related entirely in 1 on 1 philosophical debate. that right they sit around a talk ALOT, like all the time. all the interesting stuff happened off screen as it were. So there is interesting things happing but the reader only hears about it by the planning or discussing how they feel about it. That hideous strength is a big commentary on what at the time was modern marriage. The modern couple is Jane and Mark Studdock and they find themselves on different side of the battle of good and evil. The plot is basically a Nazi like party arises in England. but the group is not content with secular power and thing get weird. they are looking for merlin..... yeah merlin and Dr. Ransom is named the pendragon. The celestial powers are invoked and ends with Venus causing a animal orgy and our married couple reconnect. Its start out very secular then pseudo spiritual than all mysticism. If that sounds confusing it was. to make it worse Lewis' message is loss in a lot of pointless talk. leaving me (a average reader) sketchy on the beliefs he was tiring to convey. Which makes it a ultimate failure!

Never have I read a book that had so much going on and was still boring as shit! I would not recommend this to anyone. Happy to be done with it TBH.
Profile Image for John.
738 reviews23 followers
July 19, 2020
I've read "That Hideous Strength" several times, and it always has been my favorite of C.S. Lewis' space trilogy. But this time through, it captivated me in a way that it never has before. Only C.S. Lewis, with his combination of brilliance, scholarly knowledge, writing ability, wit and Christian world view, could have written this book.
It is Lewis' most satirical book, even more so than "Screwtape Letters." It is probably his most sophisticated fiction work with the exception of "Till We Have Faces."
As he tells us in a brief author's note, this is the fictional complement to Lewis' "The Abolition of Man," which is a critique of the British educational system. This sounds like a deadly subject for fiction, but it isn't in Lewis' skillful hands. And although this book was written in the 1940s in England, the themes remain on target in the United States today.
It is helpful, but not necessary, to have read the first two books of the trilogy before reading "That Hideous Strength." The central character of those books, Ransom, plays a major role here as well. But the central characters in "Hideous" are a young, not-very-happily married couple, Mark and Jane Studdock.
In the battle between good and evil that occupies this book, Mark is drawn in to the side of evil, Jane to the side of good. "Drawn in" is the phrase -- neither makes a conscious decision or realizes that good and evil are involved until late in the book. I think Mark represents the young C.S. Lewis. And I think "Bill the Blizzard" Hingest, a character who disappears early in the book, represents the mature C.S. Lewis in this dialogue with Mark:
"I suppose there are two views about everything," said Mark.
"Eh? Two views? There are a dozen views about everything until you know the answer. Then there's never more than one."

The legend of King Arthur plays a significant role in "That Hideous Strength."
The subject matter of "That Hideous Strength" is grim, and even gruesome at times. Needed comic relief is provided by Mr. Bultitude. I won't say anything more about him, because if I did it would ruin it for you.
Profile Image for Fr.Bill M.
24 reviews49 followers
July 26, 2007
This is Lewis' best treatment of sex, and probably the best treatment of sex by anyone, cast in the form of a novel. It is sooooooooo retro on the modern scene that it will either shock or outrage most folks who read it for the first time in the modern context.

It is also some of the funniest stuff i've ever read in my life. Only a few paragraphs into a scene near the end of the book, which draws on the goings on at Babel, when the languages were confused -- well, it set off a laughing fit that lasted almost an hour. Must have been my mood, I suppose. But still -- brilliant!
Profile Image for ladydusk.
446 reviews181 followers
March 4, 2020
I read this on Kindle.

I really enjoyed this book. There was so much that Lewis had to say and show.

The evil was really evil, and the layers were peeled back slowly, slowly to the final climax. The evil is so evil it doesn't seem possible to defeat.

The good was really good. Waiting, abiding, sojourning, trusting God. That's generally a good plan.

I love, love, love that Lewis solves SciFi problems grounded in history. In Out of the Silent Planet he used Classical Astronomy. Here we see historical characters and a historical train of thought. We see mythological representations of Mars, Venus, and the other planets. We see that God's creation waits the freeing of Tellus.

I was left wanting more tying up of loose ends.

I'm glad I finally tried out the series this year. It was worth the time investment. I think reading an annotated version of this and some of Lewis' backing ideas and allusions would be fascinating.

2020 Reading on Christian Audio
I finally shared this third book with the kids. We listened mostly on trips to co-op, Bible Study, or other drives where it was just the four of us all together. Sometimes that makes it harder to keep the momentum or to finish and it takes longer. We persist, though.

Still a great story. Three of us loved it, one of us perhaps wasn't quite ready because "nothing happens." That is the beauty of the story, though. The protagonists are doing the work they're called to "planting gardens, marrying, bearing children, etc." They're carrying the "normal" in the face of the evil of the day.

I noticed such a comment on nature this time - the Dennistons "love weather" while Featherstone "hates weather." The very earth and the creatures spit out the evil. The unpredictability of the wind and rain means that life can't be systematic and has to adapt and trust as it goes on. The NICE wants to destroy natural, normal patterns of life and flora/fauna and even out the weather so there is a constant sameness, while the crew at St Anne's relishes the goodness of creation and the very joy of earth life. We aren't living a sanitized systematized life, but a *real* one.

So many philosophical discussions to follow and consider. This is a book to return to yet another time and another.
Profile Image for Alicia.
4 reviews2 followers
March 11, 2007
I wrote my college essay on this book as it had the most profound influeI wrote my college essay on this book as it had the most profound influence on me in my teenage years. But that's not to say that it's a book aimed at young people. C.S. Lewis is known as a Christian writer and it's true that there are elements of Christianity in this book, as well as some very conservative ideas about women, I might add! But that's not what the book is really about. The hideous strength that Lewis writes about is that compulsion that we feel to be part of a group, beyond friendship, it's a need to be a part of something. This can be a positive thing, this belonging, but it can also be very negative if you are willing to make sacrifices, terrible compromises, in order to justify yourself to the group. More than a cursory treatment of mob psychology, That Hideous Strength challenges us to be self-critical on a day-to-day basis and be brave enough to be true to ourselves even if that means that we give up the very comfortable feeling of belonging. This book has not made me an outsider; it has helped me understand how some people feel such a compulsion to be in the 'inner circle' that they are willing to negate themselves and others.
Profile Image for Julie Davis.
Author 4 books265 followers
July 3, 2019
Good Story 206. Julie and Scott are appalled to find that N.I.C.E. bought the lot next door.

As with the other two books in C.S. Lewis's "space trilogy" I found this one difficult to get into and, yet, once I got past the indefinable point where it was no longer a struggle, I couldn't read it fast enough. Consequently this was a 24-hour book for me. It is a testament to Lewis's imagination and writing skill as to how different all three of the books are in this trilogy, while simultaneously all carrying out the same basic theme. No wonder J.R.R. Tolkien loved them.

Speaking of Tolkien, I was stunned to see Numinor mentioned twice and Middle Earth once in this book. I never dreamed there was such a deliberate, direct connection between this book and the Lord of the Rings, which was not yet published in its entirety when this book came out as Lewis says in the introduction. One can see the way these books and LOTR go hand in hand with similar themes, although expressed differently through the authors' different styles.

This book itself was really terrific and left me striving to be a better person, to be truer to myself, as did the other two. Not many other books really leave one feeling that way.
Profile Image for Sharon Barrow Wilfong.
1,117 reviews3,943 followers
August 21, 2017
When I first read That Hideous Strength, it was my least favorite of Lewis' Science Fiction trilogy. Now I believe it is my favorite.

Evil forces have gathered for a showdown on Earth. We have seen some of this in the first two books but now the "bent" Eldil and their minions are showing their hand in hopes of destroying Earth.

It is insightful to see how much the evil Eldil hate mankind, because, of course, they hate mankind's Maker.

They are a pragmatic sort, however, and tell whatever lies, power hungry, perverse men are willing to swallow to achieve that end.

Our story starts out with a young couple, Jane and Mark. Jane and Mark are a modern, progressive couple and they have no patience with old fashioned notions of women and men's roles. Jane's ambition is to finish her thesis and Mark's ambition is to join the "inner ring" at the National Institute of Coordinated Experiments or N.I.C.E. for short.

This starts the trouble because Mark is invited to join N.I.C.E. He thinks. They certainly have invited him and have intimated that they want him, but for what? He cannot get a definite answer as to what his occupation would be or that he is even hired. When he demands clarity, he is warned that he will offend the director. Anxious to please, Mark subsides.

Meanwhile, Jane is having some very non progressive, non modern dreams. They are strange and disturbing and it seems they have something to do with an ancient man lying in a tomb.

All is not as it seems, to coin a phrase. It turns out the institute is not interested in Mark but want Jane. Her dreams will tell them the location of this mysterious man. Why do they want him? They believe he possesses power that will help them control the world.

At least that is what the men think. In reality, it is the Eldil who want the man to help them destroy the world. They play on certain men's lust for power to achieve their ultimate goals.

Lewis creates a brilliant expose on human nature and our reality on a metaphysical level.

Each person is a type and Lewis reveals their nature by narrating their thoughts to the reader. We smile and sometimes laugh in acknowledgement because we recognize ourselves and others in the different characters. We also are filled with loathing as we recognize the perversity and arrogance that characterizes so many people in our world.

I especially appreciate his descriptions of the men at N.I.C.E. Each one wants something from the Eldil. One wants superior knowledge and scientific advancement; another seeks supernatural experiences, a third wants freedom to experiment on animals and humans for his personal increase in knowledge and biogenetic engineering. Not one cares how many people they expend to achieve their selfish goals and they see the Eldil as a means to their own ends without considering that they are actually meeting the Eldils' ends.

In the end each of them find themselves, their person, individuality, and finally their soul, absorbed by the Eldil.

Dr. Ransom, the man who traveled to the planets in the first two books, is keeping a group of people safe from N.I.C.E in his house. These are the few that have not either capitulated to N.I.C.E.'s side or been jailed. Jane, at first unwillingly, then later most willingly joins them.

Ransom informs his small group that the scientists and professors at N.I.C.E. do not realize that the Eldil hate them as much as they hate everyone else and as soon as their usefulness is gone, these "intellectual" men will find themselves deserted and finally destroyed.

There are moments of real horror. The Head of the institute turns out to be exactly that; the decapitated head of a criminal who was executed in France. One scientist obsessed with creating life from dead men, like his own Frankenstein, has invented a method to infuse the head with saliva, blood, and oxygen. The Head then speaks and gives orders.

This is scary enough but worse revelations about the Head are around the corner and I won't reveal anything else so as not to spoil it for the reader.

There are also turning points. This happens primarily in Jane and Mark who at first are against Ransom's side and his group in that they dismiss them as antiquated and backwards in their "old fashioned" thinking about morals or believing in a Spiritual world. Both come around as they personally experience undeniable evil.

Mark's conversion is the best part. He transforms from being a self-absorbed toady to seeing N.I.C.E. for what it really is and no longer fears rejection of the "inner circle" or losing his job. Once he becomes fearless, he stops thinking only of himself and the reader sees Mark become more fully a man, more fully human as though the character change fleshes him out to where previously he was merely a thin out line of a person.

I should point out that not all Eldil are evil. As we learn in the first book, Out of the Silent Planet, most Eldil are good. Only the ruling Eldil of planet Earth is "bent" as the good Eldil call it.

And we eventually learn that Earth is not completely deserted by good Eldil. They are also here on Earth. They have traveled from other planets to battle the evil Eldil, something the bent Eldil did not anticipate.

I find the whole story a perfect analogy to the battle going on Earth now between good and evil.

And, as with all of Lewis' work. The reader is never deserted. We are reassured that good and the Author of good conquers evil. And again, we learn to love Lewis' characters as much as Lewis obviously loved people and consequently made lovable reflections of humans in his stories. We love them because we see them around us.

Lewis once said of Nathaniel Hawthorne that "he shows the darkness in men without ever providing light to pierce that darkness" (I am paraphrasing because I wrote it down from memory).

Lewis succeeds in piercing the darkness with his light-suffused stories.
Profile Image for Kat  Hooper.
1,582 reviews398 followers
October 29, 2012
Originally posted at FanLit. Come visit us!

"Nature is the ladder we have climbed up by. Now we kick her away."

That Hideous Strength is the final volume of C.S. Lewis’s SPACE TRILOGY. This story, which could be categorized as science fiction, dystopian fiction, Arthurian legend, and Christian allegory, is different enough from the previous books, Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra, that you don’t need to have read them, but it may help to vaguely familiarize yourself with their plots. Generally, in the previous stories, Dr. Elwin Ransom has been to both Mars and Venus and discovered that the planets are governed by heavenly beings and that Earth’s governor is a fallen angel. These forces are at war and the fate of the universe is at stake.

In That Hideous Strength, Ransom is back on Earth and is preparing a group of people who can fight the forces of evil. This evil is manifesting as a corporation called the National Institute of Coordinated Experimentation (N.I.C.E.) which is trying to purchase some wooded property owned by Bracton College at the University of Edgestow in England. To do this, they’ve had to exert their influence over some of the “progressive” faculty by getting them to buy into their subtle message of saving the human race through (but not obviously yet) sterilization, selective breeding, re-education, and biochemical conditioning. The end-goal, though they only talk about this in the inner circle, is a future in which the working class is no longer needed to support the brains that run the world. NICE wants the talents of the progressive faculty on their side as they generate propaganda, but they also want to recruit some more ancient magic — they plan to dig up the body of Merlin, which they believe may be buried on the college’s property.

Dr. Mark Studdock, a sociologist and a new Bracton faculty member who doesn’t feel like he quite fits in yet, is tempted to join NICE when they offer him a high-status job. At first Mark is suspicious of the group and their recruitment methods and he’s bothered by the vague job description, but their insistence that they need him, their appeal to his vanity, and his low self esteem combine to make their offer seem attractive. Having left Bracton to join the NICE administration, Mark is unaware of the police tactics that NICE is using to make the college town comply with their new order. Meanwhile, also back at Bracton, Mark’s new wife, Jane, is having ominous visions. Thinking she may be going crazy, she seeks help and ends up among the group, lead by Dr. Ransom, which is fighting NICE.

One thing that C.S. Lewis does so well in this novel is to portray the slippery slope of Mark’s gradual slide into evil which is caused by a lack of his own moral compass. Though he doesn’t realize it at first, he is foremost a people-pleaser. He wants to increase his status in the eyes of both his colleagues and his wife, and though he’s not actually concerned about his character for himself, he wants others to admire him. Wanting to seem both successful (financially and professionally) and of good character, and without any moral grounding of his own, he has no idea how to behave in this situation and eventually succumbs to the pressure. When he becomes better acquainted with NICE’s tactics and plans, the cognitive dissonance he feels leads him to wholly embrace the evil. It doesn’t help that Mark discovers that even when he tries to be good, there is no natural law that the universe must reward him for it.

In contrast, characters who have a stronger sense of self, like Jane, have more concrete ideas about right and wrong and are not as easily influenced or corrupted. Yet Lewis doesn’t condemn Mark while wholly commending Jane. Instead, Mark’s inferiority complex seems heartbreaking, and Lewis makes Jane, an educated feminist, deal with her hatred of masculinity. Other good characters are forced to examine their own self-righteousness.

Another thing that is beautifully done in That Hideous Strength is Lewis’ melding of the ancient and new, especially in England’s history — the dark ages with its ancient forest magic, mythical creatures, and irrational superstition, and the new age of rationalism, science and technology. Lewis also speaks eloquently about the difference between organized religion and real spiritual experience. There are also some lovely literary allusions in That Hideous Strength; no fantasy literature lover is likely to miss Lewis’ reference to the work of his friend J.R.R. Tolkien.

That Hideous Strength is a deeply philosophical novel which, except for the mention of corsets, doesn’t feel dated though it was published in 1945. Some readers may not appreciate all the philosophizing, but I am always fascinated by C.S. Lewis’ ideas, finding them logical, enlightening, and superbly said. Some of these ideas can be found in his non-fiction works The Abolition of Man, Mere Christianity, God in the Dock, and probably others that I haven’t read. That Hideous Strength — in fact the entire SPACE TRILOGY — is a profoundly thoughtful and beautiful work of science fiction. I recommend Blackstone Audio’s version narrated by Geoffrey Howard.
Profile Image for Jacob Aitken.
1,582 reviews266 followers
August 7, 2018
Easily Lewis's best work. This should be on the front shelves at every Christian book store. Lewis frighteningly predicted the rise of the scientific, planning state. For those who laugh at "conspiracies" of the New World Order, read this book and tell me I am wrong. Try it.



(Still here)

But unlike other books on the New World Order, Lewis advocates (or at least Dr Ransom does), fighting back. And not just fighting back with abstract ideas, but also with revolvers.

Lots of memorable moments: Ransom explains manliness and marriage, beards, and many other things. Shows how the planning state creates disasters in order to bring in their pre-arranged solution.

Some of the quotes are worth feasting on and take one to the highest realms of human artistic endeavor.

The Reason I am not Postmillennial

“Have you ever noticed,” said Dimble,” that the universe, and every little bit of the universe, is always hardening and narrowing and coming to a point?”
His wife waited as those wait who know by long experience the mental processes of the person who is talking to them.
“I mean this,” said Dimble, answering the question she had not asked. “If you dip into any college, or school, or parish, or family—anything you like—at a given point in its history, you always find that there was a time before that point when there was more elbow room and contrasts weren’t quite so sharp; and that there’s going to be a time after that point when there is even less room for indecision and choices are even more momentous. Good is always getting better and bad is always getting worse: the possibilities of even apparent neutrality are always diminishing.”

The Descent of the Gods (the following is one of the greatest moments in the English language)

It was fiery, sharp, bright, and ruthless, ready to kill, ready to die, outspeeding light : it was Charity, not as mortals imagine it, not even as it has been humanised for them since the Incarnation of the Word, but the virtue, fallen upon them direct from the Third
Heaven, unmitigated. They were blinded, scorched, deafened. They thought it would burn their bones. They could not bear that it should continue. They could not bear that it should cease. So Perelandra, triumphant among planets, whom men call Venus, came and was with them in the room.

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 become 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 ringing of bells, the blowing of trumpets, the spreading out of banners, are means used on earth to make a faint symbol of his quality. It was like a long
sunlit wave, creamy-crested and arched with emerald that comes on nine feet tall, with roaring and with terror and unquenchable laughter. It was like the first beginning
of music in the halls of some King so high and at some festival so solemn that a tremor akin to fear runs through young hearts when they hear it. For this was great Glund-
Oyarsa, King of Kings, through whom the joy of creation principally blows across these fields of Arbol, known to men in old times as Jove and under that name, by fatal but not inexplicable misprision, ^confused with his Maker — so little did they dream by how many degrees the stair even of created being rises above him.
Profile Image for Michael.
55 reviews15 followers
December 12, 2011
The reader who comes to “That Hideous Strength” for the first time after reading “Out of the Silent Planet” and “Perelandra” could be excused for wondering how it fits in with the rest of the Space Trilogy. It bears little resemblance to its companion volumes. There is no journey through space, no exploration of strange, beautiful worlds, and no alien races. Dr. Ransom, far from being the central character, is absent from the first third of the book, Lewis makes no appearance at all, and nowhere are there hints of an un-fallen creation. The story is more complicated, the cast of characters larger, and the scale of the battle between good and evil far greater, and far more subtle, than the first two books. From every angle, “That Hideous Strength” appears to be stubbornly Earthbound and cut from a completely different cloth.

Those, however, who are familiar with C.S. Lewis, know that there is always more to his books than meets the eye. In spite of the many substantial differences between That Hideous Strength and its predecessors, the patient and careful reader will discover profound similarities, and an even more profound, startling and ambitious purpose.

When the book opens, a young, progressive, academically minded couple is making the difficult transition from single to married life. Mark Studdock is a fellow at a small college trying to work his way into an influential inner circle in the hopes of advancing his career. His wife, Jane, works at home on a dissertation. Mark is forced to spend long hours at the college wrangling for position and his wife is, understandably, frustrated. But the trappings of a domestic soap opera disappear before they can take root. Jane begins to experience visions of a gruesome, disembodied head speaking to her in a strange tongue and a giant, ancient man about to be awakened from an ages long sleep.

Deeply disturbed by her visions and her husband’s absences, Jane sets aside her progressive feminism to consult the housemother of her former college, the very old-fashioned Mrs. Dimble. Older, wiser, childless but still matronly, Mother Dimble invites Jane to consult with a man she refers to as “The Director” who lives in a mansion at St.-Anne’s-on-the-Hill.

Mark, in the meantime, succeeds in penetrating the inner circle of his college, only to find that there is a deeper circle still, larger, more influential, and connected with an organization known as the National Institute for Coordinated Experiments, or the N.I.C.E. The N.I.C.E. exists, ostensibly, to de-couple science from the restrictions of government, streamlining discovery and facilitating invention. Freed from the shackles of government oversight and accountability, it exercises a great deal of power both within its walls and in the world outside. Mark is encouraged to pursue a position with the N.I.C.E., and is invited to spend a long weekend there to secure the situation.

He and Jane each depart without the other’s knowledge for their respective destinations, moving in opposite directions physically and spiritually. Mark learns that nothing about the N.I.C.E. bears any resemblance to its name. Those who exercise power there draw him in, manipulating his desire to be included and fear of being left out. He is disoriented by a combination of ugly secrets, lies, and frightening mysteries until he slowly realizes that, not only is his career in jeopardy, but his life, his wife’s, and the future of everyone in England.

Jane, too, is drawn in to the inner circle of the mansion at St. Anne’s, but she is attracted by a Good that is absolute and beautiful. There are secrets and mysteries at St. Anne’s, but, far from being manipulative and disorienting, they bring clarity and freedom. Her discoveries lead her to a life that is larger, richer and more beautiful than she had ever imagined.

As Jane and Mark learn more about St. Anne’s and the N.I.C.E., the plot of “That Hideous Strength” deepens and the pace quickens. They find themselves caught on opposing sides of a new battle in a war as old as time. They both encounter characters and situations that, though normal in appearance, possess a subtle strangeness. The mundane around them melts away, and they find themselves in an old faery tale world of kings and wizards, monsters, evil faeries, lesser gods and animals that are far more than mere beasts. When the battle is joined, all of these will play their part. Many will die and be overthrown, but much will also be restored to its rightful place before the end.

To reveal more about the story would be to rob the reader of the delights too numerous to mention. Suffice to say that there is more than enough to entertain and satisfy the imagination of even a superficial reader. But “That Hideous Strength” is about so much more than just its story. It is as rich and full of various types of meaning as “Faery Queene” or “The Divine Comedy”, and his purpose is no less ambitious than Spencer’s or Dante’s.

Primarily, “That Hideous Strength” is about redemption, and that on many levels. At the highest level is about the redemption of Mark and Jane. When they are introduced, neither of them are likeable. Mark’s fixation with being in the most progressive inner circle betrays a desperate insecurity. It is more important for him to be in the know than to know anything worthwhile or to know his wife. His enemies play on this weakness to ensnare him in the culture of the N.I.C.E. For most of the book, he is willing to do anything to be on the inside, ignoring the evil around him, descending to ridiculous levels of self-deception and compromise, almost to the point of sacrificing his wife.

Jane is equally vapid, devoted to a feminist ideology bent on the abandonment and destruction of anything remotely feminine. She eschews the traditional roles of male and female in marriage, especially that of bearing children. She carries a hidden resentment of her husband simply because he is a man. The road to redemption for both of them is perilous, but as they travel it, they become more and more attractive, more like the kind of people we might like, and want to be like.

Deeper than the redemption of Mark and Jane, it is about the redemption of marriage and childbearing. In Mark and Jane, he embodies the prevailing mindset about marriage among the more intelligent and affluent; that marriage is a partnership of mutual convenience, an arrangement between equals. It is sterile and dry, ignoring the obvious differences between men and women in the name of political correctness. Sex is for recreation and entertainment. Children are an imposition, a necessary evil for the purpose of perpetuating the race, to be disposed of in childcare and state schools as soon as possible so that we can have our time back.

Lewis dares to step in and say “no”. Marriage is a covenantal relationship between a man and a woman where each gives their all for the other. There are no equals in marriage. Men and women are so different that equality does not enter the equation. Marriage cannot be about getting our rights as equals. If we insist only on equality, marriage fails because we focus on what we are getting and making sure that it is equal to what we are giving. If marriage is to work, men and women must give their all as men and women to be servants of one another. This is one of the hardest lessons about marriage, but when it is learned, when we come to grips with the glorious complementary inequality between man and woman, it makes marriage the most beautiful of relationships.

Lewis also makes the bold claim that one of the chief aims of marriage is childbearing. When we intentionally prevent conception, we violate the created order of things. The physical pleasure that accompanies copulation is a byproduct of the act that produces children, not the other way around. It was never meant to be only a form of entertainment, but re-creation in the truest sense of the word. It is in the mutual submission of marriage and the successful rearing of children that we find joys that far transcend mere physicality.

All of this is accomplished without preaching or quoting Scripture. Instead, Lewis uses illustrations of healthy marriages and prose that borders on poetry to shame the cold institution that passes for marriage today. For example, in one of the most famous episodes in the book, the Director confronts a stranger in a battle of wits and words that includes the following exchange:

"The Stranger mused for a few seconds; then, speaking in a slightly sing-song voice, as though he repeated on old lesson, he asked, in two Latin hexameters, the following question:

'Who is called Sulva? What road does she walk? Why is the womb barren on one side? Where are the cold marriages?'

Ransom replied, 'Sulva is she whom mortals call the Moon. She walks in the lowest sphere. The rim of the world that was wasted goes through her. Half of her orb is turned toward us and shares our curse. Her other half looks to Deep Heaven; happy would be he who could cross that frontier and see the fields on her further side. On this side, the womb is barren and the marriages are cold. There dwell an accursed people, full of pride and lust. There when a young man takes a maiden in marriage, they do not lie together, but each lies with a cunningly fashioned image of the other, made to move and to be warm by devilish arts, for real flesh will not please them, they are so dainty (delicati) in their dreams of lust. Their real children they fabricate by vile arts in a secret place.'"

In another passage, the same stranger asks permission to kill Jane for the crime of avoiding conception.

"...the Stranger was speaking and pointing at her as he spoke.

‘Sir, you have in your house the falsest lady of any at this time alive.’

‘Sir, you are mistaken. She is doubtless like all of us a sinner; but the woman is chaste.’

‘Sir,’ said [the stranger], ‘know well that she has done in Logres a thing of which no less sorrow shall come than came of the stroke that Balinus struck. For sir, it was the purpose of God that she and her lord should between them have begotten a child by whom the enemies should have been put out of Logres for a thousand years.’

‘She is but lately married,’ said Ransom. ‘The child may yet be born.’

‘Sir,’ said [the stranger], ‘be assured that the child will never be born, for the hour of its begetting is passed. Of their own will they are barren: I did not know till now that the usages of Sulva were so common among you. For a hundred generations in two lines the begetting of this child was prepared; and unless God should rip up the work of time, such seed, and such an hour, in such a land, shall never be again.’

‘Enough said,’ answered Ransom. ‘The woman perceives that we are speaking of her.’

‘It would be great charity,’ said [the stranger] ‘if you gave order that her head should be cut from her shoulders; for it is a weariness to look at her.’"

This is a common enough argument against contraception and abortion; who knows how many great men and women have been killed in the womb? The physician who would have found a cure for cancer, the engineer that would have discovered a clean, renewable source of energy; have they died before they could give their gift to the world? It is impossible to know.

Juxtaposed against the justly harsh critique of contemporary marriage are the healthy marriages of Mother Dimble and her husband Cecil, and Arthur and Camilla Deniston. They provide an attractive model of what marriage can be. Though far from perfect, their marriages are marked by a love that is other-centered and self-sacrificial. They know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, but the weaknesses provide opportunities to serve, not correct. A beautiful example of this comes when Mother Dimble and another resident of the mansion are discussing their husbands:

"'That's how they treat us once they're married. They don't even listen to what we say,' I said. And do you know what she said? 'Ivy Maggs,' said she, 'did it ever come into your mind to ask whether anyone could listen to all we say?'"

Mother Dimble does not chide her husband for not listening to every word she said. She understands that men do not work that way, and serves her husband by allowing him to be a man. The promise of beauty in marriage and childrearing is alive in the Dimbles and the Denistons. By divine intervention, Jane and Mark are given the opportunity to enter into both.

Going even deeper, "That Hideous Strength" about the redemption of beauty and innocence on Earth. In both “Out of the Silent Planet” and “Perelandra” he created scenes of heartbreaking beauty amid a setting of un-fallen, innocent creatures. At first glance, “That Hideous Strength” is devoid of those things. But near the end, there is a chapter devoted to reconciliation that takes place in a scene of humble domesticity: a bridal chamber in a simple cottage, with a fire on the hearth and dinner cooking on the stove. After the horror of the recent battle, it is breathtakingly beautiful, and Lewis’ purpose comes into sharp focus. He had to take us away from Earth to Malacandra and Perelandra to reintroduce us to beauty and innocence. Our eyes and consciences had to be reopened and refreshed, and we had to be reminded of the hideous nature of evil, before he could bring us back to Earth and show us that beauty and innocence can still be found here. The infection had to be removed before we could remember health.

There is so much more that could be discussed. There is the redemption of the relationship between man and the lower animals; there is a critique of the evils of postmodernism, there are contrasts and ironies galore, and the bringing together of elements of Arthurian legend, medieval cosmology, and even the curse of the Tower of Babel to tie all of it together. There is also his love of language, which is equal to that of Tolkien and every bit as enjoyable, though of a slightly different savor. But I have gone on long enough. There are treasures in “That Hideous Strength” rich enough to reward all who are willing to take the plunge, and I heartily encourage everyone who comes this way to do so.

Profile Image for ValeReads Kyriosity.
1,123 reviews152 followers
October 19, 2022
October 2022 — After finishing that last Grace Livingston Hill, I thought that perhaps I shouldn't read too many romances in a row. A surfeit of even such pure and wholesome stories as that can make the mind wander into temptation along emotional lines. So I turned back to Lewis. Well. If ever a book made me long to double the occupancy of my bed, the last chapter of this one does! Of course also in a perfectly pure and wholesome way, but in a fiercer, wilder way, as well. And the desire it stirs up isn't to sin. It's not a desire to take, but to give. The gift hasn't been called for by any mere mortal, but it can always be given to the One who gave it to me in the first place — a living sacrifice of obedience that could always use improvement.

I obviously couldn't stay away from the book as I'd intended. But I think I might skip some of the earlier Belbury scenes next time. The gaslighting of Mark is almost physically painful to endure, and, having read it often enough, I think I might elide it without injuring the rest of the story.


June 2021 — I think I need to give this a break for a few years (I hope it won't be more than a few more years) till it's not so very, very current-eventsy. I find it very oppressive at places.

Oh, and I wanted to flag this great little sentence: "MacPhee, who had been carefully shutting up the snuff-box, suddenly looked up with a hundred Covenanters in his eyes."

* * * * *

July 2020 — A few things that stood out this time through:

1) I love the little touches of history Lewis gives to the college and the wood. Just a few deft, matter-of-fact strokes make the reader feel that this is a real place.

2) The gaslighting Mark goes through at Belbury is stressful to listen to. Perhaps more so this time through because so much of that sort of thing is going on in our culture right now.

3) Mark is a consummate actor. He's constantly modulating his voice and expression in minute degrees to attempt to control the impression he makes on those around him. But I don't think (I'll have to pay stricter attention next time through if I remember to) Lewis actually uses the word acting till Mark starts to do it self-consciously...till he wants to deceive others, but no longer himself as well. It is finally a righteous deception; the skill he'd honed for the sake of petty self-interest is turned into a legitimate camouflage for the sake of battle.

4) The scene where the ladies of St. Anne's are dressing reduced me to tears. Oh to be so transformed—sanctified, glorified, beautified. To have all my shabbiness and shame covered, replaced by a perfectly modest and un-self-centered graciousness and dignity. To be made truly feminine, truly woman, truly lovely.

5) Jane's and Mark's repentance brought tears again. The little touch of Mark's carelessness with his clothes—that bit of the ordinary in the extraordinary that has undone the ordinary—is so perfect.

I liked the reader better this time through. I think I was too critical of him last time.

May 2018 — This is one of those books I need to revisit regularly. One I'm sure I could glean more from every time. I think that I will mostly skip the first two in the he trilogy from now on and go straight here. There's so much that happens in the interim between the second and the third, none of which we're told, that this seems a whole other thing. I feel very stupid when I read it. Not so much intellectually as morally—the way Mark feels at the end. I think I have many of of his faults as well as Jane's. And less excuse for them.

The quote near the end from "one of your modern authors" is from Charles Williams. I need to revisit him, too.

I'm not sure what should be on the covers of this series, but they always seem to go for the word "hideous" from this title and apply it liberally to all three. I'll grant that the art on the most recent edition, the illustration with the bear, is at least not ugly, but it doesn't suit.

The reader was not terrible, but not great.
Profile Image for Jerry.
4,640 reviews56 followers
September 23, 2020
What a crazy, mind-bending story! I haven't encountered such a complicated account since I saw Christopher Nolan's Inception! I may have to read this one again!
Profile Image for booklady.
2,235 reviews65 followers
May 2, 2019
May 1, 2019: Finished this last night. Listened to the first half and read the the second and I really needed to read it too, slowly, very slowly. I went back and reread passages over and over, thinking to myself, I should just quit and go back to Out of the Silent Planet or Perelandra. There is so much of both I do not remember. But then another voice in my head said, just go ahead and finish this and reread the whole trilogy from the beginning which is what I am going to do. Or listen to it, with dear husband. (He loves to do that. We listen to books instead of watching TV.)

Anyway, I am not giving it a rating this time because I plan to reread it. Extremely readable and enjoyable, humorous and insightful, still confusing in parts, for me anyway. It is definitely one of Lewis's best and ties the first two books together, especially if you can remember them, booklady. (sigh)

March 17, 2019: Started listening to this on the drive back up to St. Louis. Have always wanted to finish this trilogy, but now that I have, I just want to go back and reread the entire set.
Profile Image for Hannah.
Author 1 book81 followers
May 25, 2020
If you read only one book in the Space Trilogy, make it this one. In this one, the "space" travel involves eldils (angels) descending to earth, rather than men traveling to the heavens. It's a high-suspense story (borderline horror, at times) that slowly reveals the evil behind the sterile world of secular scientists and academics pursuing a "a better human race". It's also Lewis at his best in terms of showcasing his grasp of human nature, uncovering the pettiness and self-deception behind the striving to belong to the "inner ring" and to prove oneself grown-up and respectable—even within marriage, and even at the expense of friendships and the simple pleasure in life.

The whole last quarter of the book is a sort of slow-building, controlled chaos that culminates in the waking of Merlin, the judgement of Babel, the freeing of prisoners (both human and animal), the descent of Mars and Venus to earth, the opening of the pit of hell to swallow up evil, and the restoration of love between husband and wife. It is, as the kids say, epic.
Profile Image for Marshall Hess.
36 reviews6 followers
December 23, 2020
Utterly serious fiction.
I experienced this book as so real that when I couldn't find time to read for a few days, I felt like I was missing out on the narrative and things may have changed since I tuned in last.
Lewis cleverly unveils the misery and horror that results from materialistic reductionism. I was especially intrigued with the character of Merlin and the insight Lewis gives into the difference between ancient and modern pagans. Ironically, the well-meaning Christians of our time who criticize Lewis for his use of magic and the supernatural are precisely the kind of people created by a world that reduces everything to the sum of its parts. Lewis expands our vision of reality by engaging the imagination, and invites us to see our world anew, full of fire and deep magic.
Another thought generated from this book and the rest of the trilogy: you know the theological debate around "The Hiddenness of God"? (i.e., why should we be obliged to believe in a God who is difficult to discover or encounter? Why does God not make His presence more convincing? see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SCRED...) Perhaps the entire discussion around this question is predicated on assumptions about the world that are basically modernist and materialistic. The question of the hiddenness of God would sound completely absurd to an ancient pagan for whom the world was obviously inhabited with life that was more than material. We wrestle with God's hiddenness because we live in a world stripped of meaning, reduced to chemical interactions, and forced into a laboratory definition that leaves the most important parts out.
Profile Image for J. Aleksandr Wootton.
Author 8 books134 followers
April 24, 2018
Easily the best of the Ransom Trilogy; a masterwork. Can also be read as a stand-alone novel. I recommend you preface it with The Abolition of Man.
Profile Image for Erin Clemence.
1,053 reviews311 followers
August 3, 2022
The late, great C.S. Lewis brings the third novel in his Space Trilogy, “That Hideous Strength”, and reunites the reader with the elusive Ransom, the main protagonist from his previous Space novels.

Lewis is a wordsmith, and this novel is not an easy one to read. His language is poetic and beautiful, and (as he is the stuff of Legends), he takes sentences to say what authors of this generation would say in a matter of words. But that does not mean “That Hideous Strength” is in any way an arduous or boring novel. Although this particular story was published in the 1940s, there are some ominous events that occur that could very easily have taken place in today’s society (i.e. the manipulated journalism market, a tech company with plans to overtake the world and its citizens, just to name a few).

A sinister tech company, ironically called N.I.C.E, is determined to take total control of Europe by “reconditioning” its “less desirable” patrons. Ransom and his friends must work together to destroy this company as quickly as possible before the world as they know it quite literally blows up. When both sides hear that the wizard Merlin may return, each is desperate for the magician to join their side. A husband and wife, Mark and Jane, are caught in the middle as their allegiances are split, with one ending up on one side, while their partner lies clearly on the other.

“That Hideous Strength” closes out the Space trilogy in a complete and final manner but this is the only novel in the series that could be read as a standalone. Although Ransom’s background would be better understood if “Out of the Silent Planet” and “Perelandra” are read, it is not necessary to keep with the plot of “Strength” (although it is always suggested to ensure the full reading experience).

Lewis once again brings fantasy, magic, religion and humanity to the forefront in another one of his magnificent works of literary fiction. “Strength” is a thought-provoking, cleverly written foray into a very plausible fantasy world, completely mesmerizing readers as only the great Lewis can achieve.
Profile Image for Cori.
813 reviews138 followers
May 3, 2020
Yay! And with that, I've reached my goal for 2020 in regards to number of books read. But I've only just started my actual goal which is to read through all of C.S. Lewis's published works. I think I'm about a quarter of the way through that part of my goal.

Anyways, this book. I can honestly say this is the first C.S. Lewis book after which hitting about 2/3 of the way in, I really wished I didn't have to read.

I greatly appreciate the concepts and sheer brilliance behind his writing here. The allegorical pieces were so interesting (I don't think I've ever seen anyone else do the Tower of Babel). But there was a lot of grind to get to the rush. Calling this a slow burn would be minimalist at best. First there's a new world order and closed door meetings and a bear and Merlin and a marriage that's on the rocks. And it's mostly shown through a lot. Of. Heavy. Dialogue. The incongruency of this novel to the first two baffled me. It was so much longer and there was nothing of space travel, other worldly creatures, or sinister battles for the soul of [insert planet here].

As with all of C.S. Lewis's works, the book is chock full of diamonds. But I felt like I had to mine through a lot more rough with this book to find them.

I'd rate this book a PG-13 for very mild swearing, mild sexual references, and gore.
Profile Image for Laura.
730 reviews84 followers
September 20, 2016
I read this the way I've read almost all of C.S. Lewis' writing: first, by sheer determination even though it makes only a little sense to me; then re-reading a second time with appreciation. I almost always start his books, admire his ideas but realize I'm pretty puzzled by most of it, and then go back and re-read the book and realize how brilliant it really is.

Even though it is the last book in his trilogy, as a non-fantasy reader I think I should have started here. This is the least fantastic book of the trilogy and contains the most recognizable setting (a modern university full of intellectuals who value objectivity, embrace materialism, and worship science) and features the most relatable characters (like Jane! Finally a girl I can relate to!)

Set in a fictional British university, we first meet Mark Studdock--a young professor trying to climb the ranks of academia not by his knowledge or skill, but by getting chummy with the 'in' crowd. Unbeknownst to him, the in-crowd has recently aligned themselves with an organization called N.I.C.E., an acronym which disguises their real intentions to apply science to all social problems and to sterilize the planet and re-educate people in order to promote the all-powerful human above the disorder of nature. Meanwhile, his wife has been experiencing--rather against her will--prophetic dreams that lead her towards a group of people who are opposed to N.I.C.E. and all that it stands for. Mark and Jane clearly symbolize the objective approach and the subjective approach, and their marriage represents the necessary unity between these two approaches that makes us human. I'm not going to pretend I got all the symbolism in this book (that is something I'd love to keep discussing with other fans of Lewis' work!) but I did recognize the way this story fleshes out ideas found in The Abolition of Man. I doubt anyone could fully appreciate this novel without at least some knowledge of Lewis' argument in The Abolition of Man and his essay on the Inner Ring http://www.lewissociety.org/innerring.php though I do think the story stands on its own merits. I'm sure there is hardly a thesis about this book that hasn't already been written, but this book begs to have an essay or two written about it.

Using my Lewis formula (read, then re-read), I think I ought to go back and re-read the whole trilogy again so I can experience the brilliance. It's a good thing all of his works deserve a second reading anyhow.

(Why 3 stars? I've decided the stars are there for me, to determine how much I enjoyed a book, not to reflect how brilliant the book actually is. Purely subjective. Hence, a three.)
Profile Image for Brandy Painter.
1,604 reviews228 followers
October 23, 2009
Brilliant! Brilliant! Brilliant! How many times can I use that word or one of its synonyms in describing anything written by C.S. Lewis? Not enough. This book, the third in the Space Trilogy, is the best of the three.

That Hideous Strength deals with a Britain on the verge of dystopia. An organization known as the N.I.C.E. is moving to take over the nation and its strength will usher in the hideousness referred to in the title. Like in most dystopian novels there is a small group of individuals who see the danger and is fighting against it. However, unlike its counterparts in other novels, this group does not rely on the strength of their individual wills and merits to fight the evil machinery of government. Their strength is in a higher power and they are fully aware that their struggle, while important, is only a small part of the greater battle raging in the Universe around them. They are humble in the realization that they are at most minor players and observers in a battle that is not their own to win or lose. Hope for the future is a solid reality in the plot of this novel and not some nebulous feeling or nonexistent force as it is in most dystopian novels. And woven into all of this is the legend of Arthur Pendragon and Merlin. Modern British fantasy meets ancient British mythology and the result is spectacular.

Into the plot C.S. Lewis has injected the themes and philosophies he explores in his non-fiction works The Abolition of Man and The Four Loves. As is typical for his fictional works this aspect does not overshadow the beauty of the story he is telling. It is not a lesson he is teaching but is the story itself. Genius.
Profile Image for Jacob Aitken.
1,582 reviews266 followers
August 4, 2011
This is easily human literature's finest hour. CS Lewis, in what is easily his masterpiece, gets in one's face about the reality of the New World Order and of the possibilities of real, effective Christian resistance to it.

But the true evil is not democracy. It is diabolical, to be sure, and monarchy is definitely to be preferred, but the true battle takes place on "the unseen world."

Lewis puts "spiritual warfare" in a rather direct, most uncomfortable light. Christians piously prat about spiritual warfare, but most believe deep down in their hearts that demons aren't real and aerial beings really don't inhabit our world. Lewis destroys that notion.

Lewis’ interweaving of Merlin and the “eldils” is perhaps more brilliant than Lewis himself realized.

We Christians believe in angels because the Bible says so. But do we really? I think Lewis is letting on a little more than most people realise. Lewis is a medievalist and despite so-called advances in science and technology, he retained much of the old cosmology (cf chapter 3 in *Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature*).

Most Christians until the Enlightenment (a period by no means friendly to Christianity) believed in beings who weren’t human but also weren’t divine, yet were quite active in the world. One british scholar has pointed out how perfectly-orthodox Irish theologians were able to posit such beings while maintaining a rigorous monotheism.

The piercing of the human psyches in this novel is stunning. Words fail me at this moment. Imagine every most incredible adjective, and that is what the book is like.
Profile Image for Tori Samar.
540 reviews74 followers
March 8, 2022
“Oh, of course, they never thought any one would act on their theories! No one was more astonished than they when what they’d been talking of for years suddenly took on reality. But it was their own child coming back to them: grown up and unrecognizable, but their own.”

Perelandra was my favorite the first time I read the Space Trilogy, but I find after a reread that this one’s my new favorite! The gates blew wide open now that I have a better understanding of fairy tales and medieval thought. I also love that The Abolition of Man, a book I also want to understand better, undergirds That Hideous Strength. Ideas incarnated in story!
Profile Image for Sara.
564 reviews170 followers
April 26, 2020
Hands down my favorite of his space trilogy books. I absolutely love who Ransom has become as a character and I love that it is set on earth. And shows the real struggle that man has.

I think that this is incredibly creative. I think that the effort to connect this with Arthurian Legend was brilliant, a stroke of genius.

There are parts that are downright unnerving and freaky. What a wonderful commentary on what sin is in its most obvious state.

The imagery of Sodom and Gomorrah crashing into Noah's Ark was very interesting. I thought that he creatively used a lot of really interesting and unrelated human events to tell one human story.
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