That Hideous Strength

Here’s a little excited update on what I’ve been reading! A fiction book! AHH – it’s been so fun. Here are my passion-filled thoughts:

Those who know me know my love for fantasy – I’d call it extreme fantasy. Like, I would like to be transported into another world without any trouble getting there, smooth ride with no connecting flights. So, naturally, The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) has been an all-time favorite since I can remember. However, during my college years, I started falling in love with C.S. Lewis’ The Space Trilogy. Well, that changed my mind. As beautiful and explosive as LOTR is, it took precedent.

The Space Trilogy set the bar for books from then on. However, I only read Out of the Silent Planet (the first book) and Perelandra (the second book). I tried reading the third in the series, That Hideous Strength, which sounded so captivating, but could not finish. Those who have read it understand that the first chunk is pretty painful for those of us who aren’t scholars! It’s set in a university – with the a bunch of lofty dialog, theories, and college politics to start. You have to wonder – what is Lewis getting at? Dispersed between these (droning and draining) conversations and people, you meet a more interesting character. She is the wife of one of these sociology professors, Mark, and isn’t apart of the college politics. (Although, she is getting her PhD from the college – Bracton if I haven’t mentioned the name yet.) Her name is Jane. She is young and forward for the time, meaning, she is independent and isn’t all about the structure of lady-hood nor marriage. She seems to tip toward feminism and is definitely a logical thinker – she prides herself in this. I believe you are supposed to think at first highly of Mark Studdock – he seems like a smart, legit, but human person. We quickly know of his downfall, though, as he enters an undefined position with an unseemly organization and becomes obsessed with getting to the top of said organization without really caring what the organization is actually about… which isn’t admirable at all.

During the time Mark is checking out this job – and starting it – with this mysterious organization (ironically named N.I.C.E.) his wife discovers that she is mentally ill – or what she thinks is mental illness. She has reoccurring terrible dreams that feel so real. After telling a friend about these dreams, the friend refers her to a sketchy place – not the therapist she thought she was going to meet. This introduces a new side, the other side, in this story. We have the N.I.C.E. and we have the party at St. Anne’s. (I won’t mention their title for it is more fun to figure it out!) Eventually, without spoiling the details, Jane finds herself at St. Anne’s again to discover deeper secrets of the party assembled there all the while Mark slowly becomes deeply acquainted with the secrets underlying the N.I.C.E. or “the Institute”.

This story is a fantasy, yet too real to be so. The other books in this timeline take you to wild worlds I could never begin to imagine. But this one keeps you on earth – both literally and metaphorically. The reason for writing this little piece is this: the things Lewis describes happening in this fantasy war are things that could happen here, today! (Well, not all the time. Much of it is magic and mystery and history all combined, but the ideas behind it are very, very timely.)

Here are some extremely shocking and thought-provoking points Lewis makes in That Hideous Strength: (Mind you, this book was published in 1945…)

  1. In this time period, people are beginning to believe whatever they read if it sounds legitimate. This becomes a tool for the bad guys to use to gain their agenda with the masses to the point where they have so much sway and influence, people listen to what they say without even questioning it… Sounds familiar, eh? The bad side uses this naivety through the media. They write persuasive articles full of untrue facts about certain things that cause riots in the streets – over what? They don’t exactly know! We have some details about what they include, but the enemy is vague in the articles and people are without reason for their rioting… Interesting. Shooting at an enemy that you can’t really put into words…
  2. The prideful view of higher power. Jane finds herself resistant to any ideas of a godly realm. She’s always known that, but even as she becomes face to face with it, she digs her heels in. It isn’t until the Director of the party she becomes affiliated with pushes back on her ideas does she admit WHY this is. The why is this: her pride. He points out that in every area of her life, she is in control and never wrong. He points out how evil this is, with a vision to help make the point. She digs her heals in even further, but it gets her thinking… Is this really who I am? Someone so evil?
  3. The lack of Christians actually sold out to Christ. At one point, an interesting character (too good to name!) appears into the story. The Director of the previous book catches him up on (some) history he has missed. The story is central around Christians – those who are and those who aren’t. Everyone seems to identify those who are by the name, but then if they were raised that way versus actually devoted to it. At one point the interesting character asks the Director, in Elli’s paraphrasing, “Can’t we seek help from the surrounding Christian nations?” And the director replies: “There are none.” The character responds: “None? What about these values, have they spread East? Can’t we find some around the globe?” The Director replies: “You can go as far East to end up back here in the West, and you will find none.” Character: “Are there no dedicated Christians that are not leaders? Just normal people?” “No, the few that are remain in this house.” To that the character replies: “Is this then the end?” The Director agrees: “This Hideous Strength has the earth in its fist to squeeze as it wishes.”
    1. Interestingly accurate, is it not? I believe this is set to be nearing to the end times, or at least a picture of what it will look like. Lewis is saying that it already has begun, that Christians who identify as such aren’t really. They don’t know anything about their faith and are quick to abandon it to what the world says. SO INTERESTING!!

I love tales that hit home themes and ideas that are culturally relevant – as well as themes that deal with spiritual issues and faith. (This is one of the reasons I love LOTR.) This book made me think a lot about how we see these issues here and now.

I’d love to hear from other readers… I’ve been reading threads of analyses from people around the world and throughout time, old and new opinions and it is fascinating. But it’s a wonderful thing to have the best of both worlds – aka: get my fill of fantasy, but also be able to emerge with a greater understanding of reality. That’s why I wrote this little report on what I’ve been reading – to appreciate the just about prophetic analysis Lewis has on humanity and also to show what amazing things we can take out of novels that shed light into humanity.

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