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That Hideous Strength

When I am on a driving trip with my family it is my daughter’s music or nothing on the media player. So I took the opportunity on a recent solo trip to listen to an audio book, Out of the Silent Planet, the first of the Space Trilogy by C.S. Lewis. I have read a lot of Lewis, but I am normally not a fan of science fiction or fantasy. But Heather Heying mentioned this book on the Dark Horse Podcast she co-hosts with her husband Bret Weinstein, so when I came across the free audio version I went for it. As free audio versions of the two other novels in the trilogy, Perelandra and That Hideous Strength, were also available, I listened to them too. Here I will primarily write about That Hideous Strength (Online version).

In Out of the Silent Planet, Dr. Elwin Ransom, a professor of philology (the branch of knowledge that deals with the structure, historical development, and relationships of a language or languages) is kidnapped and transported to Mars. While there, he meets the planet’s various inhabitants and discovers that Earth is exiled from the rest of the Solar System. In Perelandra Ransom is transported to Venus (called Perelandra) to continue a battle against the evil forces exiled on Earth but doing mischief on this “new” planet. In both books Lewis went wild describing the landscape, the beings and their languages of the planets Mars and Venus. The influence of fellow members of the Inklings is apparent. I suppose this is all good if you like that sort of thing.

That Hideous Strength is set on Earth. A scientific think tank called the N.I.C.E. (The National Institute of Co-ordinated Experiments) is secretly in touch with demonic entities who plan to assume control of the Earth. Dr. Ransom is leading a small band against the great potential danger to the human race and the planet.

Twenty-five years ago I taught a seminar for first-year university students. The concept for the course came from the university, “This course is intended to induct the student into an intellectual discussion of substantive issues, and to enhance their speaking, writing and bibliographic skills.” I described my version of the seminar in the syllabus. “The topic for this particular seminar is Truth.  The seminar will begin with readings from philosophy and theology which lead to the question of the meaning of personal existence and hence to the truth of morals.  We will next consider the role of truth in the academic disciplines history and science.  The following topic is the application of truth in the professions such as law, journalism, and politics.  The final areas of discussion will be on the arts and aesthetics, in that when we call something “good” do we imply an objective truth?” I thought a lot about what makes a good novel (also see this about my bibliophilia). I came to the conclusion that a good novel exposes the truth of the human condition through giving the reader a sense of the inner workings of the minds of the characters; and hence, of other people. A prime example is Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky. I would add now that goodness can include giving the reader a vivid description of a particular time and place. As an example I include the Aubrey–Maturin series of sea novels by Patrick O’brian. A further way to judge a novel, if it is old enough, is through its precience. Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four comes to many people’s minds today for its explanatory power of the current world situation.

That Hideous Strength is a “good” book on at least two of these levels, even if the overall composition is lacking for me because science fiction and fantasy are not to my taste. The first important lesson comes from the understanding of the key character, an academic social scientist who spirals into evil. He wants to be on the “inside” so he is easily turned to do evil works. He was miseducated to believe in a pseudo religious scientism. See this recent discussion with Dr. Wolfgang Smith where he describes this ideological view of the world. He says explicitly that there exist bad spiritual forces that drive modern science. Lewis’ emphasis on organizations is brilliant. Any perceptive reader who has been in the military, worked for a corporation, or even has been a professor in a university will recognize the world of middle managers. The counterexample of N.I.C.E. is the bottom up organization of Ransom’s little band of apostles. The other important lesson comes from Lewis’ precience that is evident in the grand conspiracy, false flags, press manipulation, and the eugenics mindset that are so prevalent today and emanate from the same ideology of scientism.

In a  recent post the Bionic Mosquito quotes from The Abolition of Man, pointing out the destruction of society follows the education like that of the social scientist character in That Hideous Strength; “albeit not overtly and maybe not even consciously, that words need not have meaning, that qualities are nothing more than personal feelings, and that there need not be anything objective in either – in fact, there can be nothing objective in either.”

In the preface to That Hideous Strength Lewis explains explicitly that, “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 profession is naturally that which I know best.”

By-the-way, the course did not go very well. One young woman said to me as we were walking out of class, “I don’t like your class.” This was surprising because students were normally less direct in those days. When I asked her why she responded, “I have to think too much.”