"Whatcha Reading [Two Months Ago] Wednesday"
About two months ago, I finished the third book in C.S. Lewis' Space Triology, which is called That Hideous Strength. Although I loved the book and think that every single person should read the Space Trilogy, time escaped me and I never sat down to write about it. Now that two months have passed, my thoughts are a bit muddled, but I thought I'd share a few things anyway.
First, I had heard that the Space Trilogy was somewhat the Chronicles of Narnia for grown-ups, but it really is something beyond that. It's everything one would expect from the genius author of Narnia and more. Read it!
Second, although I loved Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra (and it seems those two are faves among Space Trilogy readers), I couldn't put down That Hideous Strength. It is much more action based than the first two, a fantastic culmination and denouement of the struggles developed in Planet and Perelandra. Although Ransom, the main character of the entire story, plays a quieter part and practically takes a backstage to the two new characters (Mark and Jane Studdock), he is still what the story is about, and his sanctification and spiritual growth is remarkable.
In the story, Mark and Jane Studdock are newlyweds who are discovering that marriage isn't exactly what either of them thought it would be. Jane is bored and resentful with being at home; Mark is annoyed and somewhat nostalgic for their exciting courting days (at his best) and selfish bachelor days (at his worst). It is pretty clear from the beginning that these two are headed down different paths, and that is exactly what happens, even if their course of events seems almost accidental. Mark (through ignorance, manipulation, and fear) gets pulled into a powerful and frightening plan that is straight from the Evil One, and Jane finds herself experiencing vision-like dreams and, after much prodding, seeks help from Ransom. It is easy at the beginning of the novel, before Ransom makes his appearance, to forget about all the truth Ransom learned concerning the eldils (spirit-like creatures), Oyarsa (angels), and Maleldil (God). However, it becomes very clear that this is what the entire conflict is about.
"Our own crew, the terrestrial eldils, are at the back of the whole conspiracy. You are to imagine us, Mrs. Studdock, living on a world where the criminal classes of the eldils have established their headquarters. And what's happening now, if the Director's [Ransom] views are correct, is that their own respectable kith and kin are visiting this planet to red this place up."
The conflict is not something new, however, but has been a constant struggle since the beginning: the struggle between Logres (truth, goodness, and soundness, appropriately named, right?) and Britain. Ransom, who is the Director of the group called Logres, explains this struggle in an interesting way: that Britain is always haunted by Logres. It cannot escape it, try as it might. It is more, then, than simply a struggle between good and evil, though surely it could be viewed that way. Dimble (not Dumbledore, although Rowling's hat-tip to Lewis, perhaps?), one of the Logres and perhaps the most spiritually-minded (except for the Director) says, "If one is thinking simply of goodness in the abstract, one soon reaches the fatal idea of something standardised--some common kind of life to which all nations ought to progress. Of course, there are universal rules to which all goodness must conform. But that's only the grammar of virture. It's not there that the sap is. He doesn't make two blades of grass the same: how much less two saints, two nations, two angels. The whole work of healing Tellus [Earth] depends on nursing that litle spark, on incarnating that ghost, which is still alive in every real people, and different to each."
And this gets to one of the main themes of That Hideous Strength. Abstract ideas--meaning ideas that are not grounded in a solid, real truth, ideas that sound good but have no substance, ideas that are nonsense--are lethal. It is, in fact, the abstract philosophizing that got Britain into its opening mess in the story. As the battle comes to a close, one entire town is wiped out, including a well-known university. When one of those part of Logres expresses sorrow for seemingly "innocents" who were killed, another pipes in: "But all the same...was there a single doctrine practised at Belbury which hadn't been preached by some lecturer at Edgestow? 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 sudden took on reality. But it was their own child coming back to them: grown up and unrecognisable, but their own."
This is what attempts to destroy Britain, and this is what the enemy uses to bring it down. Mark, a learned man, goes down the wrong path because of what he fills his heart and mind with, which is not the sound, true word. As one character says, "Those who have forgotten Logres sink into Britain. Those who call for Nonsense will find that it comes." As a reader, we love taking the journey with Mark, who must rid himself of the Nonsense he has consumed, come to the end of his rope, and then finally see the light. Jane, though in some ways similarly affected by false teachings, finds Ransom and Logres much sooner, and therefore seems to be the foil for Mark. As Mark is pulled deeper into the mire, Jane quickly begins to rise and find truth. Of course, it all centers around Ransom, who points everyone to Maleldil. He is the saint-like figure who sees the world for what it is and sees Maleldil for who He is, a symbol of both Christ and the glorified Christian.
That Hideous Strength is the story of the great struggle, true, but perhaps more importantly it is the story of people involved in the great struggle: Ransom, the Logres group, Mark and Jane, and of course, those who have chosen the other side. There is no question by the end of the book whose side we want to be on.