Review date: 14/9/2001
Publisher: Pan, 1955
Of the three novels by Lewis featuring Ransome, That Hideous Strength is the least interesting. Lewis himself was clearly not entirely happy with it, as he abridged the novel quite considerably after the first publication.
The story of the novel is about an organisation named N.I.C.E., the kind of acronym which after The Man From U.N.C.L.E. became impossible to use seriously. Its public agenda is criminal rehabilitation, but it is in fact out to dominate the U.K. in the name of progress. Being Lewis, there is of course a spiritual side to the whole thing, with the powerful forces of darkness (whose final aim is demonstrated by the novel's title, which comes from a description of the building of the tower of Babel) ranged against Ransome's small group of seemingly ineffectual fighters for good. The human element is provided by Mark and Jane Studdock, who end up on opposing sides without ever having wanted to get involved at all.
The reason that the story has dated is that the idea of progress Lewis is attacking is no longer believed by many, in this age of environmental crisis where the downside of the effects of modern technology have become apparent. When this is accompanied by a diffuse story, and when the marvellous descriptions of alien worlds which are so important a part of Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra are missing, it is easy to see that That Hideous Strength is the least successful of the trilogy.
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