Amongst the small group of books that I reread every several years sits “That Hideous Strength,” by CS Lewis. The third and last of what the author called his “space trilogy,” THS is an amazing work. Successfully blending religion, fantasy, horror, suspense and science fiction is no easy task, to put it mildly, yet Lewis does so in such a way that the various genre complement and feed off each other, the result being a thought-provoking epic of apocalyptic proportions.
Published in 1946, THS was described by Lewis as “a modern fairy-tale for grown-ups.” Those familiar with the book, though, would call it a blueprint for the Apocalypse- for in it are all the ingredients found in any Biblical-style end-of-the-world story: angels, demonic (and apparently possessed) humans, sacrilege and sacrifice, a “Messianic” figure and his enclave of disciples, as well as a mission to end all missions. But there is more, much more, to this story.
Lewis was trying to fashion a tale that would show not only the age-old battle between good and evil, but the heights (and depths) to which those on both sides of the battle lines will go to achieve their ends. The author is pleading with us to understand that when men and women fail, despite all their efforts to help the Forces of Good- it is the power of their faith- especially in the face of impossible odds- that ultimately calls down the powers of Heaven for their deliverance.
The story begins with a young couple- Mark and Jane Studdock- who live in a small college town, and are enduring an essentially loveless marriage. They are committed to each other, but on such a low level that the union’s demise is merely a matter of time.
The University of Edgestow, where Mark works, is in the process of selling part of its property to the sinister National Institute for Controlled Experimentation (NICE). What follows the sale is the rise of an organization so evil and inhumane that it’s very existence threatens not only the Studdock’s small college town, but the world itself.
Soon, through machination and assassination, NICE has taken over the university and its staff, and converted the campus into its base of operations. NICE’s ultimate goal is to bring the dead back to life- and in the process, replacing God. While the mortal men running the show seem in control and know what they are doing, the reader is treated to some grisly behind-the-scenes experiments that say otherwise, said experimentation threatening to literally open the gates of hell.
Meanwhile, the forces of good begin gathering in another part of town, led by Elwin Ransom, the protagonist from the preceding two books in the trilogy. Jane Studdock finds herself inexplicably drawn to this humble group, while her husband Mark is flattered into becoming a journalist for the newspaper serving as NICE’s propaganda machine.
Add to this the fact that somewhere on the college grounds, Merlin- of all people!- is unearthed during an excavation project. Wandering the area in an effort to find the Man with the Power, he becomes the subject of a desperate search. Both sides know Merlin possesses incredible power, thus being the key to victory. The question is: who will get to him first?
And this is only the beginning. While NICE;s police force begins taking over the area, scientist’s in the NICE lab are edging ever closer to reanimating the head of an executed criminal, planning to install it as their prophet. Ransom’s group, meanwhile embarks on a mission to grab Ransom, while Mark is drawn ever deeper into an organization that he suspects may be up to much more than no good- but can (or will) he escape?
All of this sets the stage for an epic confrontation between good and evil, the likes of which have never before been seen in the annals of modern literature. Before the tale comes to its cataclysmic end, you will know where the True Power in the Universe lies, as well the price to be paid for Victory.
To say more would be to spoil things- so do yourself a favor and read “That Hideous Strength.” It will amaze you, frighten you, and maybe even give you a greater appreciation for that which is good and true in all of us- if we will only let God into our lives.