I am certain that within long I will be accused of being obsessed with Prefaces. I have posted great prefaces to C.S. Lewis’ The Allegory of Love and Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, and I have even published the earliest manuscript of Lewis’ preface to The Screwtape Letters. Now I’m at it again.
In my defense, a preface, foreword, or introduction to a book often has some of the best stuff in the most condensed form. It is what an author says when she is tired of saying things, and mostly wants to find a way to get a reader connected to her material. I always encourage students to look at prefatory material before they dive in to the meat of the book.
Well, I’m at it again. I am reading That Hideous Strength, the conclusion of the Ransom Cycle that began with Out of the Silent Planet. It is an intriguing book, one part Arthuriana, one part science fiction, and one part dystopian farce. It is rich in references to other authors, from the Bible and Aristotle to H.G. Wells and Jules Verne to J.R.R. Tolkien and Charles Williams. And it explores in most detail the inner psychology of human characters in all his books, with the exception of Till We Have Faces. It is a peculiar ending to the Ransom Cycle, longer than all the other Ransom books put together and concluded with the aid of an awoken Merlin. But it is an excellent book, and worth digging into.
It is probably surprising, then, that this psychologically complex, dark, contemporary science fiction novel is actually called That Hideous Strength: A Modern Fairy-Tale for Grown-Ups. Even in the title there are intertextual hints. The subtitle is very much like George MacDonald’s, Phantastes: A Faerie Romance for Men and Women–a book that had incalculable influence on Lewis. The title, That Hideous Strength, is drawn from a 16th century David Lindsay poem about the Tower of Babel:
“The shadow of that hyddeous strength
Sax myle and more it is of length”
A Dialog, Sir David Lindsay
I knew of the Lindsay reference when picking up the book, and was surprised that it was not an epigraph to my copy. I was certain that it was. I did some digging and discovered that my ePub version had the Lindsay reference, but my paper copies do not. Both versions dedicate the book to J. McNeill, a longtime of Lewis’ that he called “Janie” (pronounced Tchainie). But only the digital copy has the epigraph.
Then I began reading the preface and noticed another difference. It was different than the one I remembered. As I dug around a bit, I discovered that there are two different prefaces to That Hideous Strength. One was published with the book and is signed “Christmas Eve, 1943”–according to his custom of dating prefaces–and one appears later. The first edition preface is longer, and mostly involved in setting the context to the story. The later preface is much shorter, and has a strange concluding paragraph that pokes fun at the length.
I thought it would be fun to post both prefaces. This has the very serious reason of allowing readers to compare the two different prefaces side by side. It will also allow readers the chance to school me on where this second, shorter preface came from. Lewis would sometimes rewrite prefaces when new editions came out, as he did for The Pilgrim’s Regress in 1958. His fame increased with the publication of Narnia, so a number of his older books were re-released in the following decade.
These are good, serious reasons to post these prefaces. But there is also an entirely indulgent reason. It gives me a chance to show some of the varieties of cover art for That Hideous Strength. Although none of them border on realism, some of the imaginative scope of old SciFi art is dominant in these older book covers.
Enjoy the crazy cover designs as well as the side-by-side comparison of the prefaces. And do let me know if you have information on the provenance of the second preface.
That Hideous Strength: A Modern Fairy-Tale for Grown-Ups
I have called this a ‘fairy tale’ in the hope that no one who dislikes fantasy may be misled first two chapters into reading further, and then complain of his disappointment. If you ask why—intending to write about magicians, devils, pantomime animals, and planetary angels, I nevertheless begin with such humdrum scenes and persons—reply that I am following the traditional fairy-tale. We do not always notice its method because the cottages, castles, woodcutters, and petty kings with which a fairy-tale opens have become to us as remote as the witches and ogres to which it proceeds. But they were not remote at all to the men who made and first enjoyed the stories. They were indeed more realistic or common place than Bracton College is to me: for many German peasants had actually met cruel stepmothers, whereas I have never, in any university, come across a college like Bracton.
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 I know well enough to write about. A very small university is imagined because that has certain conveniences for fiction. Edgestow has no resemblance, save for its smallness, to Durham—a university with which the only connection I have ever had was entirely pleasant.
I believe that one of the central ideas of this tale came into my head from conversations I had with a scientific colleague, some time before I met a rather similar suggestion in the works of Mr. Olaf Stapledon. If I am mistaken in this, Mr. Stapledon is so rich in invention that he can well afford to lend, and I admire his invention (though not his philosophy) so much that I should feel no shame to borrow.
Those who would like to learn further about Numinor and the True West must (alas!) await the publication of much that still exists only in the MSS. of my friend, Professor J. R. R. Tolkien. The period of this story is vaguely “after the war.” It concludes the trilogy of which Out of the Silent Planet was the first part, and Perelandra the second, but can be read on its own.
C.S. Lewis, Madgalen College, Oxford, Christmas Eve, 1943.
Later Shortened Preface
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. A very small university is imagined because that has certain conveniences for fiction. Edgestow has no resemblance, save for its smallness, to Durham – a university with which the only connection I have ever had was entirely pleasant.
In reducing the original story to a length suitable for this edition, I believe I have altered nothing but the tempo and the manner. I myself prefer the more leisurely pace-I would not wish even War and Peace or The Faerie Qyeene any shorter-but some critics may well think this abridgment is also an improvement.