George Orwell’s Review of C.S. Lewis’ “That Hideous Strength” (Throwback Thursday)

At A Pilgrim in Narnia we have an occasional feature called “Throwback Thursday.” This is where I find a blog post from the past–raiding either my own blog-hoard or someone else’s–and throw it back out into the digital world. This might be an idea or book that is now relevant again, or a concept I’d like to think about more, or even “an oldie but a goodie” that I think needs a bit of spin time.

For today’s Throwback Thursday I am considering the 70th anniversary of the publication of That Hideous Strength (THS), in late-August 1945. While George Orwell’s 1984 is considered among the great 20th c. dystopian novels and C.S. Lewis’  THS is read mostly by fans of dystopia or of Lewis’ work, it is Lewis that preceded Orwell. Even Orwell’s genius “newspeak” finds its prepubescent older cousin in the technocratic rhetoric of the evil N.I.C.E. in THS. Orwell was aware of Lewis’ project, and reviewed THS the day it was published–the same week that Animal Farm hit the stands–and, incidentally, the same week that Atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Setting aside the connection between the two authors (I discussed this a more here, but I would like to do more thinking about still), Orwell’s great bias is in his first line:

On the whole, novels are better when there are no miracles in them.

While you may or may not agree with him, this way at looking at books shapes his response to THS. Orwell is not without admiration for Lewis’ dystopia, and there is humour and enjoyment behind the review. Let me ask readers three great discussion questions:

  1. Did Orwell review the book that he wished Lewis had written (rather than the one Lewis wrote)?
  2. Are books really better without miracles?
  3. Is the answer to #2 different today than in 1945?

Feel free to leave comments below, answering these questions or asking your own.


that hideous strength first trilogy edition lewis

George Orwell’s Review of C.S. Lewis’ That Hideous Strength, from the Manchester Evening News, 16 August 1945

On the whole, novels are better when there are no miracles in them. Still, it is possible to think of a fairly large number of worth-while books in which ghosts, magic, second-sight, angels, mermaids, and what-not play a part.

Mr. C. S. Lewis’s “That Hideous Strength” can be included in their number – though, curiously enough, it would probably have been a better book if the magical element had been left out. For in essence it is a crime story, and the miraculous happenings, though they grow more frequent towards the end, are not integral to it.

In general outline, and to some extent in atmosphere, it rather resembles G. K. Chesterton’s “The Man Who Was Thursday.”

Mr. Lewis probably owes something to Chesterton as a writer, and certainly shares his horror of modern machine civilisation (the title of the book, by the way, is taken from a poem about the Tower of Babel) and his reliance on the “eternal verities” of the Christian Church, as against scientific materialism or nihilism.

that hideous strength CS Lewis Panbooks 1950sHis book describes the struggle of a little group of sane people against a nightmare that nearly conquers the world. A company of mad scientists – or, perhaps, they are not mad, but have merely destroyed in themselves all human feeling, all notion of good and evil – are plotting to conquer Britain, then the whole planet, and then other planets, until they have brought the universe under their control.

All superfluous life is to be wiped out, all natural forces tamed, the common people are to be used as slaves and vivisection subjects by the ruling caste of scientists, who even see their way to conferring immortal life upon themselves. Man, in short, is to storm the heavens and overthrow the gods, or even to become a god himself.

There is nothing outrageously improbable in such a conspiracy. Indeed, at a moment when a single atomic bomb – of a type already pronounced “obsolete” – has just blown probably three hundred thousand people to fragments, it sounds all too topical. Plenty of people in our age do entertain the monstrous dreams of power that Mr. Lewis attributes to his characters, and we are within sight of the time when such dreams will be realisable.

that hideous strength cs lewis HeadHis description of the N.I.C.E. (National Institute of Co-ordinated Experiments), with its world-wide ramifications, its private army, its secret torture chambers, and its inner ring of adepts ruled over by a mysterious personage known as The Head, is as exciting as any detective story.

It would be a very hardened reader who would not experience a thrill on learning that The Head is actually – however, that would be giving the game away.

One could recommend this book unreservedly if Mr. Lewis had succeeded in keeping it all on a single level. Unfortunately, the supernatural keeps breaking in, and it does so in rather confusing, undisciplined ways. The scientists are endeavouring, among other things, to get hold of the body of the ancient Celtic magician Merlin, who has been buried – not dead, but in a trance – for the last 1,500 years, in hopes of learning from him the secrets of pre-Christian magic.

They are frustrated by a character who is only doubtfully a human being, having spent part of his time on another planet where he has been gifted with eternal youth. Then there is a woman with second sight, one or two ghosts, and various superhuman visitors from outer space, some of them with rather tiresome names which derive from earlier books of Mr. Lewis’s. The book ends in a way that is so preposterous that it does not even succeed in being horrible in spite of much bloodshed.

That Hideous Strength CS Lewis oldMuch is made of the fact that the scientists are actually in touch with evil spirits, although this fact is known only to the inmost circle. Mr. Lewis appears to believe in the existence of such spirits, and of benevolent ones as well. He is entitled to his beliefs, but they weaken his story, not only because they offend the average reader’s sense of probability but because in effect they decide the issue in advance. When one is told that God and the Devil are in conflict one always knows which side is going to win. The whole drama of the struggle against evil lies in the fact that one does not have supernatural aid. However, by the standard of the novels appearing nowadays this is a book worth reading.


Transcription by Arend Smilde at www.lewisiana.nl. Original review found in the Manchester Evening News, 16 August 1945. Reprinted in The Complete Works of George Orwell, ed. Peter Davison, Vol. XVII (1998), No. 2720 (first half), pp. 250–251. If you haven’t found Arend’s page (which I’ve featured before), check it out.

About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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48 Responses to George Orwell’s Review of C.S. Lewis’ “That Hideous Strength” (Throwback Thursday)

  1. Dora says:

    And so Orwell damns with faint praise. I doubt Lewis would have been troubled, as humble as he was.

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    • Humble he generally was, but Aldous Huxley’s review of That Hideous Strength got under his skin, and he penned a lengthy response. It’s an interesting but incomplete essay. Probably for the best, he never published it.
      I think that Lewis himself thought THS was not as vibrant as his other books. For me, it is a book that grows with me each time I read it.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Dora says:

        I like the entire trilogy, Perelandra especially. But I imagine to non-believers, even the fantastical is too fantastical if involves the unvarnished Truth.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Yes, I’m not sure exactly. I know many nonbelievers who love Perelandra. There is something about the mythic quality, like Milton or Dante, that twines an epic fictional world that is religious. I think there is lots of realistic fiction where there are characters of faith, think of Marilynne Robinson or Frederick Buechner. And there are fantasy books that look at faith and religion–even Christianity, open or cloaked–in a cultural sense or as a kind of experiment of thought, like James Bliss or Walter Miller. But I think our culture is beyond the point of appreciating fiction that has a dynamic Christian spiritual world at the centre. Some of this is the post-Christian nature of culture, but I think that there is a Christian book industry–with some terrible film adaptations–has contributed a lot to this change. I do a Christian literature course, and there aren’t any evangelicals on the list (though I would perhaps add a Ted Dekker book, or “The Last Sin Eater” if I needed an evangelical).

          Liked by 1 person

          • Ron Cuellar says:

            To your Christian Literature course, I would highly recommend a few of the Celtic series from Stephen Lawhead. Though you may already have him listed, though maybe not as an Evangelical.

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            • Yes, that’s intriguing. I have actually met Stephen Lawhead. For lit courses we don’t do a lot of fantasy, but I should look at the Celtic series, which I’ve heard great things about. Your comment is enough to send me back to my bookshelf!

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      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        This is (as far as I recall) quite new to me! – what-all do ‘we’ know about this Lewis draft review response? Does (any of) it survive, as draft or (someone’s) detailed ‘report’ of it?

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        • On the response to Huxley …um, it wasn’t Huxley. My brain broke. It was Haldane, and now is in “Of Other Worlds,” and I suspect you know it (if not, I can get you a digital copy, send me an email).

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          • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

            Right! I do have that, then – though I can’t remember whether I’ve ever read the whole Haldane article, or not (as far as I recall, my only Haldane book is Possible Worlds (1927) – in storage at the moment, but I think it is only a reprint of the 1927 text, and not some sort of ‘enlarged edition’ with additions like ‘Auld Hornie, F.R.S.’ – I see Haldane’s Wikipedia article lists it as reprinted in Everything Has a History (Allen & Unwin [!], 1951)…).

            Liked by 1 person

  2. salooper57 says:

    Thanks for making this available to your readers. Not prepared to answer your questions but I must admit I have a strong bias for Lewis and could not be evenhanded anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I like the trilogy but I’ve always felt That Hideous Strength to be the weakest of the three titles and too heavily influenced by Charles WIlliams – whose books I also very much enjoy; but Lewis is best when he’s being wholly himself. Fascinating review, though!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Intriguing question: does influence make Lewis less originality? I’m thinking of Milton in Perelandra.

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      • Katherine Langrish says:

        Milton in The Magician’s Nephew too… I think That Hideous Strength reads much like Williams’ ‘supernatural thillers’ – and I can see why Lewis wanted to bring the characters to Tellus – Earth – ruled of course by the Bent One – but I prefer Out of the Silent Planet, and I think THS is over-complicated by the Merlin plot. I do like the moment when all the angelic guardians of the other planets descend with their influences, but the whole Fisher-King thing leaves me a bit cold I’m afraid. (But then I think his Best Ever adult novel is Till We Have Faces’!) 🙂

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        • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

          Good point about The Magician’s Nephew! Finally getting around to reading Ovid’s Metamorphoses right through (though only in translation) I noticed what seems clear play with it re. Bacchus in Prince Caspian. In how far is Lewis “being wholly himself” when playing with sources? – I agree about TWHF, but that is (also) explicit play with Apuleius (!).

          Thinking aloud, here, but you have got me suddenly wondering if his play with the Fisher King has a specific ‘load’ of Williams’s own play with Pelles in his Arthurian poetry – Ransom like Pelles as a ‘Wounded Adam figure’ in contrast to Arthur as a ‘Wounding Adam figure’, and so also contrasted with Anthony as ‘Fallen but Redeemed Adam figure’ in The Place of the Lion (cf. my 12:34 pm comment below)…

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        • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

          Among the many interesting-looking books with which I have not yet caught up, is Elizabeth Baird Hardy’s Milton, Spenser and the Chronicles of Narnia (2006).

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        • I am a little behind on my responses, I’m afraid. Yes, Lewis takes more than one crack at Milton. I suspect he never stops dialoguing with Milton, in a sense.
          I also think Merlin is overly-complex (or creates too much complexity). I thought that Ransom should take up the powers and respond. In the end, it is the character dynamics and encounters I like.

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          • David, I don’t know enough to respond, though I might replace “Christ” with Adam there. It could be worth a paper.

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          • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

            “I suspect he never stops dialoguing with Milton, in a sense” seems a very good way to put it! I’ve just resumed rereading Paradise Lost after getting through Book IV in the spring. And it suddenly struck me that God the Father’s ironic remarks about Satan and his “crew” in Book V (ll. 724 -26):

            such a foe
            Is rising, who intends to erect his Throne
            Equal to ours, throughout the spacious North

            sound like something Coriakin could say about the Dufflepuds. And Milton soon lets Abdiel suggest Satan and his fellows could still “hasten […] / While pardon may be found, in time besought” (ll. 846-47) if they’d stop what he demonstrates to be their nonsense. Is Lewis playing in a serious but complex and gentle way with this, in that part of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, with both Coriakin and the Dufflepuds being ‘straightened out’?

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  4. Callum Beck says:

    “Unfortunately, the supernatural keeps breaking in.” But that is the whole point of the book, it is not just human evil but the supernatural war in heaven and how it impacts mankind. The key line I always thought was “they have brought the deep heavens down upon themselves.” And so Ransom, et al, need to access good spiritual forces, and God shocks them with the arrival of Merlin.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. hatrack4 says:

    As for my answers to the questions, I think Orwell did review the book that he would have written instead of what Lewis wrote. In a way, it is hard for a critic to not do so, thus not all critics are good at what they do. I think novels are better with a miracle in them. And in our darkest hour, even if we do not believe in miracles, we will wish them to be so. Thus, we will always want that miracle. 1945 brought us the bomb. Today it is a virus. China and radical religions loom to take its place. There is always the fear of something that we cannot control, (like someone else’s writing style or use of the “magical element”), but the true answer is to whom do we seek the strength to stand up to those fears?

    Liked by 1 person

    • China looms to take the place of … Hiroshima and COVID19? I do think “the fear of something that we cannot control” is a bang-on comment about culture (or about me, anyway).

      Liked by 1 person

    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      Just enjoyed John Christopher’s When the Tripods Came (1988) – not least in this context, of standing “up to those fears”. Don’t provide any spoilers, anyone, please – I have read the prequel but not yet the Tripods Trilogy. But (trying to avoid spoilers myself) one thought that came to mind was the comparison with comments by Lewis (and, I think, Tolkien) on old Northern mythological ideas of fighting for what is good and true, despite the expectation of total defeat and destruction. (I think the characters in When the Tripods Came are a little more hopeful than that, but I’m not sure on what grounds.)

      Liked by 2 people

  6. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Wow – “however, that would be giving the game away”: nice juxtaposition with whoever’s cover art!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    1. It’s funny how appreciative he is in some ways, while in other ways not reviewing the book he had before him (I think of remarks by Lewis about avoiding reviewing things with which one has no (imaginative) sympathy – though I’m glad we have this review).

    2. Illicit generalization – on various grounds, I’d say.

    3. Again, I’d think one cannot easily generalize, where various things like genre and authorial intention invite consideration, as well as possible audiences.

    An interesting Nineteen Eighty-Four point concerns “The Principles of Newspeak” appended to the novel. To quote Wikipedia (as “last edited on 8 September 2020, at 16:48 (UTC)”), “Whether or not the Newspeak appendix implies a hopeful end to Nineteen Eighty-Four remains a critical debate, as it is in standard English and refers to Newspeak, Ingsoc, etc. in the past tense: ‘Relative to our own, the Newspeak vocabulary was tiny, and new ways of reducing it were constantly being devised’ (p. 422). Some critics (Atwood, Benstead, Milner, Pynchon) claim that for the essay’s author, both Newspeak and the totalitarian government are in the past.” If they are, how did they come to be so (non-miraculously)? And, if they are, how unsatisfactory as well as tantalizing is this mysterious happy ending?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. John Garth says:

    Fair comment, I’d say. But the principle problem isn’t the presence of the supernatural. That could be very effective, as it is in Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra. Where they succeed, though, is that the supernatural is a mystery closed off to all human understanding until key points of revelation. Ransom doesn’t know what’s going on, and when he does learn it, we readers learn with him. In That Hideous Strength, Ransom is unrecognisable, mystic head of a cabal as mysterious as N.I.C.E. For many readers, I suspect, the Ransom clique seem suspect. The fact that they clearly speak for the author doesn’t help much; it just makes the novel seem clunkingly heavyhanded.

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    • John Garth says:

      “where they succeed” = “where OSP and Perelandra succeed”

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      • Thanks for the comments, John. As I’ve said above, the novel has grown on me for a few reasons. Reading it as a “fairy tale” rather than a “novel” (as the subtitle invites us), I have come to appreciate it far more. I’ve come to really like the narrative dynamics read in that mode, with all the intertextual links of “romance” and the Inklings looped in.
        I’m not saying it’s not flawed; Lewis could have used a strong editor on this piece. And not just because of a handful of cringeworthy bits, but someone just to walk beside him and ask, “What are you doing here? Do you know what you are doing here? Is this how you want to do it?” And while he is strong on intertextual links, they are often far too brief and elliptical. There are fewer moments when he allows the lyrical beauty of place to come through, as in the other Ransom romances. Flawed, but I find it more and more intellectually interesting each time I read it.
        As far as author’s voice in the Manor at St. Anne’s, I’m not so sure. In fact, I think the disagreements there are part of the point. Is Ransom right or wrong about hierarchy and gender there? At least one of the women at the centre of things say he is wrong. Is it traditional or unusual in gender dynamics? Certainly both. Etc. I don’t know that there is one narrative voice there.
        Instead, I think it is Mark and Jane–their journeys, their stories–that play out the author in his weaknesses. It’s true, Jane is far more competent and strong and Mark a gambolling fool, but I think that’s mostly accidental to character development. Mark is Lewis’ temptation to be drawn in to the centre, to be surrounded by confirming, important voices. Jane is Lewis’ concern about being drawn in, sucked in, fooled and looking like a fool. That’s where the author’s voice really is, but in reverse of what would be valourized.
        At least that’s the argument I’m trying to make in my book which will take me years to write!

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        • John Garth says:

          I look forward to your book! Meanwhile, it sounds as if I have ample opportunity to re-read That Hideous Strength. For sure, there’s a lot to get out of it; and for sure, I haven’t dug nearly deeply enough.

          Jane is a vastly more sympathetic character than Mark, which makes it all the more galling that she has to submit to him by divine order. Perhaps, indeed, that simpatico element comes from a deeper engagement on Lewis’s part because, as you say, she voices some instinct within himself. So what you find illuminating about Lewis is also problematic for the story, running against the grain of the narrative. It sounds ripe ground for a bit of deconstruction (in the Derridean sense). To my mind, though, appreciating a novel because it gives insights into the author’s character is all well and good (and I do this with Tolkien’s “The Lost Road” in particular); but it still doesn’t make it a success as a novel.

          Liked by 1 person

          • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

            Side-thought here: it might be interesting to compare and contrast Lewis’s treatment of Jane and Mark here with Williams’s of Damaris and Anthony in The Place of the Lion, including, in light of Lewis’s remarks to Arthur Greeves about Damaris and himself as academics.

            Liked by 1 person

            • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

              Two things occurred to me – one, that it is interesting to compare what Tolkien says in his 1963 draft letter (Letter 252) to his son, Michael, about THS with Orwell’s review: “Williams’ influence actually only appeared with his death: That Hideous Strength, the end of the trilogy, which (good though it is in itself) I think spoiled it.” ‘Good – but…’ So, what would a better, non-CW-influenced THS have been like, in detail, to Tolkien’s mind? In the preceding paragraph he had said, “The ‘space-travel’ trilogy ascribed to the influence of Williams was basically foreign to Williams’ kind of imagination. It was planned years before” – before meeting Williams (the date of which Tolkien here get wrong in the preceding sentence), and (presumably) better acquainted with him during CW’s Oxford five years and eight months.

              My second thought was, what if we consider the whole of the trilogy as Lewis’s variant of The Place of the Lion? Weston and Devine like Berringer, but physically as well, in their case, intrude into the heavens and the company of the ‘angelicals’ – but also intrude Ransom. Ransom’s education and edification (to use those words pretty etymologically) on Malacandra and Perelandra – as well as his later visits from eldila – like Anthony’s experience with the Eagle on the staircase of Berringer’s house, prepares him to be the person he is in THS – like Anthony in PL – who seems likely to cope with the (so to put it) ‘misdirected angelical peril’ (simply kakodemonic in THS), if anyone can. But then, enter Merlin – who has not like Weston and Devine or even Berringer intruded into the heavens and the company of the ‘angelicals’ themselves, but has worked with their ‘earthly influences’ in a way both dubious and yet not ignorantly impudent like Berringer, Weston, and Devine. So it is he, rather than Ransom, who, like Anthony, can (so to say) cooperate with the ‘angelicals’ to restore order. But, again, in contrast to Anthony facilitating their exit, himself facilitating their entrance into the realm of the ‘Bent Archon’ for direct ‘deep heavenly’ activity – but, again in contrast to Anthony’s ‘scala purgation’, at mortal cost to himself.

              On this reading, the whole trilogy is Williamsian (though not merely) – while without the regular Inklings contact with Williams, various details of its ‘Arthurian’ character might have been quite different.

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              • Wait, David, am I confusing what you are saying here? Is this saying that Tolkien is proposing that CW’s death affected the novel? By my notes, CW died 17 months after this book is finished.

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              • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

                Good question! I was wondering that, too, and about the chronology of THS – I’m not sure I know when it appeared. I also wonder how much of it was read out in what draft stages to Tolkien and Williams together in Inklings meetings – I’d expect a lot, but do we have any evidence about it? There is a playful reference to C.W. in Tolkien’s ‘Notion Club Papers’ which is removed in revision – my guess is that it was read out in his presence, then cut after his death. Maybe Tolkien was guessing and misremembering along similar lines re. THS?

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              • I wonder if either JRRT was misremembering or I am misreading JRRT’s letter. THS was begun in autumn 1942 and basically finished by Christmas 1943, the date of the preface. He records in a letter of Dec 29, 1943 the completion. So this is a CW in Oxford novel, not an post-CW novel–even in editing form. CW died in May, the novel came out in August of 1945. I don’t know why it didn’t move anywhere through 1944.

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              • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

                Thanks! I should know these things… I see Lewis describes “The Venus book” as “just finished” in his 11 May 1942 letter to Sister Penelope, so an autumn start would have been within half-a-year, or so. He describes Perelandra to her on 20 February 1943 as “printed some months ago” though “there is no sign of it yet” while “the publishers said it w[oul]d be out in Jan[uary].” Williams had published one long Arthurian poem in January 1941 and another in the “Spring (1942)” issue of a magazine, and in late April 1942 was expanding one published in December 1939 – and finished this revision by the end of March 1943. He was rewriting what became the first poem in his second late Arthurian volume in April 1943 – with Lewis suggesting it’s title the next month. In July 1943 he was working on the first version of what would be his last novel – after abandoning that, he told a friend on 28 October that Lewis “says of the opening of the new novel now that I have more in my little finger than all of them in their whole bodies” – this was All Hallows’ Eve, set, like THS, in the imagined near-future of the immediately post-war period. His friend, Raymond Hunt, noted on a typed transcription of Tolkien’s about Williams and his Arthurian poetry published by Humphrey Carpenter in Part Three, chapter 2 of The Inklings (1978) that it was “composed […] near the end of November 1943”. So, during that year of Lewis writing THS, there was at least an appreciable amount of inter-Inkling attention to Williams’s Arthurian poetry and rather ‘apocalyptic’ near-future novel.

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              • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

                Oops!: “Tolkien’s poem”!

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          • I am a little behind on my responses, I’m afraid. Big grant application.
            Joh, perhaps I a couple of years when I come to this chapter I’ll send it your way. Your openness and critical sense works well together. I’m in the deconstruct-to-rebuild school, interrogate and regenerate (Heather Walton’s words there). I also don’t know that this novel is completely successful and coherent; I do think, though, the trigger moments of violence and sexism sometimes obscure other more elegant things.

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        • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

          Have you ever read Lewis’s abridged version of THS for Pan (1955)? He ends the Preface, “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 Queene any shorter – but some critics may well think this abridgment is also an improvement.” Colman O’Hare makes a case in his doctoral dissertation for reevaluating the importance of Williams for the novel by considering the cuts re. Williams – I think I checked them out in context without being convinced, but whenever I reread THS I always end up rereading the original version, so I have never yet read his abridgment right through (!). Maybe I should steel myself to a sort of back-to-back both version marathon…

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    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      After first commenting, and before seeing yours, I got brooding over Orwell’s last paragraph and thinking, ‘one does not always know which side is going to win, in a given instance’, nor does one know what the details of “the issue” will be for all the people concerned if ‘God’s side’ does win in a particular instance – and, in THS, Ransom and the St. Anne’s folk distinctly do not know they are going to be able to accomplish anything. And they are assuming the worst where Merlin is concerned, and not, as far as I recall, out of mere thorough circumspection – they basically get this wrong. So, I would say, it is (however complicated and intricate) a variant of what you say of the first two: ” Ransom doesn’t know what’s going on, and when he does learn it, we readers learn with him.” And my memory is that Ransom in conversation before anyone goes to look for Merlin is recognizably ‘the old Ransom’ despite all the ways he’s also the ‘new’ Ransom.

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  9. I have just returned from a holiday in which I re-read That Hideous Strength among other things. I have wanted to go back to it for a while now as I have been thinking about people like Ray Kurzweil, Elon Musk and others who seem to be the spiritual descendants of the N.I.C.E in their desire to confer immortality upon themselves. I am not alone in this opinion. The British philosopher, John Gray, gave a talk on BBC radio on this very subject in which he praised Lewis’s The Abolition of Man in very much the same terms as Orwell on THS with the same reserve for Lewis’s predisposition to speak about the supernatural. I am sure that Ransom would have welcomed them all to St Anne’s and billeted them with MacPhee and they would all have been just as useless. As useless as all the others (as MacPhee points out with some justice). For no-one does anything except to give Merlin a place to go on the night of his escape from prison.
    In other words the supernatural destruction of the N.I.C.E is the whole point. They really do pull deep heaven down upon their heads. Without that all we would have been left with would have been Napoleon proposing a toast as the hungry animals of the farm look on from outside or Winston Smith crying out “Long live Big Brother!” All very satisfactory, no doubt, for Mr Orwell as he miserably fights his version of the long defeat but it leaves the rest of us with little hope.
    Recently I watched a video on YouTube in which THS was discussed. I agreed with the warnings made by its makers but at the end I was left without hope. I felt that I had been listening to the warnings of the prophets but with no more offered to me than Orwell’s godlessness. I do not know how to resist the immortalisers of Silicon Valley. I have been writing about it for my parishioners here in Worcestershire, England, but have signally failed to arouse any concern. I might as well be talking about the threat of dragons. Perhaps, as Ransom says, all that I can do is to be faithful at my post and to put my trust in God.

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    • Dear Stephen, thanks for this beautiful response. I am late responding myself, and I apologize.
      I wonder if the best answer isn’t this (ie, the best from THS):
      How do we resist the NICE in all its manifestations?
      We grow winter vegetables.
      It sounds simplistic, but I think that St. Anne’s has the answer: Fellowship, Good Work, Friends, Conversation, maybe even Ritual (and training performing animals–I don’t quite know how to allegorize that one). Could we add, controversially, some resistance and confirmation and transformation of tradition? That’s there too. Self-revelation?
      I guess I mean that doing what you do is resistng the NICE, given that you have chosen the Manor at St. Anne’s and its side.

      Like

  10. Ron Cuellar says:

    Have you considered writing a wee book, with a startling title, just to start a conversation that hopefully goes in the right direction?
    A widow just mite honor God by careful reflection and then spreading some strategic bread crumbs.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Pingback: 1,000,000 Hits on A Pilgrim in Narnia | A Pilgrim in Narnia

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