Does anyone have $30,000 USD they’d like to donate to a good cause? That’s $36,373.00 Canadian, if you are keeping track, or £22,006.50 if you are from that original land of story. If you do, you might want to consider purchasing this 1st edition of That Hideous Strength that just popped up on Abebooks.
$30,000 is a lot to drop for a 1st edition of a difficult and not terribly popular book. It is true that C.S. Lewis is a collectable author. Full Narnia collections with dustjacket in fine condition are hard to find, though there is a set available (in very good to near fine condition) for $27,500 on Abebooks. A 1st edition of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe usually goes from between $5,000 and $10,000. Because of the difficulty of finding these editions, the old tradition of rebinding great books has been revived. There is a beautiful UK first edition set, rebound in finest leather with a volume signed by Pauline Baynes for just shy of $15k.
Fair enough, but 30 large for a quirky dystopia that George Orwell, among other nice words, calls “confusing” and “undisciplined.” Moreover, you can get a 1st edition with a dust jacket for less than $1000. What’s the deal?
The deal is a brilliant confluence of events that makes this copy of That Hideous Strength a story in itself.
According to Raptis Rare Books who are selling the copy, this is not only a 1st edition in very good condition with a complete, very good dust jacket. C.S. Lewis’ signature carries some weight, but this particular signature comes on a presentation copy of the novel with Lewis’ own minor corrections. Moreover, it is inscribed:
“To the Blairs, with kind regards, C.S. Lewis Aug. 1945.”
The Blairs are, it turns out, Eric and Eileen Blair. Eric Blair used the well-known pen name, George Orwell–the famous author of 1984 and Animal Farm. This was the very edition that Orwell used to write his review for the Manchester Evening News on August 16th, 1945. While not close friends, and although they clearly did not share a foundational worldview, their shared friendships, work, and interests in culture and literature led Lewis, it seems, to personalize his review copy.
This is a very, very cool edition.
That Orwell’s Animal Farm released the day after this review, and that Lewis’ conclusion to the Ransom Cycle is obviously provocative for Orwell as he wrote 1984 only heightens the story for me. I really do think that Lewis’ and Orwell’s work is in dialogue. You can see my pieces “Is Animal Farm Greater than 1984? C.S. Lewis’ Thoughts about George Orwell’s Work” and “George Orwell’s 1984 and C.S. Lewis’ That Hideous Strength: A Conversation about Influence and Pride of Place.”
Some time ago, Arend Smilde transcribed Orwell’s original review, which I have discussed here and reprint below. And here is the Abebooks sale link, pointed out to me by David Llewellyn Dodds and a friend on Facebook.
If you have it in your heart to buy this edition of That Hideous Strength and donate it, however, you will find your kindness wasted on me–a kind of book-collector lacking the grace needed for such a book. Donate it to the Marion E. Wade collection in Wheaton, where scholars and fans from around the world could admire it in a safe way. It could be a profound lift to the literary world.
I do collect some Lewis books, and I actually have a 1st edition of That Hideous Strength–not a true first edition and without a dust jacket, but a UK 2nd printing by The Bodley Head. It is in good shape, but a gently read copy signed by one of Lewis’ students. It is not overly valuable, but I have a special feeling for the book because it was given to me by Lewis’ student’s widow.
Ultimately, I collect Lewis first editions only for the words and a sense of the publishing history.
- The Problem of Pain is my oldest Lewis book, its sixth impression printing being in October 1941. The plastic dust cover protector keeps the edition crisp and clean. Even if it reduces the resale value, I feel good about this charity store find.
- Readers of A Pilgrim in Narnia know that The Screwtape Letters is the centre of my work. This is one of the few books I have had to purchase intentially, but I needed a 1st edition to compare the texts. Fortunately, at the time I was looking, 1st UK editions after the 3rd printing were pretty common, and I found a 6th printing (without a dustcover and just in fair shape) for £14.70, about $30 CDN. This is the 1st edition that I have reached for the most, always tenderly but knowing I have it for a reason.
- Mere Christianity is probably the most popular Christian teaching book of the last century. Mere Christianity (1952) is made up of three WWII pamphlets printed from Lewis’ BBC talks about faith are Broadcast Talks, Christian Behaviour, and Beyond Personality. Though none of these are in collector’s shape, I have a 1st edition with taped-up dustjacket of Broadcast Talks, as well as a fifth printing of the same, also in hardback. I have a softcover 7th printing of Christian Behaviour, and two copies of Beyond Personality: a fifth printing blue hardback and a third impression blonde hardback with a damaged but near-complete cover. You can see a nice preface to Broadcast Talks that I don’t think anyone else has shared before here: “’Not Because I am Anyone in Particular”: C.S. Lewis’ Original Preface on Mere Christianity.“
- I have a ninth impression of A Preface to Paradise Lost, with Amen House noted as the publisher, a poor shape withdrawn copy.
- I have made it part of my mission to try and create a recovery of Lewis’ The Great Divorce. It is a nice synchronicity of my life, then, that I have stumbled upon three true 1st UK editions of Lewis’ WWII-era dream vision, published in 1946. I have no dust jackets, except one inside flap–and none is in very good or fine condition. Two were given to me (I gave one away in turn), and one I found in our local library sale for $2.
- In a used bookstore where the owner clearly isn’t interested in selling books, I managed to pick up a first UK edition, third impression of the 1947 version of C.S. Lewis’ Miracles. My copy is, as you might expect, just in fair to good condition. The dust jacket is in bad shape, but it is hard to find them at all from the era. And it has left the book in good condition, with some yellowing on the top edge but with clear, crisp pages. Most helpful, though, is that I have access to the early edition text, which Lewis changed in 1960 (see more of this copy here).
- What is interesting about this little pamphlet of Lewis’ 1941 sermon, “The Weight of Glory,” is not just that they printed it in the “Little Books on Religion” series by SPCK, but that they reprinted it several times. Mine is a 5th printing from 1948.
- I have a UK Geoffrey Bles 8th printing library withdrawal of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in rough shape.
- I have a reject bin copy of The Horse and His Boy, US Macmillan copy that puzzles me. It is the normal orange cardboard book, 9th printing. The cover, however, is the late 1960s jacket design by The Strimbans, a 10th or 11th printing of this new edition. As a library withdrawal, the tape damage is consistent that the cover and book have been together for a while. The twin version of The Last Battle is also in my keeping, earlier edition inside with the 1960s cover, library withdrawal. Of course, either of these may simply be an idiosyncratic 1960s printing of the interior book, giving the face of a 1st edition late printing while actually being a new edition. Experts would know.
- During a used bookstore break from the sun during vacation a few years ago, I found a US 1st edition of Surprised by Joy, with a tattered dustcover and some marks inside. A good buy for $3!
- My 1st US edition, 2nd printing of Reflections on the Psalms is a readerly edition, given to me by a retired minister. From the same minister, I was gifted a US 1st edition with a tattered dustcover of Letters to an American Lady, edited by Clyde S. Kilby. Taking it to the beach (and tumbling into C.S. Lewis studies) is no doubt a book collector’s sacrilege, but I think Lewis would have enjoyed it. I have a 1st UK edition of Hooper’s Lewis letter collection, They Stand Together. The dust cover is slightly worn but nice, so I haven’t taken this to the beach.
- From one of UPEI’s library discard sales, I was able to find a couple of great things. I got a copy of Lewis’ literary magnum opus, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, Excluding Drama. Whatever value it might have had has been destroyed by my annotations. I also pulled out the posthumous Spenser’s Images of Life, edited by Alastair Fowler, who brought Lewis’ lecture notes on Spenser together into a readable book. A book that is connected to this one is C.S. Lewis’s Lost Aeneid: Arms and the Exile, edited by A.T. Reyes and including Lewis’ translation of the classic Latin epic. The edition that landed in my mailbox from some online bookstore is the uncorrected page proof version from Yale press, which is kind of neat.
- C.S. Lewis’ An Experiment in Criticism, written at the same season he was writing A Grief Observed, is one of my favourite books of its kind and I am always trying to work out the implications. I have a 1st UK edition with a nice dust cover, price-clipped (though I have no clue where this came from as it is unsigned). You can see my reading list cribbed from this book here: “An Essential Reading List from C.S. Lewis: An Experiment on An Experiment in Criticism.”
- My 1962 library edition of They Asked for a Paper is also in pretty good shape.
- Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer is a peculiar book, but I grabbed the chance to get a $20 first UK edition with a dust jacket in very good condition. When I got it home, I realized that I would probably still reach for my cheap paperback for most readings.
Weirdly, probably the most valuable book I own is The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume 3: Narnia, Cambridge, and Joy, 1950 – 1963, edited by Walter Hooper. Too expensive to reprint, I have seen it listed for up to $800, though sometimes as low as $150. As I talked about in this piece, “A Bargain at Twice the Price,” my $40 copy came to me as a gift. If you find a version in any edition, give it to a young Lewis scholar in exchange for a digital fistbump or a home-cooked meal.
If you are curious, my piece, “Adventures in Geekland: Book Collecting and C.S. Lewis” reviews the essential Lewis book-collecting resource by Edwin Brown and Dan Hamilton. You should also get to know Gordon Greenhill’s image catalogue, “The Disordered Image“–a huge project–as well as the Wade centre and other Lewis depositories. Here is that review by Orwell–and I find that this copy of That Hideous Strength provides me a new context for reading Orwell’s review.
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.
His 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.
His 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.
Much 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.