Tuesday, December 14, 2010

That Hideous Strength: C. S. Lewis

C. S. Lewis's That Hideous Strength has been a perennial nominee for the Libertarian Futurists Society's Hall of Fame award. Seeking to give it a fair shot, I waited to read it until after reading the first two works in the series: Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandria. Neither of those books impressed me, and this book doesn't significantly rely on the connection to them. Unfortunately, this book didn't impress me either. I think part of it is the style of the writing, which seems vague, foggy, and long-winded to me. I also didn't care much for the characters, didn't find the plot interesting, and had trouble seeing what the conflict was about.

Lewis sets up two clear factions, clearly struggling over something, but we appear to only watching the activities of people who are a few steps removed from those who are aware of the strategy and aims of each side. Instead of watching maneuvering about the great struggle that is going on, we watch the minor characters as they maneuver through office politics, attempting to ensure that they have a seat at the table, while those characters remain ignorant about what the goals of those at the table are whom they wish to join.

Eventually, we see more of the high level action, but the sides are painted so starkly--the bad guys are depraved, manipulating, torturers, while the good guys refrain from acting--that it's hard to imagine how Lewis will turn the struggle into a fair fight. In the end, it was hard to see that it was a fair fight; the bad guys laid waste to the countryside in an attempt to take control over everything, while the good guys recruited a top wizard who eventually makes the bad guys stop.

I couldn't see it as a struggle of ideas, because I couldn't tell what the ideas might have been. One side was full of people who were scrambling for power, and most of their efforts seemed to be the minor squabbles of factional politics. The other side acted in a more genteel fashion, and didn't seem aware that their opponents were preparing a rapacious campaign. In the end, the only part of the struggle that mattered was over who would recruit the master wizard, and this didn't seem to be about who he agreed with as much as who could bridge the language gap with him effectively or who could isolate him better. So the good guys won, but the territory was spoiled in the process, and neither we nor the characters learned much in the process.

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