Wednesday, 24 June 2015

That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis

I started this book with a certain amount of trepidation. I'd liked the first book in this series a lot, but while I had been enchanted with the descriptions of Venus/Perelandra, I was frustrated by the outcome of the second book as a whole. Which way was this going to go? Well, somewhere in the middle. In general, the book was entertaining to read, with occasional passages that made me stop and take a deep breath. It's one of those things where some of the things he says sound fantastic, and then he says something else frustrating, and I just have to wait for a minute for that to pass through me before I can press onward.

So, it's a complex book, that very clearly expresses Lewis' views, some of which I find inspiring, and some of which I find frustrating. That's certainly no reason not to read it. On the plus side, though, there's Mr. Bultitude, who you see up there on the cover. He's a bear. He's not quite a talking bear, as he would be in Narnia, but he gets pretty close, while still being entirely a bear. Mr. Bultitude just about makes everything better.

So let's see. This book revolves around a young couple, Mark and Jane, who are in an unfulfilling marriage in which neither is particularly caring towards each other. Although I'm sure that Lewis would think both need to learn obedience to God's will and let that overflow into love for each other, only Jane gets the lectures on it. Repeatedly. Mark does not. This was part of what bothered me.

(On the other hand, the commune-like place where the good guys live has the guys doing equal housework.)

Mark is employed at a college, where he's a sociologist of limited imagination and ideas. He's very secular (assume all the bad guys are secular), of that particular kind of secular that also dislikes all messiness, and really, everything human. While I love Lewis' championing of the human and the messy and stories, the association of that with only Christians or old-school (very old school) Pagans and the assertion that non-Christians could not feel compassion...also an issue.

Mark gets sucked up into a new institute that wants to entirely rationalize the world, starting with England. Bit by bit, with no moral compass (see how we're back to this?), he is pulled into increasingly problematic acts, from subverting the press, to making it possible for an entire town to be evacuated, its citizens detained and tortured, under the name of "rehabilitation." This section, if you can put aside the part where Lewis ascribes it to a religious/irreligious divide, is quite chilling. While I don't find those kind of views dependent on lack of belief, they're certainly the scarier edges of some of the ideology I see floating around from those who seem hell-bent to put in political policies that materially and specifically hurt people.

On the other side is Dr. Ransom, from the first two books, now called Mr. Fisher-King. Put those two references together, add in that he's the Christ-figure, and the names start to get a little anvilicious. He has gathered a small band of people around him to fight the encroaching spread of rationality at the cost of humanity.

Merlin shows up, because of course he does. This actually adds to a fairly anticlimactic end, where Merlin rides off to save the day, and everyone else stays at the commune and waits. That's...that's pretty much it. I mean, Merlin does some crazy shit, and it's entertaining, and I am intrigued by Lewis' attempt to blend Christianity and Arthurian legend. On the other hand, he kind of takes over the story, and the rest of our characters just...sit there.

There are other things I like, and other things that bother me. In the end, I'm glad I've read this trilogy. They'll certainly never been books that I treasure as greatly as I do the Narnia books. They're more adult, more problematic, cause me more thoughts. On the other hand, that's not a bad thing.

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