That Hideous Strength

Rating: 4 out of 5.

C.S. Lewis 1945 – Space Trilogy #3

What a gruesome story this is. Unlike Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra, it takes place entirely on Planet Earth, which diminishes the reader’s ability to experience the same level of detached novelty and makes the reading that much more grim. I do recommend that the three books be read in order.

Most of the story is told from the points of view of Mark and Jane Studdock, who are in a stale marriage. Although neither of them is thinking actively of divorce, their fragile bond is no defence against the evil insinuating itself into their lives. (Readers will recognize at least one of the faces of that evil from the first two books.)

The couple is soon physically serparated thanks to the entrapment of one of them; as the point of view switches from one Studdock to the other, we get a close look at evil – and at the unlikely group that ultimately fights for good.

I first read the print version of That Hideous Strength at least fifteen years ago; I listened to the audio version, narrated by Geoffrey Howard (pseudonym of the late Ralph Cosham), several months ago. I was struck, this time, by how long Lewis takes to just get to the point. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; I just hadn’t remembered it from the first reading. Once we get there though, the Big Ending is quite the production.

The one real pain point is Lewis’ depiction of the only gay character as grossly sadistic. I would give a pass on this to just about any other author, considering the times, but not Lewis; he was a man of self-awareness and itrospection who should have been capable of looking past conventional opinion.

Fifteen years ago I would have given That Hideous Strength an unqualified 5 stars. Today, I’m giving 4 stars to the audio version – 3.5 stars for the story and another bonus half star as a nod to Ralph Cosham’s unparalleled narration.

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