Jon Kennedy
Jon Kennedy

Jon Kennedy's
'C. S. Lewis Overflow
Jon Kennedy's latest book is The Everything Guide to C.S. Lewis and Narnia, due in stores in March 2008, from Adams Media, F&W Publications. This series of articles is thinking inspired by readings in Lewis's work that didn't fit into the book. Click here for a list of all articles in the C.S. Lewis Overflow series.

C. S. Lewis's science fiction, 2 - That Hideous Strength

Continuing the discussion of C.S. Lewis's science fiction, begun here three weeks ago and interrupted to introduce my two-part magazine article, "C.S. Lewis, Anonymous Orthodox"....

Someone asked recently if I thought That Hideous Strength, the largest of Lewis's novels, could be made into a movie. As I've gone through my rereading of that science fiction novel for adult readers the past month, the thought occurred that the obvious director for the task—strange as it may sound—might be David Lynch ( That Hideous Strength mixes twentieth century and futuristic science with ancient Druidic astrology and early English myths. It is set in a contemporary English university town, mostly on the grounds of a behind-the-scenes quasi-governmental institution on the dark side, and a quasi-monastic village with a Pendragon descended in a line extending to the reign of King Arthur, a talking bird, a tame bear that lives unrestrained in the house, and a young woman who has visions invaded by dwarfs and giants, on the light side.

CSLewisThere's also a disembodied head that is kept "alive" in a jar and is the literal mouthpiece of super-powerful "macrobes" (the opposite of microbes) representing the spirit rulers of this world, which Lewis calls eldila, and which Christians know as fallen angels. All of these are reminiscent of elements in David Lynch productions. (He may be remembered by most people who were at least in their teens in 1990 for the cult classic TV series, Twin Peaks, and the subsequent "big screen adaptation" from the series, Twin Peaks Fire Walk With Me).

But alas, though raised as Roman Catholic and despite his familiarity with the territory covered in Lewis's book, Lynch's worldview has morphed from Christianity to Transcendental Meditation, effectively ruling out his eligibility for the task. It remains to be shown whether any of the directors of the Narnia series of movies (only one of which is thus far available) might be up to That Hideous Strength.

Some aspects of the novel remind us of other large novels of the mid-20th century, and as in the Narnia Chronicles, reading it reminds us about some of the issues high on agendas then. For example, the "permissive school" of child-rearing and public childhood education was one of the issues argued over by conservatives and liberals then, and this repeatedly plays a part in the Narnia Chronicles and again in That Hideous Strength, where Lewis, through one of his characters, says "that while 'experimenting' on children would be met with outrage, for some reason sending them to 'experimental schools' was considered progressive."*

Obviously not convinced that Hitler's horrific reign of destruction down on Europe in the name of pseudoscience a few years earlier was the last of its kind to visit our race, Lewis makes a major theme of the book the manipulation of "science" and education by the liberal establishment, divorcing their programs from the absolute truths of traditional moral ethics. Pure materialism, in other words, remains the greatest threat to mankind. "Liberal fascism," which has been discussed many times in earlier "Jonal" entries, is clearly the novel's arch villain. Lewis's National Institute for Co-ordinated Experiments (N.I.C.E.) has a program to eliminate sickness and achieve immortal consciousness, but first must eliminate most human, animal, and plant life to achieve this next great step in the evolution of the brain. And while the N.I.C.E. plots its totalitarian dystopia**, the Pendragon, earlier introduced in Lewis's science fiction as Dr. Elwin Ransom, take steps to disrupt their plans by, among other things, summoning aid from the ruling angel of the unfallen planet Perelandra (Venus) and Merlin the magician of Arthurian legend, brought back among the living after a thousand-year slumber in a cave in the English midlands.

Webmaster Jon Kennedy

*The quotation is from the entry on That Hideous Strength in the Wikipedia.
**Dystopia, the opposite of Utopia, is a future world gone dysfunctional.

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Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man a more clever devil.

C. S. Lewis (1898 - 1963)

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