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‘The First Sketch of The Real God’
That Hideous Strength by C. S. Lewis
© 2013 James LaFond
A Modern Fairy-Tail for Grown-Ups
1946, Macmillan, NY, 382 pages
This book begins auspiciously enough with a cover blurb, “The conclusion of the celebrated space trilogy which begins in Out of the Silent Planet and continues in Perelandra.’
Then, just after the subtitle is the following evidence of a well-thought and well-wrought concept in fiction:
‘The Shadow of That Hideous Strength
Sax Myle and More it is of Length.’
(Sir David Lynsday: from Ane Dialog, describing the Tower of Babel)
So, was it as good as all that?
Mind you this is a book I have wanted to read since age 16 when I saw it on a book shelf, and did not have enough money to purchase it and Tarzan #11. I promised myself a couple of times during the course of reading this that I would title the review, ‘That Hideous Read’. What a trudge through the literary mud this was! You owe me for reading it. Hit the donation button now, please. I’m in pain!
I went into C.S. Lewis’ adult fantasy with high hopes, knowing that it was based on his Abolition of Man, which is one of the best, most readable, and most charmingly concise works of nonfiction ever written. As a nonfiction writer who has turned to fiction, I was hopeful, cheering the old professor on.
The concept is a very timely and important one that Lewis and Orwell were both working on at the same time. As ponderous as Orwell’s 1984 was, it was flash fiction compared to this. The story follows two completely vapid and unsympathetic characters, a husband and wife, into a eugenics/propaganda conspiracy centered on the politics of academia. Eventually the conniving and conspiracies of tenured social engineers becomes a macro-cosmic struggle for the soul of man, but shrouded, buried under its own narrative weight. Written as a novelette it could have had some punch as a story. It is in essence a litany of listless and stilted dialogue and leash-led protagonists.
There are some very cool aspects imbedded in the tale: a preserved and reanimated criminal head; an effort to bring Merlin the magician forward in time; man’s hand reaching for the questions of God and alien visitation; and most prominently a fantastic look at how some men will ultimately look to the rest as nothing but cattle to be bred into docility and fatted on. Mark and Jane Studdock eventually stumble upon the storyline they have been tediously walked into on page 177. Even then, the story gropes at a plodding pace until page 288. From that point the story does not actually pick up to an entertaining pace, but does at least manage to become more accessible.
As much as I am interested in the question of using propaganda, genetics, and even dysgenics, to manage humanity for the good of an elite few, and perhaps their actual deification, this was simply a dreadful read.
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