Tuesday, April 5, 2011

#95 / That Hideous Strength

That Hideous Strength is the third and concluding volume of a "space trilogy." The first volume of the trilogy is called Out of the Silent Planet; the second is called Perelandra.

C.S. Lewis, the author of the trilogy, was a close friend and contemporary of J.R. Tolkien, whose own trilogy, The Lord of the Rings, is probably better known today. Both of the trilogies have similar themes, and tell how heroic figures risk their lives to overcome "dark powers" of evil, powers that seek to rule the world and all that exists. In both cases, the heroes succeed, and overcome these powers of evil, despite their "hideous strength."

I suppose that I should have remembered Lewis, and this book, when I started thinking about the Tower of Babel, since the epigraph found on the first page of the edition pictured here, and which I have on my bookshelf, reads as follows:

(Sir David Lyndsay: from Ane Dialog, describing the Tower of Babel)

In fact, it was my thinking about artificial turf that made me remember Lewis.

One of the evidences of the absolute evil against which good persons must fight, as the struggle is presented in That Hideous Strength, is the desire of the evil rulers of the world to replace all living plants and organic life with artificial (or art) creations. Eliminating trees, for instance, is desirable (though certainly only as a first step):

Consider the advantages! You get tired of him in one place: two workmen carry him somewhere else: wherever you please. It never dies. No leaves to fall, no twigs, no birds building nests, no muck and mess.

At present, I allow, we must have forests, for the atmosphere. Presently we find a chemical substitute. And then, why any natural trees? I foresee nothing but the art tree all over the earth. In fact, we clean the planet.

"Do you mean," put in a man called Gould, "that we are to have no vegetation at all?"

"Exactly. You shave your face; even, in the English fashion, you shave him every day. One day we shave the planet."

"I wonder what the birds will make of it?"

"I would not have any birds either. On the art tree I would have the art birds all singing when you press a switch inside the house. When you are tired of the singing you switch them off. Consider again the improvement. No feathers dropped about, no nests, no eggs, no dirt."
So great was the impact of Lewis' writing on my imagination that even now, over forty years after having read That Hideous Strength, I immediately remember this very specific and powerful portrayal of absolute and dominant evil. It shakes me still (as Tolkien does, too). And in Lewis, the very definition of the hideous and absolute evil against which all heroes must fight is the desire of evil to replace all naturally occurring organic life with artificial and synthetic creations, to serve human needs better, it is supposed, than the world of Nature ever can.

This is the claim that Evil makes: that our own creations serve us better than the Creation into which we are born, and that our struggle is against Nature (instead of against ourselves, in all our pride and arrogance).

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