Editor’s note: Published on August 16, 1945, C. S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength is a dystopian novel that eerily reflects the realities of 2020. This week and next, to mark the book’s three-quarter century anniversary, Evolution News presents a series of essays, reflections, and videos about its themes and legacy.
Dr. Cameron Wybrow is a scholar, teacher, and writer with academic and popular publications on a variety of subjects. He has a particular interest in philosophical and theological critiques of modernity, and hence in the thought of C. S. Lewis.
This post is adapted from Chapter 11 of The Magician’s Twin: C. S. Lewis on Science, Scientism, and Society, edited by John G. West.
In the introduction to his novel That Hideous Strength, C.S. Lewis wrote: “This is a ‘tall story’ about devilry, though it has behind it a serious ‘point’ which I have tried to make in my Abolition of Man.”1 At the time of Lewis’s writing of this remark (Christmas Eve, 1943), the non-fictional Abolition of Man had not been out long. Indeed, it had appeared only in late 1943, although the lectures on which the book was based had been delivered in February of that year. It seems that Lewis was working on at least parts of the two works at the same time (late 1942 to early 1943), and the overlap in themes is evident to readers of the two works, so there is no reason to doubt Lewis’s explanation of the close relationship between them.
To bring out the many connections in thought between That Hideous Strength and The Abolition of Man would require several essays. In this chapter, I have tried to capture only one set of connections, those which are revealed through the intellectual and spiritual struggle of one of the protagonists of That Hideous Strength, sociologist Mark Studdock.
The Educational Purpose of The Abolition of Man
To many readers of the novel, Studdock will not seem like the most obvious choice. After all, the most striking philosophical ruminations in That Hideous Strength — with phrasing that in some cases seems taken nearly verbatim from passages in The Abolition of Man — come from the mouths of villainous characters such as Feverstone, Filostrato, and Frost. Yet Studdock’s character takes us closer to the educational purpose of The Abolition of Man than do any of the purely villainous characters, for, while the villainous characters represent the dehumanizing apotheosis of modern technological society, the character of Studdock reveals the banal yet malignant intellectual and moral roots which produce such a society. In Studdock we discern how the way in which the members of a society are educated will determine how the society will turn out. More specifically, in Studdock we see many of the opinions and attitudes that motivate the authors of “The Green Book,” the upper-year high school English text discussed at length in The Abolition of Man. As Studdock’s career ambitions move him deeper and deeper into the intrigues of the N.I.C.E., we see him slowly accepting more and more of the implications of the philosophy advocated in The Green Book; and in his final rejection of the project of the N.I.C.E., we see his repudiation of that philosophy. In this sense, the story of That Hideous Strength, while being an epic treatment of the problem of modern man, is also the story of the failure of modern education, as illustrated by the case of Mark Studdock.
Tomorrow, “The Main Argument of The Abolition of Man.”
- C. S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength: A Modern Fairy-Tale for Grown-Ups (London and Sydney: Pan, 1983), p. 7. All references in the present essay are to this edition, which contains the unabridged text of the original publication [London: John Lane (The Bodley Head) Ltd, 1945]. The references will use the short form of the title (or, where appropriate, “Ibid.”), and will include the chapter and section numbers as designated by Lewis, followed by the page numbers of the Pan edition; e.g., That Hideous Strength, ch. 9, sec. 2, 187.