That Hideous Strength

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The cover art of That Hideous Strength.

That Hideous Strength is the third novel in what is called C. S. Lewis's "space trilogy," although this one takes place on Earth and has fewer science-fiction elements. The philologist Ransom appears in this novel but is not the main protagonist; most of the novel follows a young Oxford don, Mark Studdock, who is lured and manipulated into joining a government-sponsored scientific institution, the National Institute for Co-ordinated Experimentation (or N. I. C. E.) The novel is different in tone from the other two in the space trilogy. It is overtly satirical, taking a jaundiced view of Oxford academic politics, the workings of bureaucracies, and Oxford life in the 1940s. It includes the subtitle "A modern fairy-tale for grown-ups and is dedicated to J. McNeill.

The N. I. C. E. superficially appears to be an alliance between materialistic scientists attempting to promote a technocracy, with political backing, but it transpires that they are actually consciously in league with supernatural forces of evil. While claiming to have no regard for religion whatsoever, as Mark is lured into the inner circle of the group he is asked to undergo training containing overtly anti-Christian elements. Meanwhile, his wife, Jane, has been recruited by the forces of good, led by Ransom.

Some of the characters in the novel may be caricatures of real people. The public face of the N. I. C. E., its nominal head, is "a distinguished novelist and scientific popularizer" who speaks in a high-pitched voice and has other points of similarity with H. G. Wells. The real head of the Institute is quite literally a head: a severed human head (with its brain hypertrophied in the manner of some of the beings in Olaf Stapledon's First and Last Men.) The head is kept alive, apparently by technological means, although later events lead the reader to suspect a supernatural element, and is literally idolized by some of the scientists of the inner circle, a situation reminiscent of J. B. S. Haldane's interest in some Soviet experiments with discorporated canine heads.

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