Excerpts from

That Hideous Strength

by C. S. Lewis, 1946

Personal note: In this book, more than any of the others, we see the influence of Charles Williams, a fellow Inkling and one of Lewis' closest friends. 

See also Narnia Part 1 | Part 2  | Part 3

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The first chapter introduces Jane, a young clairvoyant woman. She will help Ransom, the hero, and his human and supernatural team of good characters fighting against the dark, evil forces determined to rule the world.

“'Here I am, starting to waste another morning, mooning,' said Jane to herself sharply. 'I must do some work.' By work she meant her doctorate thesis on Donne. ... But before she did so—perhaps in order to put off the moment of beginning—she turned over a newspaper which was lying on the table and glanced at a picture on the back page.

"The moment she saw the picture, she remembered her dream. ... The terror of this dream, like the terror of most dreams, evaporates in the telling, but it must be set down for the sake of what came afterwards.

"She had begun by dreaming simply of a face. It was a foreign-looking face, bearded and rather yellow, with a hooked nose. Its expression was frightening because it was frightened. The mouth sagged open and the eyes stared as she had seen other men’s eyes stare for a second or two when some sudden shock had occurred. ... The face belonged to a man who was sitting hunched up in one corner of a little square room with white-washed walls — waiting, she thought, for those who had him in their power, to come in and do something horrible to him. At last the door was opened and a rather good-looking man with a pointed grey beard came in.... The visitor was telling the prisoner something which he apparently intended him to regard as good news. And the prisoner at first looked up with a gleam of hope in his eye and said, 'Tiens...ça marche'; but then he wavered and changed his mind.


"The visitor continued in a low, fluent voice to press his point....This... gave Jane a disagreeable impression. And this was increased by the growing distress, and finally the terror, of the prisoner. ... At this point the dream abandoned all pretence to realism and became ordinary nightmare. The visitor, adjusting his pince-nez and still smiling his cold smile, seized the prisoner’s head between his two hands. He gave it a sharp turn—just as Jane had last summer seen men give a sharp turn to the helmet on a diver’s head. The visitor unscrewed the prisoner’s head and took it away. Then all became confused.


"The Head was still the centre of the dream but it was quite a different head now—a head with a flowing white beard all covered with earth. It belonged to an old man whom some people were digging up in a kind of churchyard—a sort of ancient British, druidical kind of man, in a long mantle.

"Jane didn’t mind this much at first because she thought it was a corpse. Then suddenly she noticed that this ancient thing was coming to life.... The old, buried man sat up and began talking in something that sounded vaguely like Spanish. And this for some reason frightened Jane so badly that she woke up.

"That was the dream—no worse, if also no better, than many another nightmare. But it was not the mere memory of a nightmare that made the sitting room of the flat swim before Jane’s eyes and caused her to sit down quickly for fear she should fall. The trouble was elsewhere. There, on the back page of the newspaper, was the Head she had seen in the nightmare: the first head (if there had been two of them)—the head of the Prisoner...." [pages 14-15]

The nature of God and the spiritual hierarchy in this story

Jane was trying to see death in the new light of all she had heard since she left Edgestow.... She did not doubt that the eldils existed; nor did she doubt the existence of this stronger and more obscure being whom they obeyed....  233  Maleldil might be, quite simply and crudely, God. There might be a life after death: a Heaven: a Hell. 334

     "Evolution means species getting less and less like one another. Minds get more and more spiritual..."
     "But about Merlin.... The Earth itself was more like an animal in those days. And
mental processes were much more like physical actions. And there were—well, Neutrals, knocking about.” ...
     “You mean eldils—angels?”
     “Well, the word angel rather begs the question. Even the Oyéresu aren’t exactly angels in the same sense as our guardian angels are. Technically they are Intelligences. The point is that while it may be true at the end of the world to describe every eldil either as an angel or a devil...." 284

"Remember, when we first knew that you would be awaked, we thought you would be on the side of the enemy. And because Our Lord does all things for each, one of the purposes of your reawakening was that your own soul should be saved.” 289....

Merlin: “I had heard of it in my own days—that some had spoken with the gods. Blake my Master knew a few words of that speech. Yet these were, after all, powers of Earth. For—I need not teach you, you know more than I—it is not the very Oyéresu, the true powers of Heaven, whom the greatest of our craft meet, but only their earthly wraiths, their shadows. Only the earth-Venus, the earth-Mercurius; not Perelandra herself, not Viritrilbia himself....“
     “I am not speaking of the wraiths,” said Ransom. “I have stood before Mars himself in the sphere of Mars and before
Venus herself in the sphere of Venus. It is their strength, and the strength of some greater than they, which will destroy our enemies.”
     “But, Lord,” said Merlin, “how can this be? Is it not against the Seventh Law?”
     “What law is that?” asked Ransom.
     “Has not our Fair Lord made it a law for Himself that He will not send down the Powers to mend or mar in this Earth until the end of all things? Or is this the end that is even now coming to pass?” 290

     “I have become a; bridge,” said Ransom.
     “Sir,” said Merlin, “what will come of this? If they put forth their power, they will
unmake all Middle Earth.”
      “Their naked power, yes,” said Ransom. “That is why they will work only through a man... Through a man whose mind is opened to be so invaded,” said Ransom, “one who by his own will once opened it. I take Our Fair Lord to witness that if it were my task, I would not refuse it. But he will not suffer a mind that still has its virginity to be so violated. And through a black magician’s mind their purity neither can nor will operate. One who has dabbled . . . in the days when dabbling had not begun to be evil, or was only just beginning . . . and also a Christian man and a penitent. A tool (I must speak plainly) good enough to be so used and not too good. In all these Western parts of the world there was only one man who had lived in those days and could still be recalled. You—”  

“'Do not think,' said Ransom, 'that for me either it is child’s play to meet those who will come down for you empowering.'
      “'Sir,' faltered Merlin, 'you have been in Heaven. I am but a man.'...
      “'Not on all of them,' said Ransom. 'Greater spirits than Malacandra and Perelandra will descend this time. We are in God’s hands. It may unmake us both. There is no promise that either you or I will save our lives or our reason. I do not know how we can dare to look upon their faces; but I know we cannot dare to look upon God’s if we refuse this enterprise.'” 292...

“'If all this West part of the world is apostate, might it not be lawful, in our great need, to look farther. . . beyond Christendom? Should we not find some even among the heathen who are not wholly corrupt? There were tales in my day of some such: men who knew not the articles of our most holy Faith, but who worshipped God as they could and acknowledged the Law of Nature. Sir, I believe it would be lawful to seek help even there. Beyond Byzantium. It was rumoured also that there was knowledge in those lands—an Eastern circle and wisdom that came West from Numinor. I know not where—Babylon, Arabia, or Cathay.' ...

"Ransom shook his head. 'You do not understand,' he said. 'The poison was brewed in these West lands but it has spat itself everywhere by now. However far you went you would find the machines, the crowded cities, the empty thrones, the false writings... cut off from Earth their mother and from the Father in Heaven....'"293

"Suddenly a greater spirit came—one whose influence tempered and almost transformed to his own quality the skill of leaping Mercury, the clearness of Mars, the subtler vibration of Venus, and even the numbing weight of Saturn.... 
     Upstairs his mighty beam turned the Blue Room into a blaze of lights.... Kingship and power and festal pomp and courtesy shot from him as sparks fly from an anvil...." 326

      "For this was great Glund-Oyarsa, King of Kings, through whom the joy of creation principally blows across these fields of Arbol, known to men in old times as Jove [or Jupiter -- Greek name, Zeus] and under that name, by fatal but not inexplicable misprision, confused with his Maker....
     "At his coming there was holiday in the Blue Room. The two mortals, momentarily caught up into the Gloria which those five excellent Natures perpetually sing, forgot for a time the lower and more immediate purpose of their meeting. Then - they proceeded to operation. Merlin received the power into him.
      "He looked different next day. Partly because his beard had been shaved; but also, because he was no longer his own man. No one doubted that his final severance from the body was near." 327

Introduction to Ransom, the hero who has traveled to Mars and Venus. In the picture at the top of the page you see him standing with the Druid magician, Merlin, in a ceremonial robe which could as well be that of a ruling master within an occult order such as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. See summary in "Zeus, Olympians and C. S. Lewis"

      "He is a great traveler but now an invalid. He got a wound in his foot, on his last journey, which won’t heal.”
      “How did he come to change his name?”
      “He had a married sister in India.... She was a remarkable woman in her way; a friend of the great native Christian mystic whom you may have heard of—the Sura. And that’s the point. The Sura had reason to believe, or thought he had reason to believe, that a great danger was hanging over the human race. And just before the end—just before he disappeared—he became convinced that it would actually come to a head in this island.... The Sura said that when the time came we should find what he called a seer: a person with second sight.”

     “It’s all so strange and—beastly” said Jane..... 114

In this next scene, Jane meets Ransom. Notice that he looks both young and old at the same time. A similar description would fit the Gnostic distortion of Jesus as mentioned in the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas: "Jesus is sometimes an elusive, protean figure, taking on various appearances: sometimes he is an old man, sometimes a youth, sometimes fat, sometimes lean."


Chapter 1: "In the apocryphal Acts, Jesus is sometimes an elusive, protean figure, taking on various appearances: sometimes he is an old man, sometimes a youth, sometimes fat, sometimes lean. There is a strong suggestion that he was not really corporeal."

"Jane looked; and instantly her world was unmade. On a sofa before her, with one foot bandaged as if he had a wound, lay what appeared to be a boy.... The fresh skin on his forehead and cheeks and, above all, on his hands, had suggested the idea. But no boy could have so full a beard.... She had disliked bearded faces except for old men with white hair. But that was because she had long since forgotten the imagined Arthur of her childhood—and the imagined Solomon too. Solomon—for the first time in many years the bright solar blend of king and lover and magician which hangs about that name stole back upon her mind." 143

      “[Ransom] was away for more than a year and that time he said he’d been in the planet Venus—taken there by these eldils.”
      “Venus is inhabited by them too?”
      “You’ll forgive me observing that this remark shows you have not grasped what I’m telling you. These creatures are not
planetary creatures
at all. Supposing them to exist, you are to conceive them floating about the depth of space, though
they may alight on a planet here and there, like a bird alighting on a tree, you understand. ...
      “They are, I gather, more or less friendly?”
      “That is certainly the Director’s idea about them, with one important exception.”
      “What’s that?”
      “The eldils that have for many centuries concentrated on our own planet. We seem to have had no luck at all in choosing our particular complement of parasites." 192

"Both were filled with some passion, but what passion they did not know. They came to the front door and as they opened it a sight met their eyes which, though natural, seemed at the moment apocalyptic....  High above the last rags of scurrying clouds hung the Moon in all her wildness—not the voluptuous Moon of a thousand southern love-songs, but the huntress, the untameable virgin, the spear-head of madness. If that cold satellite had just then joined our plane for the first time, it could hardly have looked more like an omen. The wildness crept into Jane’s blood."194

     “Will he die?”
     “He will be taken away, I believe. Back into Deep Heaven. It has happened to one or two people, perhaps about six, since the world began.”... 195

The dark forces of the occult:

"What common measure is there,” he would ask, “between ceremonial occultists like Faustus and Prospero and Archimago with their midnight studies, their forbidden books, their attendant fiends or elementals, and a figure like Merlin who seems to produce his results simply by being Merlin?”...

"[Ransom] thought that Merlin’s art was the last survival of something older and different -- something brought to Western Europe.... It had probably differed from Renaissance Magic profoundly.... Bacon himself—no enemy to magic except on this account—reported that the magicians 'attained not to greatness and certainty of works.' The whole Renaissance outburst of forbidden arts had, it seemed, been a method of losing one’s soul on singularly unfavourable terms." 201

"But if the only possible attraction of Bragdon lay in its association with the last vestiges of Atlantean magic, this told the Company something else.... It told the Director, in fact, that there was eldilic energy and eldilic knowledge behind it." 201

Merlin, the "good" Druid magician in the days of King Arthur, who will soon be awakened for the coming battle

"That a body should lie uncorrupted for fifteen hundred years, did not seem strange to them; they knew worlds where there was no corruption at all. That its individual life should remain latent - in it all that time, was to them no more strange: they had seen innumerable different modes in which soul and matter could be combined and separated, separated without loss of reciprocal influence, combined without true incarnation....  Merlin had not died. His life had been hidden, sidetracked, moved out of our one-dimensioned time, for fifteen centuries. But under certain conditions it would return to his body." 202

"The supernatural hierarchy (eldils and gods) who helped and communicated with Ransom...

"In vain did Ransom endeavor to explain the truth. Doubtless, the great beings who now so often came to him had power sufficient to sweep Belbury from the face of England and England from the face of the globe..." 202

      “Jane has to go [in search of the awakened Merlin] because she is the guide [clairvoyant],” said Ransom. “...Dimble, you must hunt. I do not think he can get far. The country will, of course, be quite unrecognisable to him, even by daylight.”
      “And . . . if we do find him, Sir?”
      “That is why it must be you, Dimble. Only you know the Great Tongue. If there was eldilic power behind the tradition he represented he may understand it. Even if he does not understand it he will, I think, recognise it. That will teach him he is dealing with Masters.... We do not know what the powers of the old Atlantean circle were: some kind of hypnotism probably covered most of it....
      "Your revolver in your hand, a prayer on your lips, your mind fixed on Maleldil. [Highest eldils, Christ-like] Then, if he stands, conjure him.”
“What shall I say in the Great Tongue?”
Say that you come in the name of God and all angels and in the power of the planets...." 228

"...this was the language spoken before the Fall and beyond the Moon and the meanings were not given to the syllables by chance, or skill, or long tradition, but truly inherent in them as the shape of the great Sun is inherent in the little waterdrop. This was Language herself, as she first sprang at Maleldil’s bidding out of the molten quicksilver of the star called Mercury on Earth..." 228-229

"Little strongholds with unheard-of kings. Little colleges and covines of Druids. Houses whose mortar had been ritually mixed with babies’ blood. They had tried to do that to Merlin."232

Merlin's arrival

“My crutch please, Camilla,” said Ransom.... There was a look on his face which some of those present had not seen before.... “Now,” said Ransom, “open it. And stand back behind it yourself.”
      "...the storm flung the door against the wall and he was momentarily pinned behind it. Ransom, standing motionless, leaning forward on his crutch, saw in the light from the scullery, outlined against the blackness, a huge horse, all in a lather of sweat arid foam, its yellow teeth laid bare, its nostrils wide and red, its ears flattened against its skull, and its eyes flaming. It had been ridden so close up to the door that its front hoofs rested on the doorstep."  263

     “Tell your master that I am come,” he repeated in the same voice as before.
Ransom looked at him without the flicker of an eyelid. 'Do you really wish,”' he said at last, 'that I call upon my Masters?” ...
    "The Stranger gave no start and his face remained as quiet as before, if it did not become quieter. But he spoke with a new interest.'Your Masters let you play with dangerous toys,' he said. 'Tell me, slave, what is Numinor?'
     “'The true West,; said Ransom." 272

     “Now,” he [Merlin] said, “what of these Masters of yours?”
     “My Masters are the Oydresu.” [Mars, Mercury, Venus.... and Maleldil]
     “Where did you hear that name?” asked the Stranger. “Or, if you are truly of the College, why do they dress you like a slave?”
     “Your own garments,” said Ransom, “are not those of a druid.”

     "Where is the ring of Arthur the King?...?”
     “The ring of the King,” said Ransom, “is on Arthur’s finger where he sits... in Perelandra [planet Venus]. For Arthur did not die; but Our Lord took him, to be in the body till the end of time and the shattering of Sulva, with Enoch and Elias and Moses and Melchisedec the King....”

 C. S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength (MacMillan Publishing Company, 1946).

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