This is a series I’ve put off for a while. In college I hung out with a lot of Philosophy and Theology majors and they all loved Lewis. He liked him well enough but was way too immersed in The Romantics and Shakespeare and avoiding Lewis’s contemporaries to seek him out. I don’t hate the Moderns, exactly, I just hated my British modernism professor and it left a bad taste. But I read the books, Hooray!
Out Of The Silent Planet
That Hideous Strength
Clive Staples Lewis was a British professor of literature and hobbyist of Christian theology. He wrote a lot about both of these things in his way, most famously in The Chronicles Of Narnia but also in the lovely apologetic book Mere Christianity. He passed away in 1963.
Three books, the first two relating the adventures of Elwin Ransom, a Celtic Lore professor who finds himself transported to Mars (Malacandra) and Venus (Perelandra) and seeing the struggles of a benevelolent but absent God and several angles against a dark force. That Hideous Strength refocuses on what Earth has to do to survive that darkness coming for us, refocusing off of Ransom (though he’s around) to a young married couple of professors, Jane and Mark.
Oh boy, I love me some religious allegory sci-fi. The series explores the idea of a Christian Cosmology that connects with the Pagan roots of Britain in more than just the aesthetic ways that we’re aware of, the Gods of the ancients are actually the angels of God Almighty. It also deals with the nature of sin, the choice of intellect over spirit that magnifies sin, and gender.
I, probably not shockingly, do not care for Lewis’s takes on gender, but his casual misogyny and gender essentialism is something I’ve gotten used to in his work. It’s an undercurrent in Narnia, teased in Screwtape, largely avoided in Mere Christianity and writ large here. Like, the resolution of how Earth is saved comes because Jane and Mark stop fighting their natures as man and woman, Jane especially, who’s gotten some silly ideas in her head about “equality” and “bodily autonomy” and “being more than a wife.”
My god I loved Perelandra, it’s a beautiful work, retelling the Eden myth on a planetary level, providing a terrible vision of Hell, a thoughtful examination of damnation and God’s indifference to human suffering. It’s a fable and a lovingly told one.
Least Favorite Book
That Hideous Strength is a beautiful piece of philosophical writing and kind of a crappy novel. I like the idea that the ideals of Camelot and British connection to the land itself is what should be used to fight Fascism, but this is a book that’s more didactic than the two novels that come before it. I loved Perelandra and wasn’t at all into That Hideous Strength, because I’ve always preferred Lewis in whimsical fable mode to preaching philosophical mode. (I’m more The Horse And His Boy and Voyage Of The Dawn Treader than The Last Battle)
Ransom’s pretty great, as these kind of self inserts go, especially because he’s not a self insert, exactly. He’s not supposed to be Lewis, I assume Mark is, Ransom is Tolkien! It’s a much more flattering picture of a friend than Tolkien’s of Lewis. (Treebeard in The Lord Of The Rings is allegedly based on Lewis. Treebeard is great, but I think I’d be offended if I learned my friends based a character like that on me.)
Probably just Perelandra, I can’t see myself revisiting the others.
So, my COVID-19 relates anxiety is shaking up my reading schedule. I’m trying to avoid stress in my consumption, and this was a pretty heavy set of books. Which means I’m going to skip my planned next read Caught In The Revolution by Helen Rapparport, something tells me reading about Moscow, 1917 would not make me feel particularly good at the moment. So, I’m going to read Resistance Reborn by Rebecca Roanhouse next, and then we’ll go from there. Next series is The Shadow And Bone trilogy by Leigh Bardugo.