I have a rock climbing buddy named Roth who loves to read. As we’ve ‘talked books’ he’s mentioned that certain books ‘really do something to him.’ There are hilarious books, riveting books, inspiring books, intriguing books, ruminative books, etc. But then there are books that intimately impact you, and convert you to a cause, and embolden you to believe, and propel you in a way that is deeply personal. The book that does this to me is “That Hideous Strength” by CS Lewis. This book plunges me into truth, goodness, and beauty unlike any other. The character qualities of mysterious prophet-types like Elijah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and Hosea are illuminated for me in the main character of Lewis’s book. Regal figures like Melchizedek are magnified and made to feel exceeding real and accessible through the storyline of this science fiction novel. The irrevocable impact of the incarnation segues from concept to concrete and comprehensive relevancy through the themes and textures of this final book of Clive’s space trilogy. I will simply commend this book, and you can experience for yourself whether or not the story has a profound impact on you; but before concluding this blog post I want to share two of my favorite (but by no means my only or most favorite) excerpts.
Mr. Bultitude’s mind was as furry and as unhuman in shape as his body. He did not remember, as a man in his situation would have remembered, the provincial zoo from which he had escaped during a fire, not his first snarling and terrified arrival at the Manor, not the slow stages whereby he had learned to love and trust its inhabitants. He did not know that he loved and trusted them now. He did not know that they were people, nor that he was a bear. Indeed, he did not know that he existed at all: everything that is represented by the words “I” and “Me” and “Thou” was absent from his mind. When Mrs. Maggs gave him a tin of golden syrup, as she did every Sunday morning, he did not recognize either a giver or a recipient. Goodness occurred and he tasted it. And that was all. Hence his loves might, if you wished, be all described as cupboard loves: food and warmth, hands that caressed, voices that reassured, were their objects. But if by a cupboard love you meant something cold or calculating you would be quite misunderstanding the real quality of the beast’s sensations. He was no more like a human egoist than he was like a human altruist. There was no prose in his life. The appetencies which a human mind might disdain as cupboard loves were for him quivering and ecstatic aspirations which absorbed his whole being, infinite yearnings, stabbed with the threat of tragedy and shot through with the colors of Paradise. One of our race, if plunged back for a moment in the warm, trembling, iridescent pool of that pre-Adamite consciousness, would have emerged believing that he had grasped the absolute: for the states below reason and the states above it have, by their common contrast to the life we know, a certain superficial resemblance. Sometimes there returns to us from infancy the memory of a nameless delight or terror unattached to any delightful or dreadful thing, a potent adjective floating in a nounless void, a pure quality. At such moments we have experience of the shallows of that pool. But fathoms deeper than any memory can take us, right down in the central warmth and dimness, the bear lived all its life.
Today an unusual thing had happened to him — he had got out into the garden without being muzzled. He was always muzzled out of doors, not because there was any fear of his becoming dangerous but because of his partiality for fruit and for the sweeter kinds of vegetables. “’Tisn’t that he’s not tame,” as Ivy Maggs had explained to Jane Studdock, “but that he isn’t honest. He wouldn’t leave us a thing if we let him have the run of his teeth.” But today the precaution had been forgotten and the bear had passed a very agreeable morning investigating the turnips. Now — in the early afternoon — he had approached the garden wall. There was a chestnut tree within the wall which the bear could easily climb, and from its branches he could drop down on the far side. He was standing looking up at this tree. Mrs. Maggs would have described his state of mind by saying, “He knows perfectly well he’s not allowed out of the garden.” That was not how it appeared to Mr. Bultitude. He had no morals; but the Director had given him certain inhibitions. A mysterious reluctance arose, a clouding of the emotional weather, when the wall was too close; but mixed with this there was an opposite impulse to get beyond that wall. He did not, of course, know why, and was incapable even of raising the question. If the pressure behind this impulse could be translated into human terms at all, it would appear as something more like a mythology than a thought. One met bees in the garden, but never found a bee-hive. The bees all went away, over the wall. And to follow bees was the obvious thing to do. I think there was a sense in the bear’s mind — one could hardly call it a picture — of endless green lands beyond the wall, and hives innumerable, and bees the size of sparrows, and waiting there, or else walking, trickling, oozing to meet one, something or someone stickier, sweeter, more golden than honey itself.
Today, this unrest was upon him in an unusual degree. He was missing Ivy Maggs. He did not know that there was any such person and he did not remember her as we know remembering, but there was an unspecified lack in his experience. She and the Director were, in their different ways, the two main factors in his existence. He felt, in his own fashion, the supremacy of the Director. Meetings with him were to the bear what mystical experiences are to men, for the Director had brought back with him from Venus some shadow of man’s lost prerogative to ennoble beasts. In his presence Mr. Bultitude trembled on the very borders of personality, thought the unthinkable and did the impossible, was troubled and enraptured with gleams from beyond his own woolly world, and came away tired. But with Ivy he was perfectly at home as a savage who believes in some remote High God is more at home with the little deities of wood and water. It was Ivy who fed him, chased him out of forbidden places, cuffed him, and talked to him all day long. It was her firm conviction that the creature “understood every word she said.” If you took this literally it was untrue; but in another sense it was not so wide of the mark. For much of Ivy’s conversation was the expression not of thought but of feeling and of feelings Mr. Bultitude almost shared — feelings of alacrity, snugness, and physical affection. In their own way they understood one another pretty well.CS Lewis [That Hideous Strength]
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, the barren beds: men maddened with false promises and soured with true miseries, worshipping the iron works of their own hands, cut off from Earth their mother and from the Father in Heaven. You might go East so far that East became West and you returned to Britain across the great Ocean, but even so you would not have come out anywhere into the light. The shadow of one dark wing is over all Tellus.”CS Lewis [That Hideous Strength]