Tuesday, July 03, 2007

That Hideous Strength

Is That Hideous Strength a good book or an atrocious one? It's getting a discussion in the comments at John C. Wright's blog. My own view is that it's very uneven. Some of it is extraordinarily good -- the characterization of Frost and Wither, for instance, or the descent of the eldila, or the description of Merlin, or the whole Babel theme. The chief problem with it is that structurally it's essentially the same type of story as that of Tolkien's long defeat of the Elves leading to the march of the Powers of the West against Morgoth; but it lacks the two advantages Tolkien's story has: lots of space for developing a suitable plot for this deus ex machina ending and the effect of epic distance. Being a solid fan of Euripides, I love deus ex machina; but you have to build up to it well, and I think Lewis struggles (valiantly, and with much ingenuity) against impediments he doesn't entirely overcome. And it's a bit harder to convey a sense of the scope of the battle of the gods if you are showing it here and now and not in some ancient age long ago. The characterization is often exquisite, and some of the irony is as well. But much else in it is a mixed bag.

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