That Hideous Strength – Chapter 3, Section 4


Here Lewis broadly recounts Mark’s conversation with Hardcastle, focusing especially on the role of a progressive police force and treatment vs punishment for crimes. Mark has decided to stay for dinner and sits with Hingest who begins to explain his reasoning for leaving NICE and the Fairy interrupts to find out his driving plans that evening, saying that she would like to ride with him if she’s going his way, which he isn’t.


Lewis wrote quite a bit about retributive punishment vs remedial treatment in the criminal justice system. It is probably not mere over-simplification to say that he landed solidly in the retributive punishment camp against treatment of the criminal. An essay called the Humanitarian Theory of Punishment can be found here and is worth reading. In this section of THS he presents some of the ideas without a lot of comment except that the proponents of the humanitarian theory, or the remedial treatment theory, are members of the NICE (specifically Fairy Hardcastle). What the progressive NICE wants is generally the opposite of what Lewis favors.

But the Fairy pointed out that what had hampered every English police force up to date was precisely the idea of deserved punishment. For desert was always finite: you could do so much to the criminal and no more. Remedial treatment, on the other hand, need have no fixed limit; it could go on til it had effected a cure, and those who were carrying it out would when that was. (68)

The Fairy sees the police as giving the sociologists the muscle needed to really work out their theories on the population. And she’s thought as much about these theories as our sociologist protagonist has.

I like that Lewis puts his essays into novel form. I wish more writers would do this. In my opinion, the genre of Christian spiritual self-help books is growing much too fast and books like That Hideous Strength are too few. Metaphysical truth and good fiction are a hard marriage, but Lewis was adept at just that.

The Fairy was introduced earlier but here we have a little more of her description. She “excited” in Mark ” all the distaste which a young man feels at the proximity of something rankly, even insolently sexed, and at the same time wholly unattractive” (67). Sexed here I take to mean sexualized, not a great difference in the actual word, though I stumbled on Lewis’s “sexed.” She’s an “emancipated female.” I think that wording could be misunderstood. Though I’m no expert I would like to say that he isn’t merely speaking of women being able to vote or work or drive. He is speaking of a woman who has rejected femininity and taken on the masculine form. Masculinity and Femininity are thought highly of by Lewis and have been discussed in both the previous two books of the Space Trilogy. Here on the silent planet is the first example of a female throwing off femininity, rejecting its being a good gift from, shall we say, Maleldil (there’s a name I haven’t used yet in writing about THS).

Lets also note, briefly, once again Mark’s desire to be “in.” “Several times that day he had been made to feel himself an outsider; that feeling completely disappeared while Miss Hardcastle was talking to him. He had the sense of getting in” (67).

Finally we have a second conversation between Mark and Bill Hingest. He’s leaving NICE because he at first thought it had to do with science and has found out its more “like a political conspiracy” (69). He doesn’t consider sociology a science. “I happen to believe that you can’t study men; you can only get to know them.” The Fairy’s, and Mark’s, ideas of sociology are all about studying and controlling people while trying to avoid getting to know them.

(This reminds me of Abraham Flexner. He was of the same opinion as regards sociology. He was an educator who sparked the reform of medical education about a hundred years ago. I was fortunate to be exposed to some of his work while attending school in Louisville where he also worked and studied somewhat before my time.)

And if he found chemistry fitting in with “a secret police run by a middle aged viragro” – the Fairy – attempting to change up all of society in its progressive image, he would leave chemistry at once (69).

He pulls no punches with Mark and advises him to consider getting out of the NICE, that it will do him no good personally or for his career. When Mark objects that there are two views on that, Hingest (or Lewis) replies quite trenchantly, “There are a dozen views about everything until you know the answer. Then there’s never more than one” (70). Again, I applaud Lewis’s ability to add such an incisive observation and comment on relativist thinking to the flow of a novel. That’s why I love this book.

Lastly, I want to note that Orion is rising over Hingest as he leaves the NICE. I know little of astronomy and the associated “folklore.” But I do know that Orion is a hunter and I have read the book before and so I know that this is Hingest’s last night among the living. Orion seems to foreshadow his death. Lewis seems to know much of western astronomy, mythology and cosmology.



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