That Hideous Strength – Chapter One: Sale of College Property – Section 4


This section chiefly concerns the sale of the college property. It catalogs the meeting of the fellows of Bracton and how the Progressive Element managed to work their will to sell Bragdon Wood, including Merlin’s Well, to the National Institute of Co-ordinated Experiments (abbreviated NICE from here on out). NICE is designed to be the “fusion between the state and laboratory” (21). Financially backed by the government, they would move to Edgestow but only if they can have Bragdon Wood. Once NICE comes to Edgestow there is doubt as to whether “Oxford and Cambridge could survive as major universities,” so great is this organization.  The Progressive Element, lead by Curry and Feverstone (previously Devine) strategically move through the day long business meeting by beginning with introducing certain major problems and ending by posing the solution as the sale of “college property” which consists of the majority of Bragdon Wood. A few “Die-Hards” are against the sale, but in the end, “the motion carried” (26).


Again, striking is the mundaneness of this degree of hashing out a college business meeting to describe the sale of some land. But this is really the introduction of a major plot point – the coming of NICE into the story – and, on top of that, a lot of commentary.

And yet, I think that is something Lewis would like for us to take a keen interest in. Of course at this point in the story it is hard to tell who are the “good guys” and “bad guys.” Still, we have the previous section describing the author’s fondness for Bragdon Wood. The idea of letting it slip away so easily would seem to align roughly with the “bad guys.”

Let’s note also that our co-protagonist, Mark Studdock, is going right along with the “bad guys,” the Progressive Element.

Consider for a moment the way in which these “bad” measures are being launched. It is not a secret meeting of nefarious criminals. It is a college business meeting. Lewis had a general distrust of an overbearing state and of bureaucrats doing things for our own good. Consider this proceedings of this business meeting in light of this from the preface of his Screwtape Letters:

I live in the Managerial Age, in a world of “Admin.” The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid “dens of crime” that Dickens loved to paint. It is not done even in concentration camps and labour camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed, and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voice. Hence, naturally enough, my symbol for Hell is something like the bureaucracy of a police state or the offices of a thoroughly nasty business concern.

And consider Governor Gumpas from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader who oversees the slave trade with such civilized means as the use of statistics and graphs and considers it an “essential part of the economic development of the islands.”

The way to accomplish evil ends in a managerial world is by managerial means. This does not mean that the “Admin” is necessarily evil, it is but a tool. But it also isn’t necessary that a group of leaders coming together and acting on behalf of others – be that the the government of a nation or the board of fellows of a college – are the answer to the presented problem. We must consider right and wrong and not merely the trouble-shooting of perceived obstacles. That “technocratic” thinking is something that will be hit upon again during the course of THS.

Is the limited funds for the Bracton fellows a problem? Yes. Is the disrepair of the wall about Bragdon Wood a problem? Yes. But there is right and wrong involved in the solution and not just problem-solving. In earlier less civilized eras the solution may be seen as robbing a bank. Use the money to fix the wall and give the fellows a raise. But anyone can see that robbing a bank would be wrong. The real reason it would be wrong would be because robbery is morally wrong. But we needn’t bring morality into this. After all, robbery goes against the accepted methods of how things are done in the civilized world, but the sale of property is perfect. Robbery may be found out and the money may be taken back. Society may require some type of punishment (Lets call it corrective justice, not retributive.) or rehabilitation.

But is the sale of Bragdon Wood wrong? This is a question that needs to be answered. After all, the property does belong to the college and it has every right to do with its property as it sees fit. So what’s so wrong with selling the property? I would say first that the Wood is closely tied to the college historically. It has basically been entrusted to the college to care for the Wood. Just look back at section 3 at the mention of the many “tiffs” that have taken place over the Wood. There have been many “do-gooders” who have wanted to scrub the area of its pagan associations by destroying the Wood and Merlin’s Well. Merlin had come to represent an older less civilized, less Western, less Christian and less British world, a world that – the thinking went – we would do good to forget had ever been and to cut ties with completely. The thinking is not so different from modern arguments to tear down certain statues in our own country.

I suppose there could be good reasons for Bracton and Bragdon to part ways, but for the sake of bringing in NICE is not one of them, as will become obvious at some point in the future chapters.

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That Hideous Strength – Chapter One, Section Three


Here we have a description of the author’s (Lewis) experience of Bragdon Wood, part of the grounds of Bracton College. He feels quite lucky to have had the chance to enter as only “very few people are allowed into Bragdon Wood” (18). Once present he falls asleep in this peaceful place until he is awakened by his host (20).


Much can be said of this passage, but first I will remark on the seeming mundaneness. Its just an extended description of some college grounds. Nothing much seems remarkable at first. As the story progresses we will see that this is indeed a special place and a place that plays a part in the events of THS. Here we have a humble introduction.

Despite this humble start there is a feeling of the author’s revering this area of Bracton college, referring to it as a “holy of holies” (18) and he had the “sense of being received” into this area of “peculiar quality” (19). It is felt worthy of giving it a detailed description, which I will not recount here. It is a varied ground which changes as you go further and further in finally coming to “the thing I had chiefly come to see,” Merlin’s Well (19-20). The fact that this was Merlin’s well had led to several controversies over time. Several people had wanted to demolish the whole thing since they saw Merlin’s association with it as somewhat sullying. This “profane and heathenish” area had nearly fallen victim to those wanting to “destroy ‘the groves and high places'” (20).

The history of the Wood recounted reveals that there is no direct link between “Bracton” College and “Bragdon” Wood except that the similarity in names probably lent the Bractons some air of authority over the place. There is much more history tangentially mentioned involving George the Third among others.

Then there is this bit of verse, reportedly from Strabo’s Balachthon:

In Bragdon bricht this ende dai
Herde ich Merlin ther he lai
Singende woo and welawai

I know little about this. There is some discussion of it on this site. I will offer a bit of an untrained translation:

In Bragdon bright, this ending [of the] day
Here is Merlin, there he lays
Singing [sad] and [lonely]

Just a guess. But I like guessing. Of course mine doesn’t rhyme.


That Hideous Strength – Chapter One, Section Two


Here Mark Studdock, husband of Jane, is introduced more directly and formally, I guess. He’s a faculty member at Bracton College, a small (fictional) liberal arts school in the small (also fictional) town of Edgestow in England. He’s been trying to get into the “inner circle” and finally seems to have made it as part of the “progressive element.” He is a sociologist and getting on well, though I wouldn’t call it a friendship, with the “Sub-Warden,” Curry, of the college (15).

They are discussing a plan to pass some school legislation at the board meeting later that day – the decision to sell a portion of the college land. There is also mention of another board member – Lord Feverstone – who is shortly revealed to be none other than Dick Devine, one of the antagonists of Out of the Silent Planet (OOTSP), a man who, unbeknownst to Mark, had helped Mark get his fellowship, beating out a man named Denniston.


I find here most notable Mark’s desire to be a part of the inner circle. He demonstrates a desire that virtually all of us have, an inner circle desire. We want knowledge that only a few have, status, power, to be elevated above the common people, to build ourselves up. There are many ways to do this, but being in the in-crowd is perhaps the most common. It is present all throughout life and certainly rears its ugly head in academic settings. I’m sure Lewis was quite familiar with the desire and likely struggled with it, himself.

Mark enjoys Curry’s company because it elevates himself, but not because he particularly likes Curry: “He did not always like Curry either. His pleasure in being with him was not that sort of pleasure” (17). Once Mark had his fellowship he was “in.” But that didnt last long, he wanted to be “in” even further, a member of the “progressive element.” And here he was speaking confidentially with Curry, really feeling like he’d made it – at least for now.

So now we know of Jane that she struggles with wanting more comradeship and intellectual pursuits, with being a wife and a woman. And we know that Mark struggles with wanting to be part of the inner circle, his own ego needs puffing. This struggling relationship will be put to the test during the course of the ensuing events.

That Hideous Strength – Chapter One, Section 1


Jane Studdock is introduced in sentence one (page 11 – I always love it when a book starts on page 11; I start out feeling like I’m so far ahead) and will be the primary protagonist. She is recently married to Mark and struggling to adjust to married life. There is much housework to do which she doesn’t find all that intellectually stimulating. She is somewhat of an intellectual and has been working on a doctorate thesis on Donne. It seems Mark is preoccupied with his work at the college.

Next we have the retelling of a dream. A picture of a face in the newspaper reminds her of her dream the previous night since the face in her dream was the same face as in the newspaper, yet she can’t recall when she may have seen it (14), possibly in a previous newspaper? The face, or the head rather, was twisted off the man’s body. Then it became a different head, with a flowing beard, covered with dirt belonging seemingly to a dead man who was coming back to life (13).

The memory of the dream broke her concentration, interfered with her work on her thesis and lead her to take the morning off and go “out.”


As previously mentioned, this tale begins in a rather mundane manner. Married life. Housework. Limited time with your spouse due to other engagements. Studies. And then there is the bad dream. It is a rather fantastic dream and yet it is still only a dream, something hardly out of the ordinary. We have all had bad dreams, nightmares even. Ordinary stuff. Now I will say that this dream will play a role later on. Things will begin to connect and mean more as the story unfolds. But again. It all starts out so slow and ho-hum.

I must admit that upon my first reading of this book I was quite taken by how boring it seemed in the beginning. The two previous books may not have jumped straight into action in the first couple of pages, but this bit on the struggles of early married life is a stretch even for me. 350 more pages of this? I thought. All I will say is, Hang in there. Things will take off eventually. 

Also I find it interesting that Lewis should bring up the problems of adjusting to marriage and what it should be versus our imagination of what it should be in such a book. This is, after all, part 3 of a Space Trilogy. Its science fiction. What role has marriage to play? I love the way he brings in so much of real life into his books. There is really something to learn of marriage in this part three, though that isn’t the main thrust, of course. Or is it?

And I found this line rather amusing:

[Mark] was an excellent sleeper. Only one thing ever seemed able to keep him awake after he had gone to bed, and even that did not keep him awake for long (12).

No more on that, now.

I want to note the description of the men in the dream:

1) the one later identified as Alcasan, brilliant scientist whose career was cut short due to his murdering his wife: foreign looking, bearded and rather yellow, hooked nose.

2) the man he spoke to: rather good looking, pointed grey beard, wearing a pince-nez, perfect teeth. And they spoke in French, some of which Jane picked up on.

3) the second head: flowing white beard all covered with earth, belonging to an old man being dug up in an almost-church-yard; ancient British, druidical, with a long mantle; a corpse that seemed to be coming to life.

And then on to the Donne quotation – “Hope not for minde in women…” (14), but I only want to remark that Jane seems very unhappy, very dissatisfied with her station in life as a wife, and possibly as a woman. Marriage has taken her “out of a world of work and comradeship and laughter and innumerable things to do, into something like solitary confinement” (12)

Let that be a lesson to all the husbands out there – myself included. Our first ministry is to our wives. Lets not abdicate that responsibility. Doing so can prove quite disastrous, as we’ll see.

That Hideous Strength – Preface

That Hideous Strength: A Modern Fairy-Tale for Grown-Ups

Lewis makes a few notes in his Preface to That Hideous Strength that I think are noteworthy. The first is to pick on the fact that the novel is subtitled A Modern Fairy-Tale for Grown-Ups. This subtitle is regrettably left off the cover of my edition though it appears on the title page. The novel begins in a quite mundane manner; “hum-drum” is Lewis’ word. He explains that this is fairy-tale tradition. The fantastic grows out of the mundane. The cottage or the woodcutter may seem fantastical to us, but that is only because we have been conditioned to associate those things with fairy-tales, while the original hearers of the fairy-tale would think a woodcutter a very normal everyday thing.

As That Hideous Strength (which will often be abbreviated THS) begins with a discussion of married life and a description of some college grounds, we will see that the fantastic springs out from that. On that note I would add my own opinion that THS indeed begins very “hum-drum.” The fantastic that follows can scarcely be imagined. So stay the course. Diligence will be rewarded.

Secondly, Lewis explains that the ideas he tries to get across in THS are quite similar to the ideas contained in the Abolition of Man, a three chapter essay that you can read in its entirety online at the time of this writing. I do recommend reading it. It is excellent though I prefer the manner these ideas are addressed in THS to the Abolition of Man. Still, they compliment each other quite well.

Finally Lewis goes on to make a quick attribution to Olaf Stapledon, who I was not familiar with prior to reading this preface. He was a science fiction writer himself as well as a bit of a philosopher – a philosopher that Lewis did not agree with often. Lewis also mentions “Numinor,” misspelling the name of an island from Tolkien’s Middle Earth writings. It is rather nice to see the “inklings” excited about each others’ work. A last note correctly, by my experience anyway, explains that, though THS is the last part of a trilogy, it can be read as a stand-alone novel quite nicely.

Now, Onward!