An exciting sci-fi adventure story, this book is hard to put down. "Hideous" suggests the strength of an evil stronghold. It is the Tower of Babel, symbolizing the pride first displayed by Satan, earning his expulsion from heaven. Soon, humans planned to climb the Tower to heaven and become like the Most High themselves--or even higher; but God struck it down and confused their language (Lewis's Old Solar), splitting it into many dialects. Thus, pride and reason comprise the stronghold that separated humans not only from God, but also from one another.
That Hideous Strength points to inflated, prideful reason as an obstacle keeping us from the best that God has to offer. Even though written circa WWII and aimed at the Hitler Nazis and perhaps the developing Russian and Chinese Communists, the warnings of this story apply just as appropriately to 21st century cloning, germ warfare, stem cell research, and vast genetic engineering plans that mankind has reasoned are, after all, best for the world at large.
Our recycled motto seems to be "Save the environment and build a super race." In all such circumstances, a small political party rules, while millions of workers toil for them with little recompense. Thus, evil recurs.
Lewis presents this end to the Ransom or Space Trilogy, following Out of the Silent Planet on Mars and Perelandra on Venus all to illustrate divine justice for humanity as Ransom, and Christ, triumph victorious over the devil. As Christians say about the Book of Revelation, "We know how the story ends!"
Lewis designed his trilogy to play into the growing interest surrounding WWII in science fiction and space travel, opening a door of imagination to allow the Gospel in to people that would reject a direct, "Are you saved, Brother?" However, the trilogy's precepts can also apply to non-Christian lives, helpfully and practically. In fact, many read the stories of Ransom and Narnia and never know that they are Bible based. Yet, a seed is planted for good.
Just as in Orwell's Animal Farm, wherein some animals are more equal than others, in Strength, some social designers (The Logres) are more equal than others, using a sense of entitlement to reap the best benefits for themselves. It is a delightful total story, because it combines the Bible and Arthurian legends, Christ and Merlin, supernatural visions and reasonable logic.
N.I.C.E. is an organization of reason unbound, coming to a British university campus to begin its takeover of, first, the school community, then the country, then the world and all the Universes– much like Antichrist. It first seduces Bracton College’s Progressive faculty into becoming its dupes.
In a direct parallel to Nazism, That Hideous Strength returns to Earth (Thulcandra) to examine human pride gone far a field, from Satan to humanity to near ruination. Having taken up Satan's mantle, men design a society "for the good of all," but actually for the good only of the leaders.
N.I.C.E. (National Institute of Coordinated Experiments) installs itself to streamline processes and "cure" a wide array of social and genetic "problems." Bracton's Progressives decide to sell their lush woodland area, beneath which Merlin is buried, in order to support the evil agenda. However, in one of their first meetings, speakers dissolve into unintelligible babbling.
Mark and Jane Studdock are a young couple housed at Bracton College – he, a professor and she, an intermittent student. They are not very happy, because Mark seeks fame through academics and Jane is ignored, but experiences supernatural visions and dreams.
N.I.C.E. co-opts Mark to write for them, feeding his ego, but gaining the seer, Jane, as well. They want her power for themselves. While Bracton babbles, Jane and her mystic friends speak articulately, using numerous literary/language devices.
While the faithful college community seems all truth and beauty, N.I.C.E. is all ruthless logic. This story shows the thinking man becoming his own god; blurring everything into gray sameness. In reality, this is seen in Chinese Communist workers' identical drab clothing and in literature's 1984.
Lewis's book is an indictment of the totalitarian Nazi and Communist regimes rising up around the years of WWII and thereafter. Via reason, humanism, and pride, man created what Lewis saw as a devil’s stronghold, but one he thought could be brought down.
Ironically, the "Head" of N.I.C.E. at Belbury Mansion is indeed the disembodied head of a murderer, living on advanced life-support (as in "Crypt Keeper" comics in the early 1960s and Star Trek's "Spock's Brain" episode in the late 1960s).
However, the Head is actually a portal to hell, through which the devil sends orders to Belbury officers. It is revealed that N.I.C.E.'s major aim is to eliminate the human body and live as only a great Mind. This will also eliminate the body as the temple of the Holy Spirit on earth. N.I.C.E. seeks to combine minds with machines to conquer all (such a combination aided handicapped children, though, in The Ship Who Sang-- Anne McCaffrey, 1961).
As the final victory, Merlin rises from the dead in Bracton Wood and joins the band of Jane and friends that still commune with God. Ransom enters as the Pendragon, or "chief dragon," in the Arthurian lineage; and interestingly, the dragon is a symbol of God in many cultures and not of evil. In fact, Lucifer was a dragon – a walking major angel with jewels for "scales"--only before he was cast from heaven. Afterward, he was doomed to snakedom. Happily, Mark receives salvation by the end of this story.
In addition, That Hideous Strength has influenced modern cult classics. Get Smart! was created by Mel Brooks, who had worked on Sid Caesar's highly innovative Your Show of Shows, and Buck Henry, both in position to read the Space Trilogy for comic ideas. Brooks created the Broadway play The Producers, with its hilarious number "Springtime for Hitler" that mocks the Nazi regime, as Lewis does with N.I.C.E. N.I.C. E. is not nice at all, and Get Smart! offers KAOS (bad guys) and CONTROL (good guys).