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That hideous strength and Rhodes must fall

7 November 2016

That Hideous StrengthThat Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve just finished reading That Hideous Strength again. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read it, at least six or seven times, and each time I find something new.

It has been described as C.S. Lewis’s attempt at a Charles Williams novel, and that is a fairly accurate description. The first time I read it, as a teenager, a lot of the literary allusions went right over my head. Mr Fisher-King, for example. I first became aware of the significance that when reading a novel by Robert Holdstock, either Mythago Wood or The Fetch, and the significance escaped me there too at first. Now I’ve been reading a bit more Arthurian literature, and suddenly a lot of the references make more sense, just as reading The Mabinogion helped to make sense of The Owl Service.

But the book that made a lot of things fall into place this time round was The Cult of Rhodes, which I read about three months ago, and reviewed here The cult of Rhodes.

Right at the end of That hideous strength Professor Dimble is talking about Logres and Britain. In Lewis’s mythology, and one could perhaps say in the Inklings’ mythology, Logres is Britain’s better half, or better self. Each nation has, as it were, a guardian angel and a tempting demon, and in the case of England the former is Logres and the latter is Britain.

Dimble describes this as a haunting:

How something we may call Britain is always haunted by something we may call Logres. Haven’t you noticed that we are two countries? After every Arthur, a Mordred; behind every Milton, a Cromwell; a nation of poets, a nation of shopkeepers; the home of Sidney — and of Cecil Rhodes.

I had to look up Sidney, and I’m pretty sure it refers to Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1586).

But what struck me most was the casual, almost passing reference to Cecil Rhodes.

Rhodes came in for a lot of publicity last year, over 100 years after his death, when a group of students at the University of Cape Town demanded that a statue of Rhodes be removed from the campus. And there were similar demands about a statue of Rhodes in Oxford, where Lewis taught.

As I said, I’ve read That hideous strength six or seven times, but it was only this time around that it stuck me that Cecil Rhodes might have been a model for one of the villains of the piece, Lord Feverstone, alias Dick Devine. And if I hadn’t recently read The cult of Rhodes I might not have noticed it.

Dick Devine appears as a villain in the first book of Lewis’s Cosmic Trilogy, Out of the Silent Planet, and reading that with a picture of Rhodes in the back of one’s mind makes a lot more sense. Lewis isn’t writing allegory here; it’s no good looking for one-to-one correspondences between the life and career of Cecil Rhodes and the life and career of Dick Devine, but there is a lot of similarity in their values and their goals. Devine is the archetypal financial wheeler-dealer, the imperialist trying to get hold of other people’s mineral resources, the ugly face of international capitalism.

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