Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Lewis’ orthodox Christianity informs the plot and the themes of each of these three novels. Whether set on earth or in space, Lewis’ novels are permeated with the sense of an ongoing spiritual battle taking place. Each creature is called to “walk by faith, not sight,” and is seen either as conqueror of or a collaborator with unseen evil forces. Thus, Out of the Silent Planet establishes what one might call the theological background of the trilogy’s universe so that the events of Perelandra and That Hideous Strength can be understood. Ransom is a deeply moral man, who is ashamed of his own planet’s rebellion and who is ready to die in order to make sure that the rebellion does not spread.

Perelandra is Lewis’ version of John Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667), exploring what might have happened if God’s creatures had resisted temptation. The Green Lady’s true security must continue to rest in her trust in Maleldil and her faithfulness to her husband, the King. Ransom undergocs his own test of faith on Perelandra as he wrestles with Weston, now the Un-man. Throughout the ordeal, he constantly questions his suitability for the task at hand, but just at the moment he is resigned that he alone cannot defeat the Un-man, he is given the will to overcome. Once he determines that mere words cannot destroy his enemy, he delivers the physical blow that kills the Un-man and prevents the fall of the planet.

That Hideous Strength, subtitled “A Modern Fairy-Tale for Grown-Ups,” serves as Lewis’ version of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)—a cautionary tale about the deadly currents of modern thought. The organization N.I.C.E. exemplifies the sinister quality of those whom Lewis elsewhere calls the “conditioners,” those who would abdicate the role of preserving morality to a cast of supposedly benevolent scientists. This novel is clearly an argument against the naive beliefs that scientific and technological discoveries are value-free or that human evolution automatically equals human progress.