Literary Creativity in That Hideous Strength

Okay, another quick post on That Hideous Strength. Walter Savage Landor once wrote, after quoting two lines from Milton’s Paradise Lost, “I would rather have written these two lines than all the poetry that as been written since Milton’s time in all the regions of the earth.” The lines from Milton are (in context refering to God and his angels):

Yield with coy submission, modest pride,
And sweet, reluctant, amorous, delay.

Have you ever run across a sentence that was so beautifully put that you would rather have written it than all the books in the world? I’m not sure that I have, but from reading C.S. Lewis I can at least understand what Landor is feeling when he says that. Here are two examples from That Hideous Strength. In the first, he is describing the final moments in the life of John Wither, when Wither knows all is lost and he is about to be damned forever. Lewis describes Wither’s (underwhelming) reaction to this knowledge in terms of the history of philosophy (Hegel, Hume, etc.) and then grammar (the indicative mood):

“He knew that everything was lost. It was incredible how little this knowledge moved him. It could not, because he had long since ceased to believe in knowledge itself. What had been in his far-off youth a merely aesthetic repugnance to realities that were crude or vulgar, had deepened and darkened, year after year, into a fixed refusal of everything that was in any degree other than himself. He had passed from Hegel into Hume, thence through Pragmatism, and thence through Logical Positivism, and out at last into the complete void. The indicative mood now corresponded to no thought that his mind could entertain. He had willed with his whole heart that there should be no reality and no truth, and now even the imminence of his own ruin could not wake him. The last scene of Dr. Faustus where the man raves and implores on the edge of Hell is, perhaps, stage fire. The last moments before damnation are not often so dramatic” (350).

Here’s another, where Mark is wondering at how others can find joy and laughter so easy when he finds it so difficult:

“How did other people – people like Denniston or Dimble – find it so easy to saunter through the world with all their muscles relaxed and a careless eye roving the horizon, bubbling over with fancy and humour, sensitive to beauty, not continually on their guard and not needing to be? What was the secret of that fine, easy laughter which he could not by any efforts imitate? Everything about them was different. They could not even fling themselves into chairs without suggesting by the very posture of their limbs a certain lordliness, a leonine indolence. There was elbow-room in their lives, as there had never been in his. They were Hearts: he was only a Spade” (358).

For Wither, he uses history and grammar; Mark he describes in terms of card suits (spade vs. heart) and elbow room. Brilliant. And don’t forget “leonine indolence.” I bet all this came easy for him, too. Once gets the sends he didn’t labor over these books as Tolkien did over Lord of the Rings. Sheesh. Some people get all the brains! At least I have my good looks.

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