“Its claws were imbedded in every country.”
“The Hideous Strength holds all this earth in its fist to squeeze as it wishes”
C. S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength (1945)
The word hideous has been drained of meaning by generations of women who have used it as a pejorative epithet in their frivolous chatter about dresses and hair. Chattering women did the same thing to the word ghastly, but that is another story. Hideous is not, properly, a synonym for ugly. Its root meaning and exact synonym is horrible. And, once again, horrible does not properly mean superlatively bad. Horrible means generative of a hopeless, sick, and appalling fear.
It was the pessimist philosopher Schopenhauer who taught me to understand horror as a hopeless, sick, and appalling fear. Horror is, in fact, the exact opposite of Christian joy. Christian joy is a gift of the Holy Spirit, and is really a sudden delight in the hope, life and faith that the Holy Spirit brings. Horror is the gift of the Diabolic Spirit, and is really a sudden despair. Hope is lost, life sickens, and faith is replaced by appalling fear. As Schopenhauer puts it,
“If . . . we should bring clearly to a man’s sight the terrible sufferings and miseries to which his life is constantly exposed, he would be seized with horror.”*
He would be seized, in other words, with a conviction that the cosmos hates him, and will one day tear him limb from limb. Christian joy is the thrill that comes with believing that the evils of this world are in some sense illusions, and that a wise and loving God sits at the back of all things. Horror is the nausea that comes with believing that the goods of this world are unreal, and that behind all appearances is the ravenous monster that Irish myth calls the Black Pig.
“The Black Pig, a type of cold and of winter that awakes in November . . . to do battle with the summer, and . . . of the darkness that will at last destroy the gods and the world.”
“The battle of the Black Pig is the battle between the manifest world and the ancestral darkness at the end of all things.”**
A thing is, therefore, truly hideous, insofar as it makes you sick with fear that everything you love must one day go screaming into the dark, where it will be gulped, guzzled and gobbled by the cruel and insatiable maw of this obscene Black Pig.
* * * * *
A hideous strength is, therefore, a power that engenders hopelessness and despair in those who hate it. This is why the vast and seemingly irresistible army of Sauron was hideous to those who beheld it from the ramparts of Minas Tirith. But it was not simply the awful power of Sauron’s army that made it a hideous strength. It was the fact that this awful and irresistible power was evil, and that its all-but-certain defeat of Minas Tirith would establish the dominion of evil for all time.
To behold a truly hideous strength is, therefore, to sicken with the thought that evil must triumph, and that when it does, the lights will go out forever.
* * * * *
In a curious book on spiritual warfare written in the seventeenth century, the Puritan theologian John Downame describes the hideous army of Satan in a way that exactly matches what I yesterday wrote about soft and hard totalitarianism. When this Leviathan gathers on the field of battle, its front ranks appear to be nice.
“In the front and main battle were marshalled the world’s glorious and glittering troops of prosperity, armed with those often-approved weapons of honors, pleasures and riches, wherewith few are encountered who are not also overcome.”
Leviathan makes its first assault with gifts. It gives men honors, pleasures and riches, and then enslaves those men with the fear that these gifts will be taken away. This was, of course, the way that NICE very nearly enslaved Mark Studdock. NICE very nicely offered Studdock what looked like power, and thereby very nearly succeeded in bringing him under the terrible power of NICE.
Thus Downame explains, Leviathan swallows men by spoon-feeding them.
“And observing the manner of their fight, I found it to be no less admirable then dangerous, for they overcame by yielding, wounded by persuading, killed by embracing, and whilst casting away their arms and all signs of hostility . . . they became conquerors of those who took them, jailors of those that kept them, and commanders of those who seemed to hold them in captivity.”
A man thinks he is on top of the world when he commands honors, pleasures and riches. But we see upon closer examination that he is commanded by those honors, pleasures and riches, and that the world is, in fact, on top of him.
And as I said yesterday, NICE will turn very nasty with the remnant that refuses to be bought in this way. Leviathan holds its instruments of hard totalitarianism in reserve, but it is in this “stern and grim visage” that we clearly see the unmasked face of its “hideous strength.”
In the flank and rereward were ranged those terrible troops . . . placed by the Devil . . . to vanquish those by force, violence, and furious encounter, who could not be overcome by the persuading allurements of deceitful prosperity, and these enemies seemed to be of hideous strength, and in respect of their stern and grim visage, proud threats, and dangerous weapons, fearful to look upon.
*) World as Will and Idea (1819)
**) W. B. Yeats, The Wind Among the Reeds (1899)