C.S. Lewis died 60 years ago and is more relevant than ever

Justine Toh recalls C.S. Lewis' advice on how to take on the 'hideous strengths' of our world - community and the power of God.

How do you win a bar fight? The internet really wants to know. Search results included: fight someone drunker than you are, ensure you have a wing man handy. Meaning: know your enemy and gather your own strengths.  

C.S. Lewis’s equivalent answer to that question, featured in That Hideous Strength, his messy but eerily prophetic novel, seems rather piddly. Two characters, Ransom (King Arthur’s heir, just go with it) and a revived Merlin (yes, that one) face a demonic plan to conquer earth. Powerful forces are arrayed against them: the police and army, the managerial technocracy, scientistic transhumanism, malevolent spiritual powers. How will the team prevail in this cosmic bar fight? Ransom’s answer: “We are four men, some women, and a bear.”  

C.S. Lewis died 60 years ago this week. His legacy is so wide-ranging that the one thing I want to remember now about his work seems as inadequate as Ransom’s battle plan against ultimate evil. Today, we contend with our own “hideous strengths” including:  

our reckless addiction to fossil fuels, a device-driven bout of loneliness, a long-standing fear of the physical, the hold that money has over us, the soul-destroying traffic in bodies and lives (I include porn), wars and rumours of wars

But Lewis reminds us that a small group of people committed to each other and the human good is a force to be reckoned with. This is “fellowship of the ring” territory, a collective of common purpose marked by faithfulness and sacrifice. The task of such a community is to organise themselves, watchfully wait, and remain human in increasingly inhuman times.  

It seems a trivial plan to save the world, but everything rides on what Ransom leaves unsaid: that in the hands of a mighty God, even the weak prove stronger than any hideous strength.


“Mere Christianity” at 80: Why does C.S. Lewis’s unlikely classic continue to hold such appeal?

It’s eighty years ago this month since C.S. Lewis — an Oxford don almost entirely unknown to the public — stepped up to the microphone at the London headquarters of the BBC, to give the first of the wartime broadcasts that would later become the much-loved book, “Mere Christianity”.