The Revelation of Jane: The Chiastic Structure and Allegorical Nature of That Hideous Strength

Ok, before you start yelling at me, WAIT. I sorta have an explanation.

So…. it turns out that I reeeeeally needed the entire week last week to catch up on doing nothing (sounds crazy, I know), HGTV, baseball, and improving my mental health. It’s a long story. Essentially what I’m trying to say is… I’m still trying to get my life together, so if I don’t post just pretend like it didn’t happen. If I accidentally take a 2 week hiatus, it’s not because I don’t love doing this, because I do! I feel like I’ve taken wayyyy too many hiatuses in my short time as a blogger, and I don’t want to quit blogging, so I’m just going to try to handle life as it comes to me. There’s a lot going on, and even when there isn’t, I just need a bit of a break!

*ahem*

All of that goes to say that last Saturday, my 3rd Quarter Paper was due for my class Get to Know C.S. Lewis, and midway through Saturday (hey, if you leave it til the last minute, it only takes a minute!) I had an epiphany and wrote one of the greatest essays I had ever written. So, without further ado, here’s my essay, and one heck of a long title, too. (Sounds fancy, doesn’t it?)

 


 

The Revelation of Jane: The Chiastic Structure and Allegorical Nature of That Hideous Strength

A chiasmus is, according to Oxford’s Dictionary, “A rhetorical or literary figure in which words, grammatical constructions, or concepts are repeated in reverse order.” Chiasmus has been used countless times in literature, providing a thought-provoking structure to what could be an otherwise uninteresting book. Probably the most notable use of chiasmus was in the Biblical book of Revelation. The apocalyptic final book of the Bible is seemingly constructed on a hinge, mirroring in the second half ideas and details from the first half of the book. This chiastic structure has been used in many places, even occasionally referencing the Revelation of John, but one chiasmus that is often missed is That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis. The book, however Lewis intended it, draws themes straight from Revelation, and is also very much built like a hinge. In writing an apocalyptic warning of a finale to his famed Space Trilogy, C.S. Lewis created a highly allegorical chiasmus that brings some of the warnings from Revelation into a modern, secular society.

In arguing that the whole book is in its totality one big allegory for the Revelation of John, one must be very careful. It is obvious that, however hinting he was, Lewis had many purposes for his book. That Hideous Strength is not, per say, an allegory, but rather allegorical in nature. The structure and themes are little bits he pulled from Revelation, but it must be remembered that while it is an extension of the warnings of John, Lewis’ main warning of the book is to keep modern science in check and to keep humanity from trying to achieve what shouldn’t be gotten (which, conveniently, seems like a representation of the tower of Babel). Lewis also didn’t want his book to be an exact allegory to other things; D.H. Stewart says in his essay “What Lewis Really Did in That Hideous Strength” that “Lewis was properly skeptical of overly mechanical imitations of earlier forms.” Thus one can see that it was not Lewis’ intention to create a retelling of the end of times but to rather hint at it with a structural similarity.

While Lewis made sure that his book wasn’t merely an allegory for Revelation, one can definitely tell that there was a premeditated theme woven into his book. In terms of chiasmus, the whole book has its middle in chapter 9, “The Saracen’s Head,” where we first see the great and ghastly Head that Belbury seems to be so centered on. Like peeling back the layers to an onion, Mark has finally penetrated the “inner circle” and found out what was at the center, and in a way one has “peeled” back the chapters of the book and found out what it’s all about. Upon hearing one of Jane’s dreams, the Director says,“‘It becomes plainer and plainer. We must hold a council at once.’” That night they have the meeting that leads to the climax of the story. Likewise in the book of Revelation, Chapter 11 finally tells us that “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever.” It is essentially the turning point in John’s apocalyptic book, just as Chapter 9 is in That Hideous Strength.

The more significant similarity, however, lies not in the structure but in the theme. Both books are apocalyptic in nature, and even though the world does not exactly end in Lewis’ book, both Revelation and That Hideous Strength deal with the presence of evil gradually taking over, and have at the end a sort of judgement, seen in John’s “The Dead are Judged” in chapter 20 and Lewis’ Chapter 16, “Banquet at Belbury.” There is even a similarity in the prophetic nature of both books; in one, the prophecy has been revealed to John, and in the other, Jane has dreams that are revelations of things to come – Miss Ironwood tells her that “[…] you have discovered for yourself that you have a tendency to dream real things.” Even further, after the judgement of the wicked comes Satan’s doom – being thrown into the lake of burning sulfur and “tormented day and night for ever and ever” – and the different gory ends Lewis contrives to the leaders of the N.I.C.E. Each book also ends with everything being set right; in Revelation there is a new Jerusalem, and God’s creation is as it was created to be, and in That Hideous Strength the N.I.C.E.’s monopoly is destroyed as Edgestow is destroyed, but Dimble says “‘Edgestow will not recover from what is happening to her to-night. But there will be other Edgestows.’” There is even in the final chapters a coming or going of a Christ figure; in one Ransom departs to Perelandra, and in the other there is a promise that Jesus will come back. And though these are seemingly opposing ideas, we are given the promise that Ransom will come back.

Over the course of The Space Trilogy, among all messages portrayed, that of redemption and the defeating of evil is particularly emphasized. At this point the allegorical nature extends not just to Revelation but to the entire Bible. Throughout the Bible, before Jesus came to earth he was always foreshadowed and prophesied about, and likewise in the first two books of The Space Trilogy we don’t yet know that Ransom will be a Christ figure, but he is somewhat of a savior already in those stories. It is also important to note his name, Ransom. Just as he is, to some degree, the savior of the series, that equates him to Jesus, who paid the ransom for our sins. All of that shows a premeditated theme that Lewis carefully worked into his books. And, just like how our lives are all leading up to the day Jesus comes back and the battle is won, Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra are both leading up to the epic finale and the victory over modern fanatical science that we see in That Hideous Strength.

It is clear that, though Lewis did not intend to make an allegory out of his book, he carefully planned and wrote That Hideous Strength to make us remember the warnings and prophecies in the book of Revelation. If one is careful not to make extremely radical assumptions and ideas about it, it might be beneficial if more people understood this similarity and saw what Lewis was warning them about. In this modern, secular society, it is a hope entertained by many that the world will understand and take heed of the warning signs so deftly woven into not only That Hideous Strength but in almost all of Lewis’ writing.

Works Cited

  • “Chiasmus | Definition of Chiasmus in English by Oxford Dictionaries.” Oxford Dictionaries | English, Oxford Dictionaries, en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/chiasmus.
  • John. “Revelation.” Bible Gateway, Bible Gateway Blog, http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Revelation%2B11&version=NIV.
  • STEWART, D. H. “WHAT LEWIS REALLY DID IN ‘THAT HIDEOUS STRENGTH.’” Modern Fiction Studies, vol. 26, no. 2, 1980, pp. 248–255. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/26280452.
  • Lewis, C. S. That Hideous Strength: a Modern Fairy-Tale for Grown-Ups. Macmillan, 1986.

 


 

So, that’s it! Did you like it? I was pretty pleased with how it turned out, and I was super excited when the idea came to me. It was TOTALLY way better than the idea I was going to write about! And, even better, I got a 100 on it and my teacher loved it!

Have y’all ever studied Revelation? I did in Sunday school earlier this past year, and that’s how I knew about the chiasmus. If you ever get the chance to study it, PLEASE DO! It can be sorta (REALLY) daunting, but I promise, it’s worth it. And you should probably read That Hideous Strength too, because it’s also really good! Although it was kinda disappointing compared to the other two…. but that’s for another post.

Have a great week! Bye!!!!!!

alittlebitofrunion sign-off

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2 thoughts on “The Revelation of Jane: The Chiastic Structure and Allegorical Nature of That Hideous Strength

  1. WOAH.
    *slow claps*
    Props for writing this- this beautiful piece of ART. This is art, and it’s beautiful and well written- and so DEEP! Way to go, girl! You keep doing this! I love that people aren’t just reading The Space Trilogy, they’re talking about it and analyzing it and appreciating the spiritual lessons of it. I think maybe Lewis woulda wanted it like that. 🙂 It totally deserved a hundred, and what a great job! You keep doing this, Cat! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

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