The solar eclipse provided a unifying effect on the world, albeit momentarily, when people stood outside to witness the splendor of the moon covering the sun. 2017 seems to be the year of space: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 premiered in May, Star Trek: Discovery will launch in September on CBS, and finally Star Wars: Episode VII The Last Jedi comes to theaters in December. Science fiction fans and astronomers get to experience a solar-system’s worth of story-lines to satisfy their cosmic cranial cravings!
Traveling the across the imaginative galaxies, I have been currently reading Star Wars and Guardians of the Galaxy comics. The subject of space travel ignites a creative fire in my mind. Peculiar surroundings and new literary beings I encounter through the medium of science fiction point toward a higher reality than the drudgery I face on a daily basis. Today, I am going to provide an analysis and my opinion on the final novel of C.S. Lewis’ epic Space Trilogy—That Hideous Strength. Having read the first two books multiple times and the setting occurring on other planets, I found it fairly easy to compose reviews. Please bear with me as I gather “strength” to complete my thoughts on this final installment of Lewis’ SF series.
While the events Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra occur largely on the Mars and Venus respectively, That Hideous Strength’s setting is grounded to Earth. Along with the change in scenery, the primary character of the Space Trilogy—Dr. Elwin Ransom—was absent for a sizeable chunk of this third novel. Lewis starts the book focusing on a cast of individuals, an academic Mark Studdock, his wife Jane, and Lord Feverstone, director of National Institute for Co-ordinated Experiments [N.I.C.E]. N.I.C.E. is an institution that seeks to implement social control for individuals. Unaware of the events of the previous two books, Jane begins to receive visions in her sleep. Initially, she is transported to St. Anne’s hospital because the dreams are believed to be psychologically, not divinely inspired.
Persistence of Jane’s visions causes her and Mark’s marriage to strain. Dr. Elwin Ransom finally makes his appearance in chapter seven. The prophetic revelations Jane experienced Ransom tells the reader were actually a warning about an upcoming war. Ransom details the events of Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra to Jane. He explains that reality is not limited to the physical realm. Ransom serves as the king [Pendragon] of the legendary kingdom of King Arthur. In keeping with the mythology of the first two books, Lewis reveals that Lord Feverstone is actually Richard Devine- foe to Ransom in Out of the Silent Planet. Feverstone is determined to really be working on behalf of the fallen Oyarsa [demons/fallen angels] who seek to exploit human greed and selfishness with and end game of total annihilation of humanity.
Lewis incorporates Christian elements into That Hideous Strength maintaining the theological tracks he built earlier in the Space Trilogy. He juxtaposes the scientific materialistic philosophy of N.I.C.E. against the traditional Christian worldview that is embodied by the Random-led camp at St. Anne’s. Over the mode of fiction, Lewis shows that while humanity naturally have a selfish tendency, our sinfulness cannot be overcome except through the aid of God. The agenda of the fallen angels [Lewis calls them eldila] under the guise of nicety and scientific advancement believed that true progress could only occur if the flesh of humanity was destroyed.
I discovered that the meaning of the title– That Hideous Strength—is a reference to the Tower of Babel. A new Tower of Babel, the building that housed N.I.C.E represented humanity’s attempt to control nature and unify through man-made efforts alone. Genesis 11:4 tells us of the pride of a united humanity, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky,* and so make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered all over the earth.” Unification under a common purpose breeds the potential for good, but also may lead to potential for evil. In the ninth chapter Elwin Ransom reflects on the possibility of his enemies [the fallen angels] on the verge of achieving artificial resurrection of the body [i.e. artificial immortality], “Despair of objective truth had been increasingly insinuated into the scientists; indifference to it, and a concentration upon mere power, had been the result” (p. 200) We only need to look back last century on what concentration of power in the “greater good” looks like under a Hitler or a Stalin.
Honestly, I would give That Hideous Strength 3.5 out of 5 stars. Initially, I found the shift in plot and scenery to be laborious to follow. This book was disconnected from Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra. Along with the new set of characters, the late arrival of Dr. Ransom left me confused. After reading the book a second time, I gained a new found respect for Lewis’ contribution to science fiction and the completion of his Space Trilogy. The Christians become more evident the second time around- especially the theme of the New Tower of Babel. Hidden in the final pages of That Hideous Strength is a subtle, yet curious allusion to Middle Earth. According to Bradley Birzer in The Challenge: How C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy Came into Being, “Lewis had borrowed significantly from Tolkien’s Atlantean world of Númenor. Númenor, corrupted as “Numinor,” appears nine times in That Hideous Strength as well as in one of Lewis’s poems, “The End of the Wine”.
C.S. Lewis was also a contemporary and close friend to the Lord of the Rings’ creator J.R.R. Tolkien. May it be possible that The Hobbit, Silmarillion, and Lord of the Rings represented ancient history while the events of Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength reflect the fictional universe’s modern timeline? This Easter egg may be in reality me simply searching for a link between my two favorite fantasy writers, but I still found it to be intriguing.
Despite the awkward handoff between Perelendra and That Hideous Strength, I still recommend reading the final installment of the Space Trilogy. Lewis, a largely non-fiction writer, went on a limb to delve into the realm of science fiction. This work is a necessity for any collector of science fiction or fan to C.S. Lewis!
Possessing both a Bachelor of Arts in history and a continued passion for the subject, I constantly remind myself to view persons and events in a large historical context. According to the English poet John Donne in his poem No Man is an Island,
No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.
No person lives in isolation free from the influences of others humans and world events. Viewing connections between the Old and New Testaments is no different. Events and characters throughout the history and religious development of Judaism forged the way for the coming of the Messiah in the person of Jesus Christ. Throughout the Why Catholics Must Have Bible A.D.D. series, I have portrayed that contextual reading is not merely a preferred, but an essential component to understanding and unlocking the fullness of Jesus’ gospel message. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church,
Christians venerate the Old Testament as true Word of God. The Church has always vigorously opposed the idea of rejecting the Old Testament under the pretext that the New has rendered it void (Marcionism)…. Christians therefore read the Old Testament in the light of Christ crucified and risen. Such typological reading discloses the inexhaustible content of the Old Testament; but it must not make us forget that the Old Testament retains its own intrinsic value as Revelation reaffirmed by our Lord himself.105 Besides, the New Testament has to be read in the light of the Old. Early Christian catechesis made constant use of the Old Testament.106 As an old saying put it, the New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New (CCC 123, 129).
Today I wish to share the relationship between the famous Old Testament prophet Elijah and how he is a predecessor and prefiguring of John the Baptist.
1. Tackling Tyrants: Elijah and John the Baptist both faced wicked monarchs in their respective times. The Old Testament prophets vehemently opposed the evil ways of Queen Jezebel and King Ahab. In 1 Kings 21, Elijah was able to get the king to repent of and humble himself before the Lord.
Similarly, John the Baptist squared off against an evil ruler as well—King Herod. Standing up to the king, John was loud in Herod’s lusting after and seeking to marry his brother’s ex-wife Herodias. The prophet’s continual condemnation of Herod’s evil led to John’s beheading.
2. Desert Dudes: Both prophets spent enormous amounts of time praying and fasting in the desert. According to 1 Kings 19:1-14, Elijah flees to the desert to escape the wrath of Queen Jezebel after he destroyed the prophets of the idol Ba’al. The prophet spent 40 days and nights in the wilderness. His period of fasting culminated with his famous encounter with God in the stillness and quite voice.
Fast forward to the New Testament and John the Baptist lives in a similar manner. Matthew 3 tells of John preaching in the desert of Judea—clothed in camel hides and
eating locusts. His speech against false worship is similar is tone to Elijah. The Baptist chastised the Pharisees and Sadducees by saying,
You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance. 9And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones.f 10Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees. Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. 11 I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fan is in his hand. He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.
3. Harbinger of Greatness: As profound and mighty prophets both Elijah and John the Baptist were in their own regard, they ultimately paved the way for someone greater to follow—Elisha and Jesus respectively. Elisha’s superiority is exemplified in providing greater miracles and ultimately being a foreshadowing of Jesus himself. The successor of Elijah, healed lepers, multiplied food, and resurrected the widow’s son. All of these miracles are things Jesus performed—simply on a grander manner.
The liturgical calendar of the Catholic Church places the feast day of John the Baptist on June 24th. It is interesting to note that this placement is close to the summer solstice and the time of the year where the day slowly starts to grew less and less. Christmas, the birthday of Jesus, occurs after the winter solstice. During the darkest periods of the year, there exists hope on December 25th as the daylight is increasing. John the Baptist tells us his role in salvation history. The prophet states, “He must increase while I must decrease!” (John 3:30).
John also defers to Jesus in Mark 1:7-8 when he says, “And this is what he proclaimed: ‘One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the holy Spirit.'”
Today I will close with an excerpt from a sermon by St. Augustine for the Feast of St. John the Baptist. I found it while praying the Liturgy of the Hours. For more information on this amazing ancient public prayer of the Catholic Church please feel free to visit http://www.divineoffice.org.
(Sermo 293,1-3: PL 38, 1327-1328)
The Church observes the birth of John as a hallowed event. We have no such commemoration for any other fathers; but it is significant that we celebrate the birthdays of John and of Jesus. This day cannot be passed by. And even if my explanation does not match the dignity of the feast, you may still meditate on it with great depth and profit. John was born of a woman too old for childbirth; Christ was born of a youthful virgin. The news of John’s birth was met with incredulity, and his father was struck dumb. Christ’s birth was believed, and he was conceived through faith. Such is the topic, as I have presented it, for our inquiry and discussion. But as I said before, if I lack either the time or the ability to study the implications of so profound a mystery, the Spirit who speaks within you even when I am not here will teach you better; it is the Spirit whom you contemplate with devotion, whom you have welcomed into your hearts, whose temples you have become. John, then, appears as the boundary between the two testaments, the old and the new. That he is a sort of boundary the Lord himself bears witness, when he speaks of “the law and the prophets up until John the Baptist.” Thus he represents times past and is the herald of the new era to come. As a representative of the past, he is born of aged parents; as a herald of the new era, he is declared to be a prophet while still in his mother’s womb. For when yet unborn, he leapt in his mother’s womb at the arrival of blessed Mary. In that womb he had already been designated a prophet, even before he was born; it was revealed that he was to be Christ’s precursor, before they ever saw one another. These are divine happenings, going beyond the limits of our human frailty. Eventually he is born, he receives his name, his father’s tongue is loosened. See how these events reflect reality. Zechariah is silent and loses his voice until John, the precursor of the Lord, is born and restores his voice. The silence of Zechariah is nothing but the age of prophecy lying hidden, obscured, as it were, and concealed before the preaching of Christ. At John’s arrival Zechariah’s voice is released, and it becomes clear at the coming of the one who was foretold. The release of Zechariah’s voice at the birth of John is a parallel to the rending of the veil at Christ’s crucifixion. If John were announcing his own coming, Zechariah’s lips would not have been opened. The tongue is loosened because a voice is born.
When John was preaching the Lord’s coming he was asked, “Who are you?” And he replied: “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness.” The voice is John, but the Lord “in the beginning was the Word.” John was a voice that lasted only for a time; Christ, the Word in the beginning, is eternal.
Thank you God for the strong and passionate witnesses to the truth in the persons of Elijah and John the Baptist!
Mark Twain once wrote, “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.” While I do not fully understand the meaning of the great American author’s words I find myself drawn to the concept that reality is odd, weird, peculiar, and problematic. Seeming senseless suffering occurs daily throughout the globe: wars, famine, and violation of human rights. I do not want this post to turn into a philosophical treatise on the problem of evil. [please refer to the writings of St. Augustine or The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis for a clearer and more authoritative outline of the issue than myself !] To be clear, although I experienced a push from reality toward despair when things get overwhelmed, it is interesting that fiction pulls me away from this strangeness and helps center myself.
Over the past year, I have delved into the DC Comics Universe- the realm of Superman, Batman, The Flash, and Green Lantern. I am most recently reading a voluminous story arc from the New 52 series on Superman! I think I finally realized why I am drawn to and experience calming graces in the medium of comics.
1. Larger than Life, Yet Relatable Characters: Stories portray transformation and inner conflicts within characters. Superhero comics contain traditional character developments. They also add layers to the story through its main actors possessing enhanced powers. Instead of alienating the reader, I find I am drawn into a comic book through the device of the dual identity of a superhero—their superhero appellation and their secret identity.
I will use Barry Allen/The Flash as an example because I loving running and the main power of this character revolve around speed and endurance. Most versions have Barry’s desire to help others stemming from the death of his mother at a young age. Later endowed with super-speed and Speed-Force powers from a lightning in a laboratory, Barry soon dons the mantle of The Flash! Despite his ability to nearly travel at the speed of light, Barry oftentimes has to slow down to solve both personal and professional problems. By reading these comics this superhero appeals to me because I sometimes tend to be impatient and act rashly at times.
2. Alleviation through Art: I am a visual learner. Illustrations bring me closer to the events of the comic book story. When I am reviewing books to check out from the library, one of the things I look for in a good comic is appealing artwork. The Blackest Night Green Lantern story-line contained popping colors and heroes decked in hues highlighting their unique power rings. I felt like I dove into a verbal kaleidoscope in that crossover event. I cannot quite put my finger on it but something about the artwork of the New 52 DC Series soothes my anxiety. Without alleviation through art, I would return an unread story back to the library as opposed to diving further into the comic book universe.
3. In a galaxy far, far away…there is no place like home: Along with the character development of DC’s superheroes [and even non-powered support characters] and the beautiful art, I have come to greatly enjoy the move to solar system based settings. Although strangeness abounds in the various planetary systems and alternative timelines, I get a sense of excitement and wonder instead of fear from my mind travels to exotic scenes!
The freshness is anchored by the stability of the characters in the DC universe. Despite reading a revisionist version of Superman, Batman, or other heroes, a certain familiarity and tradition still remains front and center. Traveling on these journeys provide small interludes of rest from the weariness of reality. For instance, the phones were going of the hook at my job today. I encountered strange and perplexing questions I never dealt with before. During my break time, I become an observer of Superman’s battle against his archenemy– Brainiac. I returned to the real world energized to complete my day’s remaining work.
Pontius Pilate asked Jesus Christ a question that in an old as time but still fresh and relevant today, “What is truth?” (John 18:38). Truth, reality, actuality is a perplexing thing to grasp. Humanity is not called to fully understand the mysteries of the universe yet creation is laden with hints at what the purpose of the real world is all about. What I have learned it that created truth—i.e. fiction– helps orient myself toward realizing my purpose of this life. Through the gift of fiction, I acquire a renewed and broader perspective when I return to the “real world”. I will leave you to ponder the wisdom of J.R.R. Tolkien legendary creator of Middle Earth and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Referring to fantasy as a natural human activity he states,
I have claimed that Escape is one of the main functions of fairy-stories, and since I do not disapprove of them, it is plain that I do not accept the tone of scorn or pity with which ‘Escape’ is now so often used. Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls?
There is something special about Wednesday. Maybe it is because it is the halfway point of the week and the journey toward the weekend is on the downhill slope. When I used to teach I always loved Wednesdays since that was the day we had our all-school weekly Mass. I mentored this past school year on Wednesday to a 2nd grade student and I will continue this going into the next school year. Wednesday is simply wonderful. The same is true during the lull of a humid summer day.
I want to share the whimsical Wednesday encounter with wonder I experience on the waning part of yesterday [Wednesday]. My wife took our three children [we have an almost six year old, three year old, and a 1 year old] to the library to get both her library card and their first ever library cards. Coming home from work I sensed a wonder about in our house. Gone was the normal tumult of chaos and sibling fighting. My daughter ran up to me as I entered our house with a beaming smile and holding tightly onto her new book about pigs! In the living room, oldest son was reading his book aloud.
I am a bibliophile! During the summers of my youth, I checked out a minimum of 20 books a week from my local library. I immersed myself with fiction and non-fiction books alike. I was an equal content opportunity reader—I read about every subject and still do! To find my children experience the wonder and joy of the library at such an early age, even earlier than I remember myself going, is a delight.
Little did I know that I would experience such wonder and joy on this Wednesday evening. A few weeks ago I would not have noticed this joy within my children because I was struggling with my OCD tendencies and my own personal struggles. I have since made efforts to slow down my pace and find the hidden joy and wonder in life. I thank my wife for taking time to bring our children to our city’s library and foster a love of reading! Whether you are a parent or not I strongly encourage you to visit your local library this week and encounter a wonder hidden in a story!
When I taught Old and New Testament at a Catholic High School, I developed this phrase of “Catholics Must Use Bible A.D.D.” to describe how Catholics should read the scriptures. This is my second installment of what I hope to be a regular series for this blog. What I mean by Bible A.D.D. is necessary to understand the Scriptures, is that we need to read New Testament passages in light of the Old Testament and vice versa. We should not isolate Scripture passages in order to decipher their meaning. However, we need to be careful to avoid a Biblical A.D.H.D. in which we too quickly scan over passages without understanding the context of the Bible as a whole.
Today’s topic will consider how the prophet Elisha foreshadowed Jesus Christ. This will be demonstrated via biblical typology. Biblical typology is defined as follows, “when a person or an event in the Old Testament foreshadows a person or an event in the New Testament”. I will outline three ways that Elisha foreshadows Jesus.
- Miracle of Multiplication of Food: In 2 Kings 4:42-44, Elisha− through the grace of God− feeds 100 people by way of multiplying the bread. Jesus performs a similar miracle in John 6. Aside from the parallels in the actual miracles themselves, both Elisha and Jesus receive the bread from an unnamed individual (see 2 Kings 4:42 and John 6:9).
- Healing of Lepers: Elisha heals the soldier Naaman in 2 Kings 5:9-10 through his command to have the leper wash in the Jordan seven times. Jesus also performs the same type of healing miracle, but as with most typological reading everything the Son of God does is greater than the Old Testament type (i.e. Elisha)—here Jesus heals 10 lepers.
- Preceded by a Great Prophet: Both Elisha and Jesus were heralded in by a great prophet Elijah and John the Baptist respectively. Interestingly enough, St. Luke draws a connection between these prophets when he says, “It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:17 NASB). What is most important is that both prophets point us toward Christ.
Elisha was a holy man of God who prepared for the coming of Jesus Christ. He is one of many types that foreshadow and prepare us for the Incarnation. I will continue to post examples of this typological approach to reading the Scriptures. Please also be aware that today’s writing in no way limits the connections between Jesus and Elisha to three items alone. Feel free to post any questions you have about this topic and our Christian tradition of reading Scripture through a typological lens.