Why is Merlin in That Hideous Strength?

Here is a BRILLIANT post by Brenton Dickieson about Merlin in That Hideous Strength. Enjoy!

A Pilgrim in Narnia

King Arthur old            I am writing a paper on C.S. Lewis and the Arthurian tradition for Sørina Higgins’ collection, The Inklings and King Arthur. As I trawl through the materials one common theme keeps coming back: How do we explain the sudden appearance of Merlin in That Hideous Strength (1945)?

Part of the ultimate answer is this: “Charles Williams and J.R.R. Tolkien.” Williams and Tolkien, both writers struggling with Arthurian stories and both close friends of Lewis—they are the reason that Merlin appears. They influence the way that Lewis shaped his science fiction writing during WWII.

This claim won’t shock readers of the Inklings or C.S. Lewis scholars; it was from Sørina that I first heard That Hideous Strength (THS) called “The Charles Williams novel by C.S. Lewis.” While the first Ransom book, Out of the Silent Planet (1938), was an H.G. Wells space fantasy—what he…

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About Sørina Higgins

Sørina Higgins is Editor-in-Chief of the Signum University Press. She holds a Ph.D. in English from Baylor University. Dr. Higgins is currently co-editing a volume on the ethical turn in speculative fiction with Dr. Brenton Dickieson and previously edited an academic essay collection entitled The Inklings and King Arthur. She is also the author of the blog The Oddest Inkling, devoted to a systematic study of Charles Williams’ works. As a creative writer, Sørina has a volume of short stories, A Handful of Hazelnuts, forthcoming from Signum’s own press. Outside of academia, Sørina enjoys practicing yoga, playing with her cats, cooking, baking, podcasting, gardening, dancing, and ranting about the state of the world.
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2 Responses to Why is Merlin in That Hideous Strength?

  1. I believe another ‘reason’ (if that’s the word) for the appearance of Merlin in That Hideous Strength is that, no doubt unconsciously, Lewis drew much of the plot and structure of the novel from John Masefield’s 1935 children’s novel The Box of Delights, in which a cathedral is taken over by a wicked group of people who kidnap good characters, keep animals imprisoned in the basement, and are concerned with the return of a magician – in this case, Ramon Llul (or ‘Lully’) the alchemist. My impression is that Lewis recreated The Box of Delights as an adult novel, and substituted Merlin for Lully. (It’s many years since I readf the Maewfield novel,. so I may have scrambled things slightly: apologies if so.)


    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      Wow! I was just lately burbling about Masefield and the Arthurian ‘matter’ in the comments at Brenton’s original posting of this, but that ‘parallel’ (at the least!) never occurred to me – what a fascinating suggestion! (And persuasive as you put it – what a good encouragement to reread The Box of Delights, soon! I am not sure if Sehnsucht comes into it, but The Midnight Folk and The Box of Delights are two of the most achingly enjoyable books I have ever read…)


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