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On The Back Cover …

This is my copy of That Hideous Strength, the third of the “Space Trilogy” by C.S. Lewis. If for some reason the photo here isn’t showing or you can’t make out the words, here is this edition’s back-cover copy: The […]
| Aug 17, 2010 | No comments

This is my copy of That Hideous Strength, the third of the “Space Trilogy” by C.S. Lewis. If for some reason the photo here isn’t showing or you can’t make out the words, here is this edition’s back-cover copy:

The final book in C.S. Lewis’s acclaimed Space Trilogy, which includes Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra, That Hideous Strength concludes the adventures of the matchless Dr. Ransom. Finding himself in a world of superior alien beings and scientific experiments run amok, Dr. Ransom struggles with questions of ethics and morality, applying age-old wisdom to a brave new universe dominated by science. His quest for truth is a journey filled with intrigue and suspense.

That’s a brilliant back cover, it is. Simply smashing, and quite accurate, if you don’t count the following parts:

  • The world isn’t filled with “superior alien beings.”
  • There is science, and an evil National Institute for Co-ordinated Experiments, but never “scientific experiments run amok.”
  • Dr. Ransom hardly struggles with ethics and morality; he knows them.
  • Dr. Ransom isn’t even the main character.

So other than that, the back cover is accurate.

Lest it be said that perhaps someone only read the book once, and based the description on dodgy memory — I’ve also read the book only once (excepting going back to review some parts), and remember better.

By the way, Hideous’s front cover isn’t much better. While the previous installments of this edition have included very “literal” illustrations, I’ve never been able to figure  this one out, and conclude it’s somehow metaphorical. (Who are the men in the middle? Ransom? Mark Studdock? The N.I.C.E. villains? Merlin? And what world is this?)

Yet what’s the deal with this strange back-cover description? Have you read other back covers that didn’t quite match the actual novel? What about those covers that either give away too many details, or don’t reveal enough about the story within? Have you, as an attempting or published novelist, found difficulty writing your own novel’s back-cover-style summary, or has someone else written that for you?

E. Stephen Burnett explores biblical truth and fantastic stories as editor in chief of Lorehaven Magazine and writer at Speculative Faith. He has also written for Christianity Today and Christ and Pop Culture. He and his wife, Lacy, live in the Austin area and serve as members of Southern Hills Baptist Church.

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Stuart Stockton
Member

That sounds and looks more like “Out of the Silent Planet” than “That Hideous Strength”.

I think that most large publishers have their marketing teams write the back cover copy for their books, with input from editorial and the authors at times.

Writing back cover copy is tough because you’re trying to boil down the essense of the story while also providing an irresistable hook that will make people want to read the story.

I think that’s usually easier for someone who isn’t as attached to the book as an author is.

I wrote the back cover copy for Starfire, along with my publisher’s editorial input, and I’m not sure that it struck the right balance of engaging and informative. Maybe I should have just said, Alien dinosaurs seek the ultimate weapon! But will it save them or doom them? 😉

Esther
Guest
Esther

Wait…back cover copy is supposed to actually be recognizable from the book?

Sheesh. I never knew.

Christian
Guest
Christian

While there are about 80 or so pages in the middle of That Hideous Strength that I felt weren’t necessary, this book still intrigues, entertains and challenges me. It’s my favourite book in The Cosmic Trilogy.

Yes, I’ve seen several books with either incorrect or incredibly bland summaries on the back. I’ve seen more incorrect book covers though. It seems that the 60’s and 70’s were an especially good time to have an artist incorrectly portray the contents of your book.

I like the cover of your copy, even though I don’t understand it either.

My copy of That Hideous Strength is abridged, a 1973 Pan Books publication. Let’s see it’s summary:
“Over Earth The Shadow of a Dark Wing…
A small English town becomes the centre of a gigantic conspiracy against the human race when a truly devilish organisation wishes to recreate mankind in the image of slave robots.
Ranged against them are Dr. Ransom, the clairvoyant Jane, and Druid Merlin who ascends from his Arthurian tomb to become an ally of planetary angels. Together they face the dark powers of evil…”

It’s not terrible, although the first part makes it sound like bad sci-fi fiction and the second part is intriguing but gives too much away in regards to Merlin. That said, it feels more true to the actual story than your copy.

I don’t like the front cover of mine, ick!
comment image

Who is that floating head meant to be, Merlin? And why are there castles? And what’s with the marbled garden floor leading to a pool of water? I don’t remember any this.

As I’m still (more like properly beginning) my speculative novel, I haven’t attempted to write my own back cover summary yet but I’ve thought about it. I think the worst ‘sin’ you can do in writing it is to make it boring and this goes especially for the summary, since it’s meant to help sell the book. How do you strike the balance between reeling in the reader and revealing too much? Yes, it’s one of those age-old dilemmas, isn’t it?

I’m loving the new look to the site and the new content. Keep at it!

Christian
Guest
Christian

Haha! I love your Prairie Romance book cover and summary. It includes everything that makes the genre so tired and vapid, although you and Lacy look neither tired or vapid but hilariously angsty or confused. Probably more confused. I would be too if I had to pose for the cover of a Prairie Romance novel. You two make a great couple.

It’s the year 1878!
– The late 1800’s? Well done Einstein. I bet you took the Nothing new under the sun verse in Ezkiel and rang with it, didn’t you? What are you going to do next? Set your novel in an Amish village with nary a real problem to overcome?

Sierra Samantha Victoria Hutchinson Dick Cheney O’Regan Begorrah Lancaster is a (select one: frontier doctor/lawyer/U.S. Marshal, daughter of Irish immigrants, abandoned orphan, child of stern Amish upbringing)
– Cry a single tear as Sierra, the abandoned orphan discovers she isn’t really an orphan, nor abandoned but very loved. Witness her Hollywood big-wig biological parents sue the Amish community for damages as they realise their daughter is technologically backward.

who is (select one: trying to make her way in a career dominated by men, struggling to understand a new land and find true love, suppressing her own loneliness brought on by the man who left her behind, trying to reconcile her faith and childhood abuses).
– Weep as Sierra struggles to come to terms with the new land she finds herself in. Gasp in ecstasy as she discovers the true love she never knew she had or wanted in the first place. Be amazed as Sierra makes her choice. Does she live happily ever after with her Perfect Man or does she risk it all to reconcile with her parents? Make the journey with me.

“Dawn’s Unending Rise is unputdownable. By that I do not mean that the book is worthy of your time, nor that I just used a made-up word abused by book quoters’ everywhere, but that the publisher has craftily affixed super-glue to the pages.
I have found that I cannot go anywhere in public for fear of being recognised cradling this ‘wonderful’ piece of literature. And neither will you.”

Oh dear, I’ve almost made the summary sound too interesting. Hope you enjoy it.

Ken Rolph
Guest
Ken Rolph

My HarperCollins edition front cover had a giant bear menacing a man in a white coat. Off both sides are collapsing columns and figures of escaping animals fill in the rest. The back cover text is quite respectable.

I’ve known a few illustrators. Most don’t read and have scant regard for the contents of the book they are working on. For them it’s just a pretext for their own artistic expression.

Christian
Guest
Christian

Ken, I’ve read that edition before. I liked it a lot. Maybe I’m a little superficial in saying this but I found That Hideous Strength to be an easier read when there are less words per page, more pages and a larger, cleaner typeface. Many old books cram too many words to a page but the eyes need breathing space and this edition delivered.

Kirsty
Guest

Hi Ken,
I’m an illustrator, and it was the situation you describe above that made me decide as a child that I was going to illustrate books, and I was going to do it properly!
I’m very pedantic about accuracy.

To be fair, I believe some illustrators have to do the illustration before the book is even finished being written. Which is not their fault, but completely crazy.

But basically, if you’re illustrating something, you should not be just doing your own thing, but doing it within the bounds of what you’re illustrating.

OK, rant over!

Ken Rolph
Guest
Ken Rolph

I know a good artist who is named Sean. Or perhaps Shaun, or Shawn. It all depends on the graphic needs of the space which his name is occupying. I know another who is very proud of the fact that he never read the books he illustrates. He gets the writer or publisher to give him a general idea. He says it makes sure he brings a fresh perspective. He thinks the artwork is an equal contribution. Artists have no respect for words. I think they are secretly annoyed that they don’t have a word equivalent to “literate”. They have to settle for “visually literate” which makes them seem second rate.

Generally I like artists to have their own ideas. I’ve just commissioned a cover. I supplied a photograph, barcode, publisher’s symbol, title/author and just asked for something clean, simple, unfussy. The result was something I could not have imagined myself because my mind just doesn’t work that way. The draft of the cover so far has made me excited and satisfied. So maybe having artists go off and do their own thing can often have good results.

It’s just that when it doesn’t it tends to stick out.

Kirsty
Guest

Someartists have no respect for words 🙂

Kaci Hill
Member

Never tick off the tech crew, the editors, or the the artists. Their ways are strange and they are swift to revenge. 😉

Stuart Stockton
Member

One of the things I’ve loved about the Marcher Lord Press experience is the cover artist has actually insisted on reading the book before he does the cover art (props to Kirk Douponce for his mad skillz on my Starfire cover) I think it has really shown in the covers he has done.

Stuart Stockton
Member

I had some basic cover designs in mind. Even sent along some notes about scenes that might make good covers. But in the end Kirk decided to do something more representative rather than a literal depiction. Which I think worked out splendidly.

I did get to provide some feedback on the cover as it was developed though, which was a cool experience, seeing it go from early designs to the finished product. I don’t think that’s a very common practice though. With my wife’s books, she gets one shot at making suggestions for cover changes.

Interesting trivia fact. The same artist that did the cover for “Starfire” also did the cover for my wife’s novel compliation “Liberty’s Promise” from heartsong. 🙂

Kaci Hill
Member

My copy of That Hideous Strength is the same as Stephen’s. Course, I’ve only read the first two.

Per prairie romances: As a woman, can I put in a request that all these women find something better to do than moan about “evil patriarchal men”? Pretty please? (Do not get me started.)

Per spiritual crises: I’m not sure how healthy fixating on “spiritual midlife crisis” is. Maybe, occasionally, it’d be nice to see someone rock solid despite the hurricane around them. Occasionally, you know. You know, meet the storm head on and go full throttle through the center.

Hmmm. Think I covered everything.

Ten Boom
Guest

Wow! another brilliant post that I can share to my fellowmen in our Church. I would love to read more of this. Thank you so much for posting these kind of books. I’m just wondering about the back cover but it’s ok. The important is the content of the book. Kudos to the Authors. Regards

Galadriel
Guest

My issue of That Hideous Strength  has an even more hideous cover. And even a quick Google search reveals many more examples.