Friday, September 26, 2008

Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis


The closest I ever get to science fiction is listening to Tony Bennett sing, “Fly me to the moon, let me play among the stars…” Recently my husband read me a fabulous quote from C.S. Lewis’ first novel, Out of the Silent Planet. Later when I asked him to find it again, he couldn’t and I decided to read the book myself. I won’t say I loved this book because Sci-Fi just isn’t “me”. But it fit my criteria for a worthwhile book: good writing, important ideas to mull over, and great words (bellicose, philologist, empyrean, vermiculate, coprologies, to name a few.)

The book begins with the protagonist, Ransom, being kidnapped and taken to the planet Malacandra. He describes his varying emotions as he speeds through space, the main one being that it is not as “empty” as he’d thought. Instead it seems to be pulsating and vibrating with life. “He could not feel that they were an island of life journeying through an abyss of death. He felt almost the opposite – that life was waiting outside the little iron egg-shell in which they rode, ready at any moment to break in, and that, if it killed them, it would kill them by excess of its vitality.” (p. 146)

One of the book’s themes is the misuse of science. Weston and Devine (the two villains) are planning to use Ransom as a human offering (to placate the “gods” of Malacandra) so that they can take over the planet for their own “scientific” purposes. They tell Ransom he should be inspired by the role he is being asked to play, “that even a worm, if it could understand, would rise to the sacrifice” of prolonging humanity. (p. 27) Ransom questions their autonomy by saying, “You think your are justified in doing anything – absolutely anything – here and now, on the off chance that man may crawl around a few centuries longer in some part of the universe.”

“Yes, anything whatever,” responds Weston. “And all educated opinion – for I do not call classics and history and such trash education – is entirely on my side.” (Don’t you love that jab at scientific snobbery?!)

There is much more I could tell you, but I don’t want to give the whole story away. Lewis is a genius at subtly weaving in spiritual themes and chapter 18 on the origin of evil on Thulcandra (earth) was mind blowing. The references to evil (called “bentness”) and to spiritual beings (called “eldila”) will make you think about these subjects in new ways.

You may be familiar with C.S. Lewis apologetic works or his Narnia series, but not with his space trilogy. If you like science fiction you’ll appreciate his incredibly imaginative descriptions of life on another planet. (By the way, I never did find that initial quote, but I’m glad I let my tastes in reading branch out a little.)


8 comments:

SmallWorld at Home said...

I'm with you: I love this book because Lewis is an amazing writer. I first read this when I was about 12, and I really didn't get it. I read it again at maybe 20, and I got it a little better. I really need to read the space trilogy again, even though I'm not a lover of sci-fi/fantasy at all. I think I'll have to put this on my re-read list!

Carrie said...

Hear, hear and amen! =)

Framed said...

C. S. Lewis wrote sci fi?? I never knew. I've only read a few of his books but really liked them. I'll keep this in mind if I ever take up science fiction.

Mandi said...

Read the rest of the trilogy!!! All three of these books are among my absolute favorites. I read them over and over again. Sometimes several times a year. You don't have to enjoy Sci-Fi to love them. They are amazing works of literature and truly groundbreaking for the genre. (Lewis was the first Sci-Fi author to imagine that alien beings might actually better than humans.)

Phyl said...

I think you'd really like the second book, "Perelandra," where the original Garden-of-Eden-style temptation is re-enacted on another world. You don't have to agree with the religious view or philosophy to enjoy it; it's interesting food for thought.

By the way, Lewis also wrote poetry. If you can find some of it, I bet you'd really enjoy it. He always wrote stuff that really required people to think.

Ken Brown said...

Note should also be made of Til We Have Faces, which Lewis considered (rightly!) his most mature work of fiction. It's brilliant.

Z-Kids said...

I have to second what Phyl said... Read book #2! I didn't care much for Silent Planet, or Hideous Strength - at all. BUT Perelandria is my absolute favorite book of all time. Even better than the Narnia books which I love dearly...
Z-Dad

Heather said...

Well, I loved Out of the Silent Planet... and hated Perelandra. The third one I have not yet read; Perelandra put me right off. I will probably read it someday, but I will wait until I have reread OOTSP and forgotten Perelandra before I do so.

I think I like OOSTP better because it can be read as a beautiful story in and of itself. Perelandra shoved the allegory down my throat until I gagged on it. I'm glad I read OOTSP first...