Out Of The Silent Planet – CS Lewis (1938)
Man, arrogant yet fearful, stands in the presence of the god-like creatures who populate the universe – is judged and found wanting.
Two men sought to plunder a planet – a third was offered as hostage to the unknown…
More than a brilliantly imaginative picture of life on another world – ‘Out of the Silent Planet’ mirrors the inhumanities of man and contrasts a civilization of harmony and peace with the discord on Earth today.’
Blurb from the 1974 Pan paperback edition.
Lewis is a writer of consummate prose which flows effortlessly across the pages. One could read this not knowing that Lewis was a friend and contemporary of Tolkien, as well as being a devoted Christian and, as I once did, find it simply enjoyable and beautiful as a work of fiction.
Lewis’ work (in which can be included the Narnia Chronicles) gains a far greater depth when considered in the light of Lewis’ Christianity. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, for instance, replays the crucifixion when Aslan (to all intents and purposes the Christ figure) allows himself to be sacrificed for the sake of an innocent, and is subsequently resurrected.
Here, Lewis goes farther back into Christian Theology to the time of the fall of Lucifer.
The novel starts in an England of the Nineteen Thirties where the philologist Professor Ransom is on a walking holiday and finds himself without a place to stay for the night.
Turning up at a large country house he finds to his surprise an old schoolmate, Devine, who invites him to stay, after introducing him to his colleague, Weston.
After dinner, Ransom finds himself unnaturally sleepy, only to awaken on board what he finally realises to be a space ship, en route to another world.
Ransom is made to work during the journey, and finally overhears his captors’ plans. They intend to hand Ransom over to the natives of the planet, who wish to sacrifice him.
Upon landing, Ransom gets a brief glimpse of the natives, tall gangly creatures with long fingers and heads like inverted cones, the creatures Devine calls ‘Sorns’.
Ransom takes his chance and escapes into the strange jungles of Malacandra, the planet we know as Mars.
He is taken in by the Hrossa, large Otterlike creatures from whom he learns of the three races of Malacandra: the Sorns, who are logical scientific philosophical creatures, the Hrossa who are practical, but romantic and poetic, and the Pfifltriggi, a race of small creatures who love mining and building mechanisms.
Ransom then discovers the existence of a fourth race, the Eldila, who seem to float unseen around the world and who, like all the other races, serve Oyarsa, the ruler of the planet.
Lewis paints Malacandra as a pastoral paradise where the races live in harmony and no ‘hnau’, as intelligent beings are termed, are ‘bent’ in the sense that Weston and Devine are bent.
Ransom is summoned before the Oyarsa, as are Weston and Devine who have killed one of the Hrossa. Oyarsa tells him that Earth is known as Thulcandra, the silent planet, since there was a war among the eldila long ago that left Mars scarred and much of its surface uninhabitable. Maleldil, who created all the worlds, cast down the Oyarsa of Earth and nothing has been heard from him since.
It becomes obvious here that the Oyarsa of the various planets are what we would term archangels. The Oyarsa of Earth would then have been Lucifer, the fallen angel.
Lewis’ Mars is a beautiful and surreal place. His depiction of the jungles and foliage is compelling and oddly credible, despite the fact that we are expected to believe that the habitable areas of Mars lie in deep canyons with what is left of the breathable atmosphere. However, we should allow Lewis artistic license since this is a form of religious fantasy rather than true Science Fiction; a parable in which twentieth century Humanity is compared to what we could have been had Adam and Eve not got rebellious with the apple rule.