I finished C. S. Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet, Scribner 2003, over the weekend.
I read the novel for the first time in 1977, when I was a research fellow at the University of Chicago. I was quite taken with the book at that time and I liked it even more this time.
One of the things that impressed me was its unity of plot and tone. As I said in an earlier posting, I was disturbed by the breach in tone and unity in Prince Caspian. I did not have that problem here.
Lewis works with the “medieval concept of the planets as containing or embodying some reflection of the classical deities-Intelligences or tutelary spirits-the mythological-cum-astrological personifications of Saturn and Jupiter, of Mars, Venus and Mercury about which [he] was lecturing in the ‘Prolegomena to the study of Medieval Literature.’” (C.S. Lewis: The Authorized and Revised Biography, Roger Lancelyn Green and Walter Hooper, Harper Collins, 2002)
Lewis stated that his purpose in writing the book was to create myth and his donnée in Jamesian terms was to create a world where he explains the fall of man on earth by discussing a planet where the creatures have not fallen.
He writes in his essay “The Seeing Eye” in Christian Reflections, (ed. Walter Hooper, Fount 1998) that
“I observe how the white man has hitherto treated the black, and how, even among civilized men, the stronger have treated the weaker. If we encounter in the depth of space a race, however, innocent and amiable, which is technologically weaker than ourselves, I do not doubt that the same revolting story will be repeated . . . .It was in part these reflections that first moved me to make my own small contributions to science fiction.”
In the novel, two men kidnap Dr. Elwin Ransom, a philologist of Cambridge University, and take him to the planet Malacandra to be sacrificed by creatures of the planet called sorns.
Once on the planet Ransom escapes and hides among the hrossa, gentle creatures that live a pre-fall existence.
I was quite struck by the fact that Lewis remains consistent with the agrarian vegetarian lifestyle of Adam before his expulsion from the Garden.
The creatures of Malacandra do not sow or hunt; instead, the planet provides them food. Even the grass they walk upon is edible. This world is consistent with Eden.
“God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’” Genesis 1:28.
“Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.” Genesis 1:29.
Into this world of peace and innocence come the three earthlings looking for gold and Lebensraum for the human race. With them they bring their greed and their fallen-ness.
Perhaps, the most poignant section of the novel is the murder of Ransom’s friend and guide, Hyoi, by Weston and Devine. Man brings death and destruction with him, the mark of Cain.
The result is that the three are cast out of the edenic planet and sent back to earth.