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Out of the Silent Planet

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Out of the Silent Planet is C.S. Lewis' brilliant first novel, the first of a science fiction trilogy that has been called Space Trilogy, Cosmic Trilogy, and Ransom Trilogy. Disenchanted with the current fiction of the late 1930's Lewis and his friend J.R.R. Tolkien decided to write science fiction. In so doing, they helped usher in the Golden Age of Science Fiction, historian Adam Roberts's official date being the July 1939 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. Lewis was to write about outer space, while Tolkien would create a tale of time travel.
Unfortunately, Tolkien's story was never fully completed. However, Out of the Silent Planet became a classic work. Some believe that Tolkien, a philologist, was the model for Elwin Ransom and this is reasonable. The book itself is a takeoff on the 1920 novel of good vs. evil, A Voyage to Arcturus, by David Lindsay; and shows the influence of HG Wells. Early science fiction is fascinating. It provided authors otherworldly settings for futuristic morality plays and explorations of mankind’s failings and peak moments in places akin to heaven, hell, and limbo.

Alternate realities were used to show how the world could differ if humans would make different choices. Above all, these stories offered hope for a human future, carried forward by literary and film works like Space Patrol, the Star Trek franchise, Babylon Five, and Stargate. Even the hilarious 3rd Rock from the Sun is full of hope for mankind.

Lewis offers a different brand of hope. It is not only the hope of good overcoming evil and man curing social ills with guidance from other beings, but it is the hope of heaven. Ransom agrees to help find Harry and goes to the mansion to discover an old university associate, Devine, and the abrasive physicist, Dr. Weston. Harry is there, but Devine and Weston manipulate Ransom into drinking drugged wine. Next morning, Ransom is lying on a cot in a flying metal soccer ball, wondering about the source of the heavenly light shining through the skylights.
He had been shanghaied by the mansion-dwellers to another planet. Interestingly, the brightness and warmth of sunlight or space-light, without nighttime interference is eerily like that described in modern nonfiction. In 90 Minutes in Heaven, Pastor Don Piper tells of his death in a crash with a semi truck. He instantly appeared at heaven’s gate, where his Christian friends and relatives waited to greet and walk him inside.

Piper describes a light everywhere, shining brighter the closer he walked to the gate, overwhelming but irresistible. When he reached the gate after 90 minutes, he returned to his body to find a fellow pastor praying over him. As I read about the light of Sol and of space--Deep Heaven in the book--a chill shot through me in recall of Piper’s heaven. It was stunning that authors 70 years apart created similar images and/or metaphor.

While landing on colorful Malacandra (Mars), Ransom finds Devine and Weston plotting to offer him up as a sacrifice to a towering, pale sentient race known as "sorn" in appeasement so they may steal more sun’s-blood (gold) undeterred. Ransom escapes and meets the "hrossa," a dark otter-like people and the sentient pfifltriggi (frog-beings). These three races live in peace--why can't humans? Ransom's name foreshadows his intended sacrifice by kidnappers for gold. He also asks the Malacandrians to kill him if it will save Mars from his kidnappers future human space travelers.
Devine's name may be a literary reference a divine sacrifice of a ransom for mankind (God and Jesus). It may also be a reference to false divinity; Devine is stealing, after all. Harry's name reminds me that the devil is called "Old Harry" in England and perhaps it is a reference to the devil’s impact in Harry's decreased mental capacities in a fallen world. In addition, the sorn are likely Caucasians; the hrossa, Negroid; and the pfifltriggi, Asians. On Mars they can get along, but on Earth they cannot, especially in the days of 1938 leading up to WWII.

Ransom lives among the hrossa, learns their language, and finds that all Malacandrians speak it. Their word for "evil" is "bent" and there are bent men and bent spirits in this novel. Each race also has its own language for use at home. It is unusual that a character learns the language of aliens, and not the other way round, and in this, Lewis may be offering a way for human races to come together.

He may also be offering a description of the heavenly language of men and angels from the Bible. Ransom discerns the eldili: light-beings and most likely angels, since they bring messages to sentients. The eldili belong to Maledil (God).The leader of the eldili on the planet is the Oyarsa of Malacandra, who must be a metaphor for an archangel rather than for Jesus. It is explained by this Good Oyarsa that the Bent Oyarsa was banished to Earth with his bent eldili.
This parallels Satan's fall from heaven with 1/3 of the angels; while Satan is the Biblical "ruler of this world." Because the Bent Ones corrupt Earth, she is cut off from communication with Deep Heaven and called "the silent planet": Thulcandra. Some individuals today might accept this as the reason that the SETI project (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) is not uncovering substantial communications from outer space.

Near the novel's end, Devine and Weston confront the Good Oyarsa, while Ransom interprets. Weston is so wordy and inarticulate at once in the Malacandrian language, that Oyarsa asks if Ransom's kidnappers are wounded in the brain. He asks again as Weston hops up and down warbling "Pretty, pretty, pretty," describing beads he wants to trade for Martian valuables, like beads to the Indians for New York. It is uproariously funny-- Imagine the Archangel Michael asking about current politicians, "Do they have brain damage. Can we bring them a doctor?"

Anyone who likes science fiction and its beginnings and the history of space travel will enjoy this book. Believers and nonbelievers alike will be enchanted by its imagery and metaphor. Ransom does return home and he prepares for more space travel. It is all fascinating.

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