The second book I’m reading for my Regent class is Out of the Silent Planet. I’ve read this one before, or, rather, it was read to a group of us in college when a small band of curious listeners would converge on Larry and Lorraine’s living room for Beth’s weekly literary reading. The group, fittingly enough, was called Inklings.
So it’s been a good refresher to return to this first book in Lewis’ science fiction trilogy. What strikes me the most thus far is Lewis’ ability to present fascinating ideas about reality through the mind of his main character, Dr. Elwin Ransom (a philologist whom he designed partially off of his friend, J.R.R. Tolkien!) What Ransom experiences through his voyages to Malacandra (what we call Mars) and his experiences thereon are nothing short of fantastic. Along the way Lewis shares some fascinating ideas.
Here’s an example of how Lewis reimagines Space itself. Ransom is sailing along in his space-ship and discovers that one side of the ship is always night and the other is always at “noon.” He finds himself continually drawn to the light, for while he bathes in the glow he feels himself being changed:
There, totally immersed in a bath of pure ethereal colour and of unrelenting though unwounding brightness, stretched his full length and with eyes half closed in the strange chariot that bore them, faintly quivering, through depth after depth of tranquillity far above the reach of night, he felt his body and mind daily rubbed and scoured and filled with new vitality.…
[He] became aware of another and more spiritual cause for his progressive lightening and exultation of heart. A nightmare, long engendered in the modern mind…that follows in the wake of science, was falling off of him. He had read of ‘Space’: at the back of his thinking for years had lurked the dismal fancy of the black, cold vacuity, the utter deadness, which was supposed to separate the worlds. He had not known how much it affected him till now – no that the very name ‘Space’ seemed a blasphemous libel for this empyrean ocean of radiance in which they swam. He could not call it ‘dead’; he felt life pouring into him from it every moment… No: Space was the wrong name. Older thinkers had been wiser when they named it simply the heavens… (Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet, 34-35).
Soon after the crew descends upon Malacandra, and Ransom has another revelation and his earlier thoughts come to conclusion:
They were falling out of heaven, into a world. Nothing in all his adventures bit so deeply into Ransom’s mind as this. He wondered how he could ever have thought of planets, even of the Earth, as islands of life and reality floating in a deadly void. Now, with a certainty which never after deserted him, he saw the planets – the ‘earths’ he called them in his thought – as mere holes or gaps in the living heaven – excluded and rejected wastes of heavy matter and murky air, formed not by addition to, but by subtraction from, the surrounding brightness.
Things do not always happen as a man would expect. The moment of his arrival in an unknown world found Ransom wholly absorbed in a philosophical speculation. (Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet, 45).
What is love is how Lewis’ imagination finds it way onto the page. It’s like he has his characters moving along and then has this idea about space and finds this way to have Ransom think it through in a believable way and even giving us as readers an opportunity to share in his epiphany. Also, it’s just such a neat thought… that space is more alive than the worlds are.
Have a good one!
C.S. Lewis. Out of the Silent Planet. London: HarperCollins Publishers, 2005.