Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Out of The Silent Planet

My reading partner and I have just finished reading our 128th book together, C.S. Lewis’s [1956] novel, Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold.
My next little literary project will be to write a review of this excellent book, which I have now read for the third time. We both enjoyed it.
It continues to provoke much discussion fodder.
We’ve since moved onto something more modern [yet set a half-century ago], The Night Watch by Sarah Waters.
It's a dandy! Meanwhile, I have been trying to hornswaggle [← is that a word?] her into committing to read C.S. Lewis’s science-fiction trilogy with me.
So far, no success.
I can’t help it though. I love C.S. Lewis.
And of the trilogy, I think the first one, Out Of The Silent Planet is the best!

This is the great lay-theologian's foray into sci-fi, first published in 1938.
I mention that date, because this book does not resemble much current "science fiction." It's definitely fiction... but not very scientific.
For instance, Lewis avoids explaining any technical problems in how these characters actually leave Earth's atmosphere (or return). What is the source of propulsion? Nowadays, a 7-year-old reader would get bogged down in the first few pages, realizing that everyone would be burnt to a crisp in the homemade space-contraption Lewis blithely hurtles them off in.
That being said... the book is still a gem.

It begins with Dr. Elwin Ransom (a middle-aged Philologist from Cambridge University) being kidnapped by two men, Dick Devine and Dr. Weston, the latter being a mad physicist who wants to extend humanity to other planets.
At first, Ransom is excited with this journey to Malacandra (Mars)... until he overhears that he is going to be offered as a sacrifice to the space-creatures called "sorns."
Devine and Weston have been to Malacandra before, and have convinced themselves that a human sacrifice is recquired by the sorns, in return for the right to exploit the planet's gold deposits.
Upon arrival, Ransom escapes, beginning a conflict that lasts the length of the book and extends to its sequel "Perelandra."
In Silent Planet, Lewis explores many deep themes... the primary one being that, if there is life on another planet, there is no need for us to assume that it is in a "fallen" state, or filled with wickedness, or in need of redemption, as our own is.
If we reached other planets we might find a race which was, like us, rational, but, unlike us, innocent i.e., having no wars in their history, nor any other wickedness among them.
If this were so, we would have much to learn from such creatures, and have nothing to teach them. But, because of our own "bentness" we would probably find some reason for exterminating them.
This is what happens here in Out Of The Silent Planet.

Lewis was inspired to write this book after finding that many of his own students held to beliefs in interplanetary colonization and the scientific hope of defeating physical death. Out Of The Silent Planet is an attack on the belief that the supreme moral end of mankind is the perpetuation of our own species.
The book is so rich in invention, so broad in scope, so sensuously perceptive in descriptive detail that, after reading it, it's difficult to view the Cosmos through any but Lewis' eyes. Seriously, after my first reading, I walked outside and looked up into the night sky and wondered... "What if?"

I encourage you to try and get your reading partner to read it along with you!
If you succeed, please let me know which bribery tactics worked best!

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5 comments:

Beth said...

I'm adding these to my "wish list." And I think my youngest would be interested as well - especially in the trilogy.

(If hornswaggle isn't a word, it should be.)

stefanie said...

I read Til We Have Faces a while back and enjoyed it very much. I've wondered about the scifi. Thanks for the review, I'll have to look for it sometime beause it sounds like fun.

cipriano said...

Yes, Stef and Beth. These are all great books, really enjoyable.
As are the Narnia series, in my opinion.

Merisi's Vienna For Beginners said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Merisi's Vienna For Beginners said...

With reading, bribery tactics don't work with me, though I did go out of my way ro read books because I wanted to know what that other person was so nuts about. ;-) How does that saying go about big oaks and little strokes? *smile*
(I deleted my first comment to correct it!)