Saturday, May 24, 2008

Out of the Silent Planet

Out of the Silent Planet
by C.S. Lewis

I read the first of the Space Trilogy when I was about thirteen years old. And I was more than a little disturbed. A rather oafish hero who made a poor spectacle of himself when trying to rescue a half-witted boy, a strange kidnapping, a human sacrifice to a weird alien called a sorn, a planet that was far too vertical, a villain who used far too much rough language, a book that was far too strange and beyond my comprehension to grasp.

I think I finished the book, but I pretty much skimmed it. It was disturbing, and I wanted to be done with it as quickly as possible. And I never read it again.

Until yesterday... and how great a change there can be in the mind of person in the course of only five short years! How had I missed the magic and wonder of the planet Malacandra?

Dr. Ransom still wasn't quite the dashing hero that I'd been accustomed to as a young person. But this time around, I found it not off-putting, but extremely amusing. He plans some harsh words to the kidnappers, and they come out as only a feeble: "Here! I say..." And when one of the kidnappers uses the fully intimidating tone that he'd attempted, his humiliation is furthered.

He was going on a walking tour, and a slight fork in the road brought him to what we call Mars. And there he hears that he is going to be given to the sorns, for a human sacrifice. Unsurprisingly, he makes his escape as soon as possible, and heads out into the foreign landscapes alone.

There isn't precisely a 'plot' in this story, which is to say that there's no real action, no real villainous plotting, no real alien wars, and no terrifying insect-like creatures. The lack of them, in fact, is rather the point of the story. Ransom, well-versed in his science fiction, expects creatures of the most grotesque kind to take him and dissect him.

Instead, he meets beings like the hrossa, skillful at fishing and lovers of poetry. He learns to speak their language, and learns ever so much more than that. He realizes that he is not on a planet of strange and fearsome monsters, but on a planet of moral and rational beings. To see his terror in his first flight gradually change to a respect and kinship with the hrossa is truly magical.

He meets the sorn, tall, wise, and a bit remote; and my personal favorite, the pfifltrigg: a creature that bears a faint resemblance to a shrew, at least as far as the shape of its head is concerned, a bouncy, twittering little creature that chuckles and paints portraits.

It was a truly marvelous experience. Ransom's meetings with these strange beings, his discussions with them of love, memory, philosophy, morality... all these things are truly amazing. I've always loved Lewis' Narnia books; in this book, I found myself in a land that was just as magical, and in many ways even more so, and in many ways far more profound.

I'm not generally a big fan of the science fiction genre, but I'm hooked on this Trilogy. I'm delighted that there are two more to go, and very, very sorry that there are only two

1 comment:

lissla lissar said...

Good review. I look forward to your thoughts on the other two. I find That Hideous Strength pretty disturbing and dark, very Charles Williams-ish. Perelandra is incredibly beautiful.