Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis

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lewis.jpg Background of Author
Clive Staples Lewis was born on November 29th, 1898 in Dundela Villas, Belfast. He was the son of a prosecuting attourney and highly educated mother. As a child he loved making up stories and reading. As an adolescent he discovered Germanic and Norse Mythology, or Northern mythology, and became infatuated with it. He even took Christianity as a myth. He served in WWI even though as an Irishman he was exempt, but he wanted to serve. He went to Oxford, where he met J.R.R. Tolkein in 1926 at which point they became very close friends until the 1950s and they critiqued each-others' works in manuscript. In 1929 he converted back to theism and in 1931 he fully accepted Christianity because of Tolkein (a catholic) and through his reading. Out of the Silent Planet was his first novel, published in 1938, the first of his Space Trilogy––also known as his 'Cosmic Trilogy' or 'Ransom Trilogy'. The other books in the trilogy are Perelandra (1943) and That Hideous Strength (1945). During his lifetime, C.S. Lewis was a poet, scholar, literary critic, Christian apologist and theologian, autobiographer, and novelist. All of his works reflect his love of God's creation and expresses his belief in "something more" (Bosky, 2002). It is apparent in his works, including Out of the Silent Planet, that he doesn't see Christ as static or in the past, but his study of medieval literature and "painfully-acquired faith" give him personal feeling for Christ and a deep intellectual understanding of His "immediacy" (Gibbons, 100).

Brief Plot Summary

To clarify the plot summary, here is a table of some of the terms used in the novel and their definitions.
Out of the Silent Planet Terms
Malacandra
what the inhabitants call Mars
hnau
rational and made in the image of Maleldil; more info in Rationality section
hross
beaver-like rational creature on Malacandra (plural: hrossa)
sorn
long lanky rational creature that resembles a human (plural: séroni)
eldil
invisible angel-like spirit (plural: eldila); more info in Religion and
Interpretation sections
Oyarsa
eldil appointed to rule each planet (plural, Oyéresu)
Melidorn
city where Oyarsa of Malacandra resides
Thulcandra
Malacandran name for Earth, which means the Silent Planet (called silent because
the Oyarsa of Earth disobeyed Maleldil and got cut off from the rest of the universe
Maleldil
creator of the universe
Out of the Silent Planet begins with Dr. Elwin Ransom, a philologist from Cambridge, who is going on a hiking trip when he meets two old school acquaintances, Professor Weston and Mr. Devine, who abduct him, drug him, and take him up into space with them. They are on their way ton2938.jpg Mars, which the inhabitants call Malacandra. Their long voyage through space takes place in a spherical space-ship Weston and Devine built for the purpose of exploiting Malacandra's resources (specifically, gold or "sun's blood") and for the perpetuation of the human race throughout the universe as each planet becomes uninhabitable. Their true objective is kept secret from Ransom, however, since they captured him to use as a human sacrifice for the inhabitants. Ransom overhears what their purpose for him is, and when they land on Malacandra and he sees the alien creature called a sorn, he runs off into the wilderness of the strange planet to escape his captors and what he perceives to be bestial aliens. He encounters another alien creature, a hross named Hyoi, who he befriends and lives with for a time in his village. There he learns the language of Hressa-Hlab and learns about their culture. When on a hunting trip with the hrossa, he encounters an eldil, an invisible spirit, who tells him he has to meet Oyarsa, the ruling eldil of Malacandra. When Ransom refuses, Weston and Devine show up and kill Hyoi. The other hrossa say this is punishment for disobeying Oyarsa, therefore Ransom must go meet Him in Melidorn. On his journey he finally meets a sorn, Augray, who he discovers to be a rational being and not a predator. Augray teaches him about Oyarsa and the eldila and carries Ransom on his back to Melidorn. There he talks with Oyarsa, who explains to him about the Oyéresu for each planet. He explains that the Oyarsa of Thulcandra (Earth) turned evil so Maleldil restricted him to Thulcandra. Then Weston and Devine are brought forth and Oyarsa questions them, revealing their true intentions of imperialism and exploitation. Oyarsa sends all three of the humans on the dangerous journey back to Thulcandra.

Themes


Religion
C.S. Lewis has reputation as being an "apostle to the skeptics", meaning what he writes is designed for the skeptics who have turned to the influences of liberalism and science. His main goal is to create and maintain a metaphor to convey the core tenets of Christianity without the usual Christian symbols and from a non-Christian point of view to attract the "skeptics" (Moorman, 401). Essentially, this book portrays the cosmos that is ruled by a triune God and the battle against dark and fallen rulers. First, here is a clarification of how the deity is set up in Lewis' speculation of what God might have done on other worlds. Malacandra is ruled by Oyarsa, the subject to Maleldil the Younger, who created their world and lives with the Old One. Maleldil created the Field of Arbol, meaning the Solar System, and all of the beings in it. He assigned Oyarsa, which are tutelary intelligence, to rule each world. These Oyarsa are aided by eldila, which are angel-like beings that are barely perceivable, except as little glimmers of light in one's peripheral vision. On Thulcandra, the Oyarsa is called the "Bent Oyarsa" because with the eldila he rose up against Maleldil, recognizing no authority besides themselves. This rebellion led Maleldil to cut them off from other worlds, hence the name "silent planet" for Earth, and it remains a battleground for Maleldil to try to reclaim his world. Maleldil the Elder and Maleldil the Younger are supposed to represent the Father and Son in the Holy Trinity of Christianity, the eldila represent angels with the Oyarsa like arch-angels or some other higher-ranked angel, and the Bent One is Satan. (Downing 40-41). During their conversation, Oyarsa asks Ransom about what Maleldil is doing on Thulcandra and Ransom tells him about how the resurrection of Christ atoned for the sin of Adam and broke the Bent One's power, which amazes Oyarsa. This sacrifice for humanity's sake was Maleldil's attempt to win back his lost silent planet.

There are other smaller points Lewis is trying to make about Christianity throughout the book. The eldila, or angel-like race, are not the typical cherubic, lyre-strumming angels that most people think of. Instead, Lewis points out how it is not said in the Bible that angels are not necessarily that way (Downing, 42). Another point he makes is that in the opening of Out of the Silent Planet, Ransom is referred to as the Pedestrian, making him seem commonplace and lowly. Despite this, he goes on a spiritual journey, showing how even ordinary mortals have a place and purpose in the kingdom of God and can be called upon at any time (Downing, 102). Also, the first meeting between Ransom and the hross can be compared to the meeting of Adam and Eve in Paradise Lost. Both creatures have a complex feeling of desire, understanding, and curiosity that somewhat outweighs the fear of being different from one another, letting them set aside their differences and fears that bring about enmity (Schwartz, 533-4)

Rationality or 'Hnau'
The three rational beings on Malacandra are the séroni, hrossa, and pfifltriggi. Each species hasn't killed each-other yet, but instead they coexist and compliment each other, each having their own special talents. The hrossa are good at singing and poetry, the séroni are good at philosophy and history, and the pfifltriggi are good at mechanics and building (Reynolds, 1943). When Ransom first sets foot on Malacandra, however, he expects the aliens to be predators and brutes--the archetypal "bug-eyed monsters" (Gibbons, 89). When Ransom gets to know them though, we learn that they have human traits of reason and humor, mixed with different non-human elements (Gibbons, 91). This rationality is called 'hnau', an Aristotelian concept of person-hood, which means made in the image of Maleldil (Downing, 45). Lewis suggests that rationality isn't a biological trait of only one species, but a spiritual endowment to any species. This challenges our assumption of irrationality in animals or "primitive" people to condone our cruelty (Schwartz, 524). Ransom's mindset changes when he encounters the hrossa and learns about them. At first he assumes they are child-like, so at first he tries to answer their questions in a simplified way, but then he realizes that they treat him like the savage (Schwarz, 534).

Use of Myth
At the time of Lewis' reconversion to Christianity, Tolkein called myths the "real though unfocused gleam of divine truth falling on human imagination." Consequently, Lewis believed that other myths like Greek myths, Norse sagas, and Irish legends all pointed to the "True Myth" of Christianity because they show the innate need for redemption (Downing, 30-31). By using myth in literature, it gives the meaning and inherent power of the myth to aid in the story telling (Moorman, 405). The underlying myth in Out of the Silent Planet is that of the Fall of the Angels and the Fall of Man (Stine et al, 258-60), but also Lewis can be called a "remythologizer", meaning he takes old myths that are largely forgotten and dismissed and injects his own intellectual and imaginative ingenuity into them (Downing, 155).

Description of Space
Lewis describes outer-space in a way that one doesn't envision when one thinks of space. Instead of being a dark void, it is full of radiant light. This description of space is an echo of Milton's "unblinking day" and "empyrean oceans of radiance," (Downing, 65). Lewis is trying to show that the Christian universe is not cold or empty, but full of light and God's infinite presence (Bosky, 2002). In the spaceship on the way to Malacandra, Ransom bathes in the light, which fills him with a vitality he never knew on Earth. This experience far contradicts his former notions of space, which he recounts here:
  • "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 hadn't known how much it affected him till now––now 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. How indeed should it be otherwise, since out of this ocean the worlds and all their life had come? He had thought it barren: he saw now that it was the womb of worlds, whose blazing and innumerable offspring looked down nightly even upon the earth with so many eyes––and here, with how many more! No: Space was the wrong name. Older thinkers had been wiser when they named it simply the heavens..." (29-30 OSP)
In outer-space, Ransom is closer to God than he ever has been before because he his no longer on the "silent planet" of Fallen Men, but instead in the heavens where the glory of God is everywhere.

Science
Even though this is a Science Fiction novel, Lewis doesn't dwell on scientific descriptions of machines, but describes them more poetically (Gibbons, 88). However, some say that it is blatantly inaccurate and insults science, such as Professor J.B.S Haldane. Haldane said in an essay called "Auld Hornie, F.R.S." that Lewis didn't know enough science to write science fiction and that Lewis' contempt for science and scientists made it so that he would have no influence on them by writing this book. He also argued that Lewis reduced complex moral, social, and political issues into one over-simplified struggle between good and evil (Haldane, 1946). Lewis responds to this in an essay he writes called "A Reply to Professor Haldane", in which he says that it is not an attack on scientists but on 'scientism', which is "a certain outlook on the world which is casually connected with the popularization of the sciences." He also says that he needed to use popular, albeit inaccurate astronomy to create willing suspension of disbelief in the common reader; he knows the science is not correct, but that's not the point of the novel. He says, "The poet...is the only writer who never lies, because he alone never claims truth for his statements" (Lewis, 76). Lewis even admitted unabashedly that Weston's explanation of how the spacecraft flew was "pure mumbo jumbo" (Downing, 66).

Language
The language that is spoken by all rational creatures throughout the universe except for those of Thulcandra, is Hressa-Hlab, or Old Solar. No human language is descended from it, but it was lost at the fall of Adam and Eve. Lewis doesn't give the reader a full description of the language, but he gives some account of it. The language uses prefixes and suffixes that involve the name of the planet Malacandra. For example: 'Handra' is the earth element; 'Malacandra' is the planet as a whole; 'harandra' is high earth or mountains; and 'hanaramit' is low earth or valley (Gegenheimer, 1946). In Out of the Silent Planet Ransom masters the language much quicker and better than the other two humans and acts as a translator at the climax of the book when Weston and Devine reveal their true intentions to Oyarsa. Lewis didn't just put together random letters to make this language. In fact, the words hross, handramit, and harandra are derived from Old Norse words for horse, lowlands, and highlands respectively (Downing, 25) Also, the word 'hnau' comes from the Greek 'nous', which means mind (Downing, 45).

Interpretation


One interpretation of Out of the Silent Planet is that it is criticizing Nazi Germany and the imperialism in Western Europe. Initially when the three humans land on Malacandra, they think the three species are brutes, primitives, or beasts. At first, Ransom is puzzled by how one species doesn't dominate over another. The fact that they can live in concord is the point that Lewis trying to make about Earth where there is the tendency to break into factions and regard each-other as inferior inherently, or even close to that of another species. Devine and Weston's actions reflect the imperialism in Western Europe because they don't acknowledge the 'hnau' or rationality and intelligence of the beings of Malacandra, but instead they think they can invade and use their planet to perpetuate the human species (Schwartz, 523-4). Lewis himself says that this book is against the ethic of pursuing personal gain at the expense of others, and that the "supreme moral end is the perpetuation of our own species" that is pursued even if humans are stripped of pity, happiness, and freedom (Lewis, 77). It is a deliberate critique of Evolutionism, where the human race will evolve into a divine species and jump from planet to planet to ensure their race goes on above all others in a "scientific" hope of cheating death in a way that rivals Christianity (Downing, 36-37). One could say that this developing into an Übermensch can be compared to the serpent's temptation of Eve, because this idea certainly tempts Weston (Downing, 39). Lewis wrote this in response to people who took this Darwinian theory as a scientific rationale for "survival of the fittest" unregulated capitalism and political, social, and economic domination of "undeveloped" people around the world on the grounds of race. It's unsure whether Lewis knew about the atrocities of the Nazi's "racial hygiene", but the idea of eugenics was being promoted earlier in the Western world, especially in Britain, giving Lewis plenty reason for criticism (Schwartz 529-30). This applies to the novel because Devine and Weston automatically assume that the creatures on Malacandra are savage on the grounds that they are different.

However, the protagonist isn't perfect either. He embodies the fear that can drive people who feel insecure and vulnerable to try to exercise control over other beings. Ransom is scared throughout the book, sometimes not even knowing why (Schwartz 530). The whole book focuses around Ransom's change in perception and overcoming these fears that are sparked by misconceptions, what he has read, and his imagination. This progressive change kicks off when he experiences space for the first time and sees that it is not vacuous and dark, but full of light. Ransom is also frightened when he is taken to see the sorns for the first time. He struggles out of Devine's grip and runs off into the wilderness of an unknown planet, the only humans around for millions of miles being his captors who want to give him to the sorns as a human sacrifice. Ransom contemplates his fear of the sorns after he has run off into the forest:
  • "[The sorns] were quite unlike the horrors his imagination had conjured up, and for that reason had taken him off his guard. They appealed away from the Wellsian fantasies to an earlier, almost an infantile, complex of fears. Giants--ogres--ghosts--skeletons: those were its key words. Spooks on stilts, he said to himself; surrealistic bogy-men with their long faces." (46, OSP)
When Ransom meets the hrossa for the first time he is also frightened, but then something happened that completely altered his state of mind: the hross starts talking. Since Ransom is a philologist, this makes him overcome with emotion and curiosity, so that "his imagination had leaped over every fear and hope and probability of his situation to follow the dazzling project of making a Malacandrian grammar," (56, OSP). When the two eventually meet, Ransom realizes that hrossa are rational beings and he is no longer afraid, and he reconsiders his fear of meeting the sorns. This is the beginning of the transformation of Ransom's perception. As he learns more from the hross, he realizes that he is not surrounded by mountains, but actually in a deep canyon, symbolizing how Ransom's eyes are being opened. He also comes to the realization that the hrossa know a lot more than he supposed and that he is the one being educated about civilization, and not the other way around. He was given this misconception that he was more civilized and educated from the ideals of Western imperialism that had been ingrained into his mind (Schwartz, 534).

Not all beings on Malacandra are rational, and we encounter one of those animals in a hrossa hunt of the hnarka, an aquatic animal with snapping jaws. At first it seem surprising that the hrossa would kill anything in this peaceful world, but Hyoi explains to him how the hrossa and hnarka have a primordial bond. As long as both long to kill each other it is acceptable because they have mutual respect for each other and they have a common destiny that transcends the division of rational and irrational since they are both mortal beings. Therefore, the hrossa call the hnarka their enemy but also their beloved. This suggests that the intimacy between human and non-human beings on earth has been broken and the gap has been widened with the advancement of technology that helps us dominate other beings. Weston and Devine exemplify this breaking of mutual respect by killing Hyoi when they see him with Ransom; the hrossa were not hunting Weston and Devine, therefore they had no right to be violent towards the hrossa (Schwartz, 535-6).

As I have said, the book focuses on how the protagonist changes. As Ransom becomes more accepting of a higher power ruling over everything and more accepting of the fact that there are three coexisting rational species that are not trying to dominate each-other, Ransom begins to sense the eldila's presence more. Since the eldila are supposed to resemble angels, this shows Ransom coming to God and sensing God's presence more. This could be Lewis' way of showing the "skeptics" how once you let God into your heart and accept Him, the clearer His omnipotence and benevolence becomes. The hnau on Malacandra are not Fallen like humans, so they can detect the presence of eldila much better. Hyoi explains to Ransom why Ransom can't see these eldila:
  • "'But eldila are hard to see. They are not like us. Light goes through them. You must be looking in the right place and the right time; and that is not likely to come about unless the eldil wishes to be seen. Sometimes you can mistake them for a sunbeam or even a moving of the leaves; but when you look again you see that it was an eldil and that it is gone. But whether your eyes can ever see them I do not know.'" (80, OSP)
This could be taken as a metaphor for why humans can't always feel God's presence in everyday life unless they are looking for it or it is made blatantly obvious to them. It also represents how people are more reluctant to believe in things if they can't see proof. For example, in the ressurrection of Christ, Jesus had to prove that he had risen from the dead by showing people the wounds on his hands and feet. I think this is Lewis' main objective in writing this book, to point out that if you open your heart and accept it, God is there, as it was for Lewis when he "reconverted".

Dystopic Factor
This book is more of a uptopia than a dystopia. It gives the example of a "utopian" Christian universe where everyone is equal in the eyes of God and the eyes of everyone else, and no one group tries to reign over the other. If it were to be called a dystopia, it would be referring to the Earth as a dystopia in comparison to the rest of the universe, especially since it follows the myth of paradise being lost in the Garden of Eden. A utopian novel this book can be compared to is Herland by Charlotte Perkins. Both have one group of people teach another group of people the ways of their society and point out how they are better. In Herland the women teach the men their language and how their society works. The same thing happens in Out of the Silent Planet when the hrossa educate Ransom. Also, the men in Herland come in thinking like they will be able to dominate over the women, just like Weston and Devine come to Malacandra thinking they can dominate over the Malacandrans.

Reception and Criticism
Critics generally liked Out of the Silent Planet but it didn't find much success in selling. Lewis himself didn't think highly of the trilogy (Gibbons, 94). In a book review in the New York Times in 1943, reviewer Horace Reynolds said that the "Miltonic love of light gives descriptions of space real splendor". He also said that it was easy to relate to the hero, Ransom, but in the end the reader feels let down by how little the ruler of Malacandra has to offer in his infinite wisdom (Reynolds, 1943).
One of Lewis' best friends and one who read much of Lewis' writing in manuscript form was J.R.R. Tolkein. In fact, many of the names and words in Out of the Silent Planet were influenced by Tolkein's Simarillion. Tolkein said he loved Out of the Silent Planet and wished it were longer. He said the opening and the traveling scenes were the weakest parts of the novel and it reached the climax too quickly; however, he liked how it had philosophical and mythical implications that didn't detract from the sense of marketable 'adventure' (Stine et al, 258-60).
single34a_silentplanet1_a_small.jpg
Pop Culture References
There is an Iron Maiden song called "Out of the Silent Planet" from their album Brave New World, but it really has nothing to do with the novel except having the title in it.

Bibliography

Note: when I quote the book, I use the abbreviation OSP with the page number in an internal cite. Here is the citation:
Lewis, C.S. Out of the Silent Planet. New York: the Macmillan Company, 1966.

1. Bosky, Bernadette Lynn. “Clive Staples Lewis.” British Fantasy and Science-Fiction Writers, 1918-1960. Ed. Darren Harris-Fain. Vol. 255. Dictionary of Literary Biographies. Detroit: Gale, 2002. N. pag. Literature Resource Center. 5 Mar. 2009 [[http://go.galegroup.com.proxy2.library.uiuc.edu/‌ps/‌start.do?p=LitRC&u=uiuc_u|link]].

2. “C. S. Lewis (1898-1963).” Contemporary Literary Criticism. Ed. Jean C Stine, Bridget Broderick, and Daniel G Marowski. Vol. 27. Detroit: Gale Research,
1984. 258-260. Literature Criticism Online. 4 Mar. 2009 [[http://galenet.galegroup.com/‌servlet/‌LitCrit/‌uiuc_uc/‌FJ3511150032|link]] .

3. Downing, David C. Planets in Peril: A Critical Study of C.S. Lewis’s Ransom Triology. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1992.

4. Gegenheimer, Albert Frank. “Language in Two Recent Imaginary Voyages.” PMLA 61.2 (1946): 601-603. Modern Language Association. 6 Mar. 2009. link .

5. Gibbons, Stella. "Imaginitive Writing." Light on C.S. Lewis. Ed. Jocelyn Gibb. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1965. 86-101.

6. Haldane, J.B.S. “Auld Hornie, F.R.S.” The Modern Quarterly (Fall 1946). Marxists.org. February 2006. 19 Mar. 2009 link .

7. Lane, John. “Novels of the Week.” Rev. of Out of the Silent Planet, by C. S. Lewis. New York Times 1 Oct. 1938: 625. Times Literary Supplement. 19 Mar. 2009. link

8. Lewis, C. S. Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories. 1966. Ed. Walter Hooper. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1975.

9. Moorman, Charles. “Space Ship and Grail: The Myths of C. S. Lewis.” Contemporary Literary Criticism. Ed. Dedria Bryfonski and Laurie Lanzen Harris. Vol. 14. Detroit: Gale Research, 1980. 401-405. Literature Resource Center. 5 Mar. 2009. [[http://go.galegroup.com.proxy2.library.uiuc.edu/‌ps/‌start.do?p=LitRC&u=uiuc_uc|link]] .

10. Nardo, A. K. “Decorum in the Fields of Arbol: Interplanetary Genres in C. S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy.” Contemporary Literary Criticism. Ed. Dedria Bryfonski and Laurie Lanzen Harris. Vol. 14. Detroit: Gale Research, 1980. 118-128. Literature Resource Center. 5 Mar. 2009 [[http://go.galegroup.com/‌ps/‌start.do?p=LitRC&u=uiuc_uc|link]].

11. Reynolds, Horace. “Rocket to Mars.” Rev. of Out of the Silent Planet, by C. S. Lewis. New York Times 3 Oct. 1943: BR16. Historical New York Times with Index. 6 Mar. 2009. [[http://proquest.umi.com/‌pqdweb?did=83946396&Fmt=10&clientId=36305&RQT=309&VName=HNP&cfc=1|link]].

12. Schwartz, Sanford. “Cosmic Anthropology: Race and Reason in Out of the Silent Planet.” Christianity and Literature 52.4 (2003): 523-552. EBSCOhost. 19 Mar. 2009. [[http://search.ebscohost.com.proxy2.library.uiuc.edu/‌login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=11444755&site=ehost-live|link]].