In the pantheon of great sci-fi worlds/universes, we tend to think of names like George Lucas, Orson Scott Card, Frank Herbert, Joss Whedon (yeah, I’m throwing some Firefly love out there), and Isaac Asimov. I’m going to make a provocative statement, and then hopefully convince you that I’m right. Okay, here goes…
We should include C.S. Lewis in that list.
[tw-divider]Out of the Silent Planet: The Story Behind the Story[/tw-divider]
And no, I’m not talking about Narnia, although Narnia is one of my favorite fictional worlds. A couple of months ago, we Nerds were thinking about some great sci-fi that many readers might have missed, and Ross mentioned Out of the Silent Planet, the first book in C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy. As the story goes, once upon a time at a meeting of the Inklings, Lewis and fellow literary legend J.R.R. Tolkien made an agreement: Tolkien would write a book about time travel and Lewis would write a book about space travel. As far as we know, Tolkien never finished his end of the bargain (though to be fair, his son Christopher has seemingly spent his entire adult life sifting through his father’s notes and still hasn’t finished). But Lewis produced a book called Out of the Silent Planet, which would become the first in a trilogy that takes readers throughout our solar system and then back to earth for its greatest test.
[tw-divider]Out of the Silent Planet: Plot Summary[/tw-divider]
Out of the Silent Planet introduces readers to Elwin Ransom, a philologist by trade (and a nod to his friend Tolkien). While out on a walking tour of the English countryside, Ransom happens upon an old school friend, Dick Devine, and the great physicist Weston. After some awkward pleasantries, they drug him. Gift of hospitality, amirite?
Ransom awakes to find himself traveling through space. Weston and Devine will tell him only that they are going to a place called Malacandra. Through some overheard conversations, and putting two and two together, Ransom figures out that he is meant to be given to the Sorns, what-/whoever they are, when they arrive. Armed with this knowledge, he determines to get away as soon as he can after they reach Malacandra.
Ransom makes good on his escape plans, but finds himself alone and without provisions on a strange planet. He has a slightly terrifying encounter with another type of creature, which turns into professional curiosity when he realizes that the creature is trying to speak to him. This is the true start of Ransom’s adventure.
Through the main part of the book, he gets to know the Hrossa, as the creatures names themselves. He learns their language, then begins to learn about Malacandra and the natural order of things there. He learns that there is no dominant species, as on earth, but rather three fully-developed societies of species that interact with and depend on one another in various ways. Most importantly, he learns that Malacandra is Mars, and that his own planet earth is referred to by the Malacandrians as “Thulcandra” – the Silent Planet.
Ransom is also introduced to the spiritual world in a way he never has been on earth. The Malacandrians are fascinated by Ransom because he is the first communication of any sort to come out of earth since the earth’s Oyarsa (Oyarsas are the ruling “beings” or “spirits” over each heavenly body) became “bent” or evil. Ransom encounters Eldil, which are probably most similar to angels in Ransom’s understanding of the spiritual world. The Eldila help Ransom understand that he has been called to Malacandra because there has been a great siege on Thulcandra in order to prevent the Bent Oyarsa’s evil from spreading throughout the heavens (the Field of Arbol, as they call it), but it is almost time for the siege to end and for the Bent Oyarsa to be overthrown.
In the end Ransom, Devine, and Weston are brought before the Oyarsa of Malacandra and Ransom is called on to give a defense of his species. After much talk, he convinces Oyarsa that there is hope for humanity, that not all men are “bent” as Devine and Weston are. In the end, the three of them are sent home in the same ship they arrived in, with instructions to leave it immediately upon their return to earth and never return to Malacandra.
Then Lewis pulls an amazing trick – he ups the ante and makes the entire story more immediate and forceful by placing it squarely in our own world, in our own timeline. He reveals that “Ransom,” “Devine,” and “Weston” are pseudonyms he has given to real people in order to conceal their identities, due to the import of their stories. Readers are left feeling like they are smack in the middle of an incredibly important struggle between good and evil that is playing out in the very heavens above us right now.
[tw-divider]The First of a Strong Trilogy[/tw-divider]
If you love a great sci-fi adventure, you need to read Out of the Silent Planet. I promise I haven’t spoiled the book. I’ve given you the bones of the story, but left out the guts and the heart. And each book in the Space Trilogy only gets better.