Book Review: Out of the Silent Planet
Out of the Silent Planet is a novella by C.S. Lewis, the first of his famed Space Trilogy.
The story is centered on an Englishman named Dr. Ransom who is kidnapped and taken to another planet, he later learns is Mars, called Malacandra by the inhabitants.
While on a walking holiday Dr. Ransom attempts to help a frantic mother who is concerned for her simple boy because he is late coming home from work. When Ransom goes to a nearby house in search of the boy, his former college mate, and tacit rival, Devine, and his physicist accomplice, Weston, drug him and kidnap him as a sacrifice to the inhabitants of Malacandra. Dr. Ransom wakes up on the space ship, overhears their plans, and plans an escape.
The bulk of the story takes place on Malacandra where Dr. Ransom lives with the hrossa, seal-like creatures who love fishing and poetry, for a few weeks and learns the language and culture of the planet (Dr. Ransom is a philologist).
He later encounters the soreni (plural for sorn), who are not monsters as he had anticipated, but larger intelligent inhabitants who possess knowledge about science and astronomy.
He finally meets the pfifltriggi, skilled craftsman that labor with their hands. All three races live as equals without racial tension or exploitation of one another under the rule of Oyarsa, and his helpers, the eldila (both of which are invisible).
Devine and Weston hunt for Ransom, but in time all three of the humans (called hnau by the inhabitants) are eventually summoned to Maleldil, a sort of tribunal island, where they give account to Oyarsa, who judges them all to be bent men from Thulcundra, the silent planet (Earth) where the bent Oyarga rules.
Devine is a shallow, greedy man who wants to mine sun’s blood (gold) from the planet to take back to earth. Weston is obstinate and dangerous, and has progressive political ambitions that threaten the inhabitants of Malacandra, because he wants to colonize the planet in the name of human progress.
The story ends with the men returning home at the orders of Oyarga (only Ransom is invited to stay if he should choose to), and the narrator concludes the story by telling the reader about his relationship with Dr. Ransom.
Lewis’s project is strongly philosophical and reads like Wellsian science fiction with a classical bent. He explores the themes of modernism and classicism, racism and justice, fear and faith, temporality and eternality, and notions of the spiritual nature and condition of man.
Quotes, Allusions, and Expressions
Some of my favorite quotes, allusions, and expressions are:
“The love of knowledge is a kind of madness” (56).
“…as though paradise had never been lost and earliest dreams were true…” (59).
“His whole imaginative training somehow encourages him to associate superhuman intelligence with monstrosity of form and ruthlessness of will” (60).
“They were astonished at what he had to tell them of human history—of war, slavery and prostitution. ‘It is because the have no Oyarsa,’ said one of the pupils. ‘It is because every one of them wants to be a little Oyarsa himself,’ said Augray” (102).
“’Your thoughts must be at the mercy of your blood,’ said the old sorn” (102).
“The best poetry, then, comes in the roughest speech…as the best pictures are made in the hardest stone” (114).
“It even occurred to him that the distinction between history and mythology might be itself meaningless outside the Earth” (144).
I recommend the book, and give it ♦ ♦ ♦ because I’m not particularly fond of science fiction, but I appreciate the deeper philosophical thrust of Lewis’s project, and the charm and subtly in which he presents it. You can order a copy of Out of the Silent Planet here.
Have you read the book? Did I miss something? Let me know your thoughts.
About Scott Postma
Scott lives in North Idaho collecting more books than he'll ever read in a lifetime. He shares valuable tips on writing and teaching, rich insights into theology and literature, and meaningful perspective on living a life of significance. You can subscribe to the tribe and follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus.