Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Space Trilogy - Out Of The Silent Planet!

I wrote this review almost exactly a year ago. I meant to finish the trilogy at the time, but now at long last have finally done so. 

I'm not crazy about the cover of this edition of Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis. The first annoyance is how small the actual title is, tiny compared to the name of the author (which I can understand I guess) but even subordinate to the title of another more famous work by the author. And the artwork, which is lovely and pastoral, is indicative of the story I guess but seems clearly to me to sell whimsy and make the book feel like a kiddie offering, which it ain't. 

But it's no less accurate than this cover, the edition I first bought of this story many decades ago. This is selling it like it's hard science fiction and that ain't right either. Out of the Silent Planet is sci-fi in the long tradition of H.G. Wells more than Robert Heinlein, with doses of Jonathan Swift and more than a mote of Biblical allegory (which I'm sure Lewis would deny). It feels like science fiction right up until our kidnapped hero Dr. Elwin Ransom (a philologist on a holiday) actually gets to Malacandra/Mars. Before that we get some pretty fascinating details about space flight and its effects on a human being. Ransom is taken to Perelandra as something of a sacrifice by profiteer named Devine and a physicist named Weston. When they land on the planet the story gives me a sense of a fantasy as we follow Ransom encounter three different species on the planet -- the Hrossa, the Seroni, and the Pfifltriggi

Ransom spends time with the Hrossa who look rather like giant otters with aspects of humanity tossed in. Later he encounters the Seroni who he thinks are menacing. These are extremely tall creatures with incredibly long legs. The Pfifltriggi are only glimpsed but are more along the lines of a reptile. This is the story of man who must overcome his fear of the unknown and confront the invisible intelligence which seems keep order on the planet and does so for most planets in the solar system. Earth is the exception and so it is dubbed Thulcandra or "The Silent Planet".  Ransom appears to become something of an envoy for opening up the Earth for contact, but that's rather vague. 

This novel is followed by two sequels -- Perelandra about Ransom going to Venus and That Hideous Strength which stays on Earth but deals with matters of a supernatural kind. I am looking forward to diving into these two follow ups. The latter novel has references to the "Numinor" a slightly misspelled reference to J.R.R,. Tolkien's epic fantasy The Lord of the Rings. A legend exists that these two gentlemen who were colleagues at Oxford set out to make two fantasies -- Lewis would one about space and Tolkien would focus on ancient history. I'll be getting to these sequels in due course. 

Look for a review of Perlandra later today. 

Rip Off


  1. I have embarrassingly read very little of Lewis's work and wasn't aware of these titles at all. Like many people I enjoyed his Narnia books, but I was put off slightly by some of his more orthodox views on Christianity that he slipped into his work. Although to be honest most of these were pointed out to me by others.

    But these look like another set of books to be added to my retirement reading list.

    1. Well, I had to wait until I was retired until I got all the way through the trilogy. I attended college at a liberal arts school called but one with a Christian leaning. The great thing was back then in the 70's the religion was presented as part of a cultural heritage and not drilled into a student for te purposes of conversion. (The Christian attitudes of the folks who started the school made them early anti-slavery advocates, so there's some good to be found in religion if you keep it at a low boil.)