“In the first novel of C.S. Lewis’s classic science fiction trilogy, Dr Ransom, a Cambridge academic, is abducted and taken on a spaceship to the red planet of Malacandra, which he knows as Mars. His captors are plotting to plunder the planet’s treasures and plan to offer Ransom as a sacrifice to the creatures who live there. Ransom discovers he has come from the ‘silent planet’–Earth–whose tragic story is known throughout the universe…”
I read this book a couple of years ago and came away from it with an “eh” feeling. After my recent reading of Perelandra, the second book in the Space Trilogy, I went back and re-read much of Out of the Silent Planet, and my experience was much more satisfying. My problem the first time around was that the adventure started strong and then seemed to fizzle out in the end. What I failed to understand during that reading was that the true villain in the stories of C.S. Lewis is never completely the antagonist; it is the fallen nature of the protagonist. God always exists, is always a major player in the outcome of the story struggle, and will always win. I believe that this quality, more than anything else, is what makes the Space Trilogy radically different from standard science fiction, defines it as Christian science fiction, and marks it as a standard for modern faith-based science fiction, including my own. The question of a C.S. Lewis story is how it will end—which is generally quite unique and creative—and whether the protagonist will end his or her struggle on God’s team.
One of the things I love about this novel is the idea that “deep heaven” is full of wonderful things we can’t see:
But Ransom, as time wore on, became aware of another and more spiritual cause for his progressive lightening and exultation of heart. A nightmare, long engendered in the modern mind by the mythology that follows in the wake of science, was falling off him. 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 had not 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 off-spring 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—the heavens which declared the glory—the
happy climes that ly
Where day never shuts his eye
Up in the broad fields of the sky.
He quoted Milton’s words to himself lovingly, at this time and often. (Chapter 5)
As the story progresses, Ransom learns that his initial impression of the nature of “Space” is more correct than he could have ever imagined:
His confidence in Oyarsa’s words about the eldila increased rather than diminished as they went on. He saw none of them; the intensity of light in which the ship swam allowed none of the fugitive variations which would have betrayed their presence. But he heard, or thought he heard, all kinds of delicate sound, or vibrations akin to sound, mixed with the tinkling rain of meteorites, and often the sense of unseen presences even within the spaceship became irresistible. It was this, more than anything else, that made his own chances of life seem so unimportant. He and all his race showed small and ephemeral against a background of such immeasurable fullness. His brain reeled at the thought of the true population of the universe, the three-dimensional infinitude of their territory, and the unchronicled eons of their past; but his heart became steadier than it had ever been. (Chapter 21)
Ransom’s experience reminds me of the story in 2 Kings 6 about the prophet Elisha. Israel was at war with Syria, and the Syrian king was frustrated that the king of Israel kept eluding him. When he learned that the prophet Elisha had been giving the king of Israel information about Syria’s movements, the Syrian king sent a great army to capture Elisha. The next morning, Elisha’s servant saw the great host surrounding the city and was terrified. The prophet assured his servant with these words:
Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.
And Elisha prayed, and said, Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.
As powerful as our physical senses are, they tell only half the story. As our spiritual senses become more refined and we are able to perceive that “they that be with us are more than they that be with them,” our hearts can be “steadier than [they have] ever been.”