Out of the Silent Planet, by C.S. Lewis (science fiction)

Book cover for Out of the Silent Planet, by C.S. Lewis
Out of the Silent Planet

“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. Ransom begins contemplating this idea in his journey to Mars:

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.

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.

Chapter 21

Ransom’s experience reminds me of the story in the Bible 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.

2 Kings 6

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.”