The first time I read Lewis’ Space Trilogy I was around 15 years old. A few details remained in my mind, but as I started re-reading the series, I was astounded at how much I did not remember. As I read, I became even more amazed at the depth of the content of the books and wondered how I could have ever understood it as a teenager.
Out of the Silent Planet
In the first book of the Space Trilogy, we are introduced to Ransom, a university professor walking through northern England on holiday. The action happens quickly, as he becomes a captive on a spaceship to Venus, which is Malacandra in the “Old Solar” language. Immediately, it is easy to be sympathetic to him as the main character and to empathize with him through his experiences of grief, wonder, and joy.
The book focuses on a second-person narrative of Ransom’s observations, analysis, and adventures on Malacandra. He describes the landscape of the alien terrain as floating islands which give him a relaxing and welcoming feeling. Of course, along the way, he meets strange and inquisitive creatures.
His first encounter with a native Malacandran focuses on his curiosity about their language. The book draws out his analysis of the language and his desire to create a lexicon of Malacandran grammar. Throughout the rest of the book, there are specific references to the grammatical construction of the language. In this element of Philology, I can see Lewis’ gesture to show this personal attribute (and many others) of his friend, J.R.R. Tolkien. In a way, it seems like a tribute to their friendship and to Tolkien’s love of languages.
The Style of ‘Out of the Silent Planet’
Most of the book is observational. It is dense with description and includes a few insights and philosophical reflections based on the events. Ransom experiences close, long-term relationships with two of the predominant species on Malacandria, which enables this level of observation. Also, Ransom learns about the history of the ancient planet through his conversations, which are usually related in summary, rather than conversational narratives.
Of course, like many of Lewis’ works, this is not science fiction. The Space Trilogy title tends to bring people into a sci-fi frame of mind, but one should approach it much like any other of Lewis’ fictional works. It is much more fiction than science and is more philosophical in nature. It reads more like a work of fantasy rather than sci-fi, but it introduces many religious themes as well.
The Space Trilogy Plot
The essential idea behind the trilogy is that God created life on other plants where sin did not enter. Malacandra did not fall in sin but underwent a direct attack from the “satan” character. This attack laid waste to the upper elevation of the Malancandrian environment and resulted in the tragic extinction of one of the native species.
As the introductory novel to the series, Out of the Silent Planet sets up the next books, subsequent plots, and themes that will be developed. As such, the action in the book is in four major events and moves at a fast pace. The conclusion of the book introduces the “angelic” beings of the “elidel.” Oyarsa is the angelic ruler of Mars and provides Ransom with the answers he needs, and as a result, we start to understand the differences between Earth (The Silent Planet or Thulcandra) and Malacandra.
After reading the second book, Perelandra, I can see how the first book developed Ransom as a sympathetic character who’s experiences allow him to be a favored earth-dweller who will be used in the cosmic battle. In the more cerebral Perelandra, you will see that he becomes much more “human.”
If you enjoy a more philosophical approach to your science fiction or fantasy reading, then I highly recommend the series.