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I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Saturday, 28 October 2017

"Out of the Silent Planet" by C S Lewis

C S Lewis is famous for his Narnia books though his Space Trilogy starting with this book predated Narnia. These are also allegories in which a character, in this case an eminent philologist, travels to another world and, after a series of adventures with talking nonhumans, meets the planet's 'god'. All the elements are there.

But it is adults. Ransom, a philology don on a walking holiday, is kidnapped by mad professor Weston and treasure hunting Devine and taken on a space ship to Malacandria, a planet where there are three species of rational beings. Quite a lot of the book is taken up with realistic descriptions of the planet and its flora and fauna. Almost exactly half way through comes the crime, or tragedy, that marks the turning point and sends Ransom on a journey to the god of the planet.

There are several moments of homage to H G Wells. At the start of the book Ransom is described as "The Pedestrian" as Wells only ever calls the protagonist of The Time Machine as “The Time Traveller"; both books end with the narrator talking direct to the reader. There is a reference to Ransom having read Wells.

There is a delightful part at the end when one of the other humans, a bad man who arrived with the narrator, is given a speech in which he justifies his desire to colonise the new planet in terms of the march of life, of civilization, and of his own species. This would be heavy going if he just droned on for two or three pages! So his speech must be translated and this opens up first the opportunity for the translator to interrupt so that the speech is broken up by 'business' and second (and most wonderfully) the opportunity for the weasel words in the speech to be explored. Thus "To you I may seem a vulgar robber" becomes "there is a kind of hnau who will take other hnau's food and - and things, when they are not looking. He says he is not an ordinary one of that kind." This is a very clever piece of technique.


Roger Lancelyn Green described the experience of reading Out of the Silent Planet by C. S. Lewis: "remembers vividly the thrill of excitement - the sudden moment of joy - when ... he realized in a blinding flash to what Oyarsa was referring ... it was like stepping into a new dimension." (Lancelyn Green and Hooper, 1974, 165)

Great lines:
The last drops of the thundershower had hardly ceased falling when the Pedestrian stuff his map into his pocket.” (p 1; first line)
Dressed with that particular kind of shabbiness which marks a member of the intelligentsia on a holiday.” (p 2)
One of those irritating people who forgets to use their hands when they begin talking.” (p 13) This allows CSL to punctuate the speech with (a) longings of Ransom to see the bottle uncorked and (b) Devine stopping talking to do another bit of the uncorking ceremony.
It, too, was in the grip of curiosity. Neither dared let the other approach, yet each repeatedly felt the impulse to do so himself, and yielded to it. It was foolish, frightening, ecstatic and unbearable all in one moment. It was more than curiosity. it was like a courtship - like the meeting of the first man and the first woman in the world; it was like something beyond that; so natural is the contact of sexes, so limited the strangeness, so shallow the reticence, so mild the repugnance to be overcome, compared with the first tingling intercourse of two different, but rational, species.” (pp 65 - 66)
A pleasure is full grown only when it is remembered.” (p 89)
Would he want his dinner all day or want his sleep after he had slept?” (p 89)
How could we endure to live and let time pass if we were always crying for one day or one year to come back - if we did not know that every day in a life filled the whole life with expectation and memory?” (pp 91 - 92)
I do not think the forest would be so bright, nor the water so warm, no love so sweet, if there were no danger.” (p 92)
A world is not meant to last for ever, much less a race.” (p 126)
They are like one trying to lift himself by his own hair - or one trying to see over a whole country when he is on a level with it - like a female trying to beget young on herself.” (p 129)
What it might mean to grow up seeing always so few miles away a land of colour that could never be reached and had once been inhabited.” (p 130)

This is a fun book. Although there is too much 'world-building' for me I understand that there are a lot of science fiction aficionados who adore that aspect of sci-fi. It is a little dated: it was written in 1938 when Dons did take walking holidays and the working class really did tug their forelocks. I suppose it is a grown-up version of Narnia.

Perhaps another source is Paradise Lost: the mythology of Malacandria does seem to involve the fall of Lucifer and his banishment to the earth.

This author also write two sequels to this book, the Screwtape Letters, and the seven book Narnia series as well as 'The Discarded Image', a fascinating study of mediaeval literature. He was also the subject of a biography by Roger Lancelyn Green and Walter Hooper.

October 2017; 206 pages

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