Out of the Silent Planet

Summary

Out of the Silent Planet
CSLewis OutOfTheSilentPlanet.jpg
First edition
AuthorC. S. Lewis
Cover artistHarold Jones
CountryUnited Kingdom
LanguageEnglish
SeriesThe Space Trilogy
GenreScience fiction novel
Published1938 (John Lane (first))[1]
Media typePrint (hardcover & paperback)
Pages264 pp (first edition, hard)
Preceded byNone 
Followed byPerelandra 

Out of the Silent Planet is a science fiction novel by the British author C. S. Lewis, first published in 1938 by John Lane, The Bodley Head.[2] Five years later it was published in the U.S. (MacMillan, 1943). Two sequels were published in 1943 and 1945, completing the so-called Space Trilogy. Written as a response to earlier genre fiction, it incorporates themes of moral theology and myth in a way typical of other members of The Inklings group.

Plot

While on a walking tour, the philologist Elwin Ransom is drugged and taken on board a spacecraft bound for a planet called Malacandra. His abductors are Devine, a former college acquaintance, and the scientist Weston. Wonder and excitement relieve his anguish at being kidnapped, but he is put on his guard when he overhears his captors discussing their plans to turn him over to the inhabitants of Malacandra as a sacrifice.

Soon after the three land, Ransom escapes and then runs off in terror upon first seeing the vaguely humanoid but alien sorns. In his wanderings, he finds that all the lakes, streams, and rivers are warm, that gravity is significantly lower than on Earth, and that the plants and mountains are all extremely tall and thin. After meeting a hross named Hyoi, a civilised native of a different species, Ransom becomes a guest for several weeks in Hyoi's village, where he uses his philological skills to learn the language. Discovering that gold (known as "sun's blood"), is plentiful on Malacandra, he discerns Devine's motive for making the voyage.

While out hunting, Ransom and his hrossa companions are told by an eldil, an almost invisible, angelic creature, that Ransom must go to meet Oyarsa, who is ruler of the planet, and indeed that he should already have done so. Shortly after, Hyoi is shot dead by Devine and Weston as they track Ransom and Ransom is directed by the hrossa to comply with the eldil's instructions and cross the mountains to the cave of a sorn named Augray.

On the way Ransom discovers that he has almost reached the limit of breathable air and has to be revived by Augray with a flask of oxygen. The next day, carrying Ransom on his shoulder, Augray takes him across the bleak tableland and down into another river valley to Meldilorn, the island home of Oyarsa. There Ransom meets another species, a pfifltrigg who tells him about the beautiful houses and works of art that his people make in their native forests.

Ransom is led to Oyarsa, who explains that there is an Oyarsa for each of the planets in the solar system. However, the Oyarsa of Earth - which is known as Thulcandra, "the silent planet" - has become "bent", or evil, and has been restricted to Earth after "a great war" on the authority of Maleldil, the ruler of the universe. Ransom is ashamed at how little he can tell the Oyarsa of Malacandra about Earth, and how foolish he and other humans seem to Oyarsa.

While the two are talking, Devine and Weston are brought in, guarded by hrossa, because they have killed three members of that species. Weston does not believe that Oyarsa exists and he is incapable of conceiving that the Malacandrians are anything but ignorant natives, exploitable and expendable. This emerges in the course of a long speech in which Weston justifies his proposed invasion of Malacandra on "progressive" and evolutionary grounds. Weston's motives are shown to be more complex than profit: he is bent on expanding humanity through the universe, abandoning each planet and star system as its resources are exhausted and it becomes uninhabitable. In Ransom's attempts at translation, the brutality and crudity of Weston's ambitions are laid bare.

While acknowledging that Weston is acting out of a sense of duty to his species - and does not share Devine's greed for gold - Oyarsa tells Weston and Devine that he cannot tolerate their disruptive presence on Malacandra; they must leave the planet immediately, even though under very unfavourable orbital conditions. Oyarsa offers Ransom the option of staying, but Ransom decides he does not belong there either. The voyage back is barely made with just ninety days' worth of air and other supplies and the spaceship is "unbodied" soon after landing.

In the final chapter, Lewis introduces himself as a character into his own novel. He had written to Ransom enquiring whether he had come across the Latin word Oyarses, discovered in a mediaeval Neoplatonist work. This prompts Ransom to share his secret and the two resolve to hinder Weston from doing further evil in view of "the rapid march of [contemporary] events".

A Postscript quotes one of Ransom's letters to the author expressing frustration at how condensation of his adventures obliterates the rich detail of what he has learned and witnessed.

Characters

  • Dr Elwin Ransom – A professor of philology at a college of the University of Cambridge.
  • Dr Weston – A thick-set physicist, ruthless and arrogant, who mocks "classics and history and such trash"[3] in favour of the hard sciences.
  • Dick Devine – Weston's accomplice who "was quite ready to laugh at Weston's solemn scientific idealism. He didn't give a damn, he said, for the future of the species or the meeting of two worlds."[4]
  • Hyoi – Ransom's first hross contact.
  • Hnohra – An older hross who acts as Ransom's language teacher.
  • Augray – A mountain-dwelling sorn.
  • Kanakaberaka – A pfifltrigg who carves Ransom's portrait onto a stone at Meldilorn.
  • Oyarsa – The spirit ruler of Malacandra whose demand to meet a human before allowing further exploration of his planet precipitates the kidnapping of Ransom.

Hrossa, séroni, and pfifltriggi

On Malacandra there are three native species of reasoning hnau.

The hrossa (singular hross) resemble bipedal otters or seals, and are somewhat taller and thinner than humans. Ransom finds them beautiful: "covered, face and all, with thick black animal hair, and whiskered like a cat ... glossy coat, liquid eye, sweet breath and whitest teeth" (p. 59, Chap. 9). They live in the low river valleys (handramit in the speech of the eldila), which they travel by boat, and specialise in farming, fishing, and such performing arts as dancing and poetry. Their technical level is low, and they wear only pocketed loincloths. Their speech is characterised by adding an initial /h/ sound to the words in the planet's common vocabulary. Their sense of humor is "extravagant and fantastic" (Chap. 18).

The séroni (singular sorn; the plural is sometimes given as sorns) are thin, fifteen-foot-high humanoids having coats of pale feathers and seven-fingered hands.[a] They live in mountain caves of the high country (harandra in the speech of the eldila), though they often descend into the handramit where they raise giraffe-like livestock. They are the scholars and thinkers of Malacandra, specializing in science and abstract learning. Their technical level is high, and they design machinery, which is built by the pfifltriggi. Although they can write, they do not compose written works of history or fiction as they feel the hrossa are superior at it. Their sense of humor "seldom got beyond irony" (Chap. 18).

The pfifltriggi (singular pfifltrigg) have tapir-like heads and frog-like bodies; they lean their elbows on the ground when at rest, and sometimes when working with their hands. Their movements are quick and insectlike. They are the builders and technicians of Malacandra. They build houses and gadgets thought up by the séroni. They are miners who especially like to dig up "sun's blood" (gold) and other useful and beautiful minerals. Their sense of humor is "sharp and excelled in abuse" (Chap. 18).

Members of the three races do not believe any one of the races to be superior to the others; they acknowledge, rather, that no single race can do everything.

Glossary

  • Arbol — the Sun (Field of ArbolSolar System)
  • crah — final section of a poem
  • eldil, pl. eldila — being of light, similar to a spirit
  • handra — earth's element, land, planet
  • harandra — high earth, plateau
  • handramit — low earth, valley
  • hlab — language (Hressa Hlab = language of the hrossa)
  • hluntheline — long for, yearn for, desire (for the future)
  • hnakra, pl. hnéraki — a vicious aquatic beast hunted by the hrossa.
  • hnakrapunt, pl. hnakrapunti — hnakra-slayer
  • hnau — rational creature
  • honodraskrud — ground-weed
  • hressni — female hrossa
  • hross, pl. hrossa — one of three species of hnau on Malacandra (Hressa Hlab = language of the hrossa)
  • Malacandra — a compound noun, formed with the prefix Malac and the noun handra, which latter means earth, land, or planet, and referring to the fourth planet from the Sun; in English: Mars
  • Maleldil — ruler of the Oyéresu
  • Oyarsa, pl. Oyéresu — (Title) = ruler of a planet, a higher-order eldil
  • Perelandra — a compound noun, formed with the prefix Perel and the noun handra, which means earth, land, or planet, and referring to the second planet from the Sun; in English: Venus
  • pfifltrigg, pl. pfifltriggi — one of three species of hnau on Malacandra
  • sorn, pl. séroni — one of three species of hnau on Malacandra (Surnibur = language of the séroni)
  • Thulcandra — a compound noun, formed with the prefix Thulc, meaning "silent", and handra, meaning earth, land, or planet, referring to the third planet from the Sun in English: "Silent Planet" or Earth
  • wondelone — long for, yearn for, miss (from the past)

Background

Lewis wrote Out of the Silent Planet during 1937 after a conversation with J. R. R. Tolkien in which both men lamented the state of contemporary fiction. They agreed that Lewis would write a space travel story and Tolkien would write a time travel story. In fact, Tolkien never completed his story, while Lewis went on to compose two others over the war years in Britain.[5] These are now referred to as the Cosmic or Space Trilogy, or occasionally as The Ransom trilogy after the main character, Elwin Ransom.[6]

Lewis was an early reader of H.G. Wells and had been given a copy of The First Men in the Moon as a Christmas present in 1908.[7] Ransom makes dismissive references to Wells' conceptions in the course of the novel, but Lewis himself prefaced early editions of the novel with the disclaimer that "Certain slighting references to earlier stories of this type which will be found in the following pages have been put there for purely dramatic purposes. The author would be sorry if any reader supposed he was too stupid to have enjoyed Mr. H. G. Wells' fantasies or too ungrateful to acknowledge his debt to them." Another early work of space fiction which he later acknowledged was David Lindsay's A Voyage to Arcturus (1920).[8]

But there were other speculative works, in answer to which Out of the Silent Planet was written as a decided reaction. In both Olaf Stapledon's Last and First Men (1930) and an essay in J. B. S. Haldane's Possible Worlds (1927), Lewis detected what he termed Evolutionism, an amoral belief that humanity could perfect from itself a master race that would spread through the universe. Such was the ideology that Weston championed in his debate with Oyarsa, only to have it travestied by Ransom's translation of it into Malacandran.[9]

In the end, very few of the novel's original reviewers even realised that Lewis' intent was to substitute theological values through its means for those he deplored on the side of Scientism. Noting this omission, he pointed out to one of his correspondents that "any amount of theology can now be smuggled into people’s minds under cover of romance without their knowing it".[10] In the novel itself, Ransom proposes a similar but subtler approach in his letter to Lewis quoted in the postscript: "What we need for the moment is not so much a body of belief as a body of people familiarized with certain ideas. If we could even effect in one per cent of our readers a change-over from the conception of Space to the conception of Heaven, we should have made a beginning."

What Lewis actually offers as substitute views are a series of reversals. His Malacandra is in fact the planet Mars which, named after the Roman god of war, was once viewed astrologically as the influencer of self-assertion and disruption.[11] However, in place of Wells' scenario in The War of the Worlds, in which the inhabitants of Mars come to Earth as invaders, Lewis portrays a world of different species living in harmony from which members of his own corrupted species are expelled as bringers of violence and exploitation.[12]

Again, the clock is turned back from the world view of the post-mediaeval Renaissance to that of the Renaissance of the 12th century with the novel's vision of the universe as "the field of Heaven" peopled by aetheric angels. It had been the aim of Lewis' scholastic study, The Allegory of Love (1936) to revalidate the standpoint of the mediaeval literature flowing from that time[13] and a reference to one of its key authors is introduced as the reason for Lewis to contact Ransom in the first place. In Lewis' study, the authors of the Platonic School of Chartres are presented as "pioneers of medieval allegorical poetry…For them, Nature was not opposed to Grace but, rather, an instrument of Grace in opposing the Unnatural", which is one of the transformative ideas with which the novel's readers are to be familiarized. A prominent associate of the school was Bernardus Silvestris, whose study of the creation underpins Oyarsa's discussion with Ransom in the novel.[14] Indeed, the school's use of allegory as a vehicle for "psychological realism" may be claimed as the ultimate model for Lewis' own work nine centuries later.

Weston's speech and its translation

The speech which Weston delivers at the book's climax (in Chapter 20), and Ransom's effort to render it into the language of Malacandra, demonstrates the gulf in cultural and moral perceptions between the planetary mind sets and may be said to make a sort of social criticism.

Publication history

(Information has been gleaned from the Library of Congress, the Internet Speculative Fiction Database, and WorldCat.)

Year Country Publisher ISBN (available occasionally) Binding Notes
1938 UK John Lane, The Bodley Head Hardcover 1st edition.
First published 1 April 1938. John Lane issued many reprints.
1943 UK The Macmillan Company Hardcover
1946 USA Macmillan
1948 Austria Amandus-Ed. Hardcover Title: Der verstummte Planet: Roman, trans. by Else von Juhàsz.
1949 USA Avon Paperback Avon Reprint Edition.
On cover: "Complete and unabridged."
On cover: "Reads like the best of Merritt and BurroughsD. A. Wollheim"
Colorful cover art, by Ann Cantor, shows Ransom in a boat with Hyoi and two séroni on the shore.[15]
1949 Spain José Janés Editor Title: Fuga a los Espacio ("Space Flight"), trans. by Manuel Bosch Barrett.
Series: Cosmic Trilogy #1.
1952 UK Pan Books Paperback First Pan paperback printing. Second Pan paperback printing appeared in 1955.
Cover art by George Woodman.[16]
1952 France Hachette Paperback Title: Le silence de la Terre ("The Silence of Earth"); trans. by Marguerite Faguer.
Series: Le Rayon Fantastique #12.
Colorful cover illustration, possibly by Christian Broutin, shows a man in middle distance, a boat on water to his right, twisting mountains in the background, a twisted tree to the left, and a green sky with wispy white clouds.
1955 Sweden FA-Press Title: Utflykt från tyst planet ("Flight Out of Silent Planet"); trans. by Karin Hartman and Erik Egberg.
Cover art by Cliff Nielsen shows a grenade-like spaceship, with a man preparing to exit from it, landing on a Mars that is more greenish than red.
1956 USA Avon Paperback Cover art by Everett Kinstler shows a rocket and Ransom, distraught, looking over his shoulder at an enormous eye in the sky, all against a red background.
1958 Germany Rowohlt Verlag Paperback Title: Jenseits des Schweigenden Sterns; trans. by Ernst Sander.
1st German ed.
Series: rororo Taschenbuch, Ausg. 289.
Cover illustration shows a green planet.
1960 USA Avon Paperback 3rd Avon printing.
Cover artist, uncredited, appears signed as Suss or Siess.
1960 UK Pan Books Paperback Great Pan "New Edition" 1960. The three previous printings in Pan were 1952, 1955 and 1956.[17]
On cover: "A strikingly original story of man's leap into space – and what he finds there."
Cover art, reminiscent of the work of Richard M. Powers, shows what might be two séroni, one with Ransom on his back; or possibly eldil.
1960 Netherlands Ten Have Paperback Title: Ver van de zwijgende planeet, trans. H. C. Weiland.[18]
1965 USA Macmillan Paperback 1st pbk. ed.
Issued for a juvenile audience. Publisher's summary: ... Dr. Ransom is kidnapped and spirited by spaceship to the mysterious red planet of Malandra [sic]. He escapes and goes on the run, jeopardizing both his chances of ever returning to Earth and his very life... Lewis modeled Dr. Ransom after his dear friend J.R.R. Tolkien...
1965 USA Macmillan ISBN 0-02-086880-4 Paperback 160 pp.
Cover art by Bernard Symancyk.[19]
1966 Oxford[20] Paperback
1966 UK Longmans Paperback. Introduction and notes by David Elloway.
Series: Heritage of literature series, Section B, no. 87.
1967 France OPTA Hardcover omnibus.[21] Trilogy title: Le silence de la Terre / Voyage à Vénus / Cette hideuse puissance. Translated by Marguerite Faguer and Frank Straschitz.
Numbered and limited printing of 4000+150 copies.
Cloth cover in magenta with illustration of spaceship (or meteor) in goldenrod color.
1971 UK The Bodley Head ISBN 0-370-00536-8
and ISBN 978-0-370-00536-2
Hardcover Stated Eleventh Impression.
1977 USA Macmillan ISBN 0-02-086880-4 ; and ISBN 978-0-02-086880-4 Paperback (Published as Space trilogy, according to WorldCat.)
1984[22] Portugal Publicações Europa-America Title: Para Além do Planeta Silencioso; trans. by Maria Luísa Gonçalves dos Santos.
Series: Livros de Bolso, série Ficção Científica #80
1984 USA Macmillan ISBN 0-025-70790-6 Hardcover
1988 USA Megaforce Worldwide/Atlantic Sound recording (analog, 33 1/3 rpm, stereo.)
1990 USA Macmillan ISBN 978-0-02-570795-5 Hardcover Publisher's description: A philologist is kidnapped and taken via space-ship from England to Malacandra where he escapes and goes on the run.
1996 Scribner Paperback Fiction ISBN 0-684-82380-2 and ISBN 978-0-684-82380-5 Paperback First Scribner Paperback Fiction edition.
Cover design by Kevin Mohlenkamp.
1996 USA Scribner Classics ISBN 0-684-83364-6 and 978-0-684-83364-4 Hardcover Cover art by Kinuko Y. Craft. Reprinted often.
1998 USA G.K. Hall & Company ISBN 0-7838-0411-3 and ISBN 978-0-7838-0411-8 Hardcover Published December, 1998. Large-print edition.
2000 UK Voyager / HarperCollins ISBN 0-00-628165-6 and 978-0-00-628165-8 Trade paperback Published June, 2000. Colorful cover art by Kinuko Craft shows Mars with pink foliage and teal river.
2002 Netherlands Kok ISBN 9789043504089 Paperback Title: Malacandra, subtitle: Ver van de zwijgende planeet. trans. by A.L. Smilde.
2003 USA Simon & Schuster ISBN 0-7432-3490-1 Paperback Issued 17 March 2003.
2005 Turkey Kabalcı Yayınevi ISBN 9789759970154 Paperback Published July 2005. Named "Sessiz Gezegenin Dışında"
2005 UK Voyager ISBN 0-00-715715-0 and 978-0-00-715715-0 Trade paperback Published December 2005.
Cover art by Cliff Nielsen same as 1955 edition above.
2008 France Éditions Gallimard ISBN 9782070346127 Title: Au-delà de la planète silencieuse, trans. by Maurice Le Péchoux. Cover illustration by Emmanuel Malin.
2010 Ukraine Видавництво Свічадо (Vydavnyctvo Svichado) ISBN 9789663953151 Hardcover Title: За межі мовчазної планети. Переландра (Za mezhi movchaznoyi planety. Perelandra), trans. by A. Maslyukh.
2012 USA HarperCollins ISBN 9780062197030 Electronic Book EPub Edition

Notes

  1. ^ There is an interesting parallel with Dale Russell's speculation that a likely candidate for the evolution of intelligent life would have been a theropod dinosaur such as Troodon. Some theropods are believed to have been feathered.

References

  1. ^ isfdb
  2. ^ (first edition) publication contents at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database. Retrieved 2012-05-25.
  3. ^ Lewis, p. 30 (Chap. 4).
  4. ^ Lewis, p. 32 (Chap. 5).
  5. ^ Downing 2007, p.14
  6. ^ Nicholls, Peter, "Lewis, C. S." in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, 1995, p. 716
  7. ^ Peter Schakel, "Out of the Silent Planet", Encyclopedia Britannica 2018
  8. ^ Law, Casey R. (24 February 2000) [1998]. "A Voyage to Arcturus, C. S. Lewis, and The Dark Tower". Discovery Institute. Retrieved 6 December 2019.
  9. ^ Downing 2007, p.14
  10. ^ Peter Schakel, Encyclopedia Britannica 2018
  11. ^ William Lilly, Christian Astrology, Chapter X
  12. ^ John Tuttle, "Out of the Silent Planet and a New Era of Science Fiction", The Russell Kirk Center, 2019
  13. ^ Downing 2007, p.23
  14. ^ Arend Smilde's summary of The Allegory of Love, II.6/III.1
  15. ^ Von Ruff, Al. "Out of the Silent Planet". Internet Speculative Fiction Database. Retrieved 1 January 2013.
  16. ^ Woodman, George. "[Out of the Silent Planet Cover Art of 1952 and 1956 editions]". Pan Books. Retrieved 31 December 2012.
  17. ^ Von Ruff, Al. "Out of the Silent Planet (Pan, 1960)". Internet Speculative Fiction Database. Retrieved 1 January 2013.
  18. ^ "LEWIS, C(live) S(taples)". De Boekenplank. Retrieved 31 December 2012.
  19. ^ "Archive for the C.S. Lewis Category". Alien Territory. Retrieved 1 January 2013. There are quibbles with accuracy – the landscape doesn't seem quite right, there were no spacesuits, I don't think the spacecraft was painted. But mostly, it's pretty sweet.
  20. ^ Von Ruff, Al. "Out of the Silent Planet". Internet Speculative Fiction Database. Retrieved 1 January 2013.
  21. ^ Von Ruff, Al. "Le silence de la Terre / Voyage à Vénus / Cette hideuse puissance". Internet Speculative Fiction Database. Retrieved 1 January 2013.
  22. ^ Von Ruff, Al. "Para Além do Planeta Silencioso". Internet Speculative Fiction Database. Retrieved 1 January 2013.

Bibliography

  • David Downing. "Rehabilitating H. G. Wells", in C.S. Lewis: Fantasist, mythmaker, and poet, ed. Bruce L. Edwards, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2007, pp.14 – 51

Further reading

  • Downing, David C, Planets in Peril: A Critical Study of C. S. Lewis's Ransom Trilogy. University of Massachusetts Press, 1992. ISBN 0-87023-997-X

External links

  • Cosmic Trilogy series listing at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database
  • Out of the Silent Planet at Faded Page (Canada)
  • Quotations and Allusions in C. S. Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet, by the English-to-Dutch translator Arend Smilde (Utrecht, The Netherlands)
  • Out of the Silent Planet (Canadian public domain e-text)