Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Out of the Silent Planet

Prior to the honeymoon, Sarah and I made a trip to Borders where I picked up this book. It is the first installment of C.S. Lewis' Space Trilogy and the first book I've read to completion in several months. It was a good feeling.

This book grabbed me from the moment I saw it on the shelf. Out of the Silent Planet. What a great name for a book! The third book also bodes well–That Hideous Strength. I really think a writer could spend their whole life trying to come up with titles that strong and compelling and I think they're right up there with books like Bonfire of the Vanities and The Sound and the Fury. But I digress.

The book tells the story of Ransom, a philologist who is walking cross country on his summer vacation. The story opens on a damp road, gray like ash and shining from a setting sun and fresh rain. Ransom, to keep a promise, works his way into the garden of a shabby home, only to find two professors, Weston and Devine, with whom he is professionally acquainted. The two men are clearly up to something, but before Ransom figures it out, he is drugged and rendered unconscious. Upon waking, it rapidly becomes clear he has been kidnapped by Weston and Devine and is traveling on a space ship, landing, after several weeks, on a planet called Malacandra. The gravity is less there, and plants, mountains and creatures grow like spires in a way the heavier pull of Earth cannot allow.

As you might guess then, Earth is "The Silent Planet". Ransom is perplexed by this name, as was I, but a few different characters put the pieces together. Without giving too much away, there is a spiritual side to the story, a larger idea that connects the various planets together. Earth, or Thulcandra as these characters call it, became a place where evil, or bent people thrived. As this progressed, Earth lost contact with the greater entity of the planets, becoming intellectually closed off and self-interested. Earth grew silent.

While I do not wish to spoil anything else in the story, I must express my attachment, in the wake of this novel, to Malacandra. Lewis paints such a vivid picture of an unfamiliar landscape and ecology, and probes the roots of the human soul and the divine consequences of evil. This is so much more than science fiction and I'm glad to have read it.

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