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Book Commentary: Out of the Silent Planet, C.S. Lewis

January 1, 2012

My mother got me a copy of C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy for Christmas. She did this in part because she loves the books, in part because she’s obsessed with the idea of me being only a “fallen Catholic” who will return to the fold.

Yeah, sure.

Out of the Silent Planet is the first book in the trilogy, following British academic and layabout Ransom as he’s kidnapped, taken into space as a sacrificial offering to alien gods, and then realizes that no, his kidnappers are operating under the influence of a Satan figure, the god he’s to be sacrificed to an analog for an angelic figure. Right.

I don’t really care too much for the theology of it; it’s an analogy that doesn’t hold very much water, in my book, and as a work it requires you already believe Catholic theology to be particularly struck by it, which limits its value as a conversion tool. As someone who doesn’t, the theological aspects, the angel figure, seem like terrifying “big brother” entities, meddling in the lives of the smaller people to make them “better” but yet this is a world still rife with problems–the problems are merely glossed over for theological purity.

No, what I care about is the aliens. Things are glossed over, and the book could be interpreted as an extremely racist thing (these guys are stupid poets!), but I can ignore that in light of their extreme otherness, and the skill with which Lewis compares them with us. They feel very much like alien species that would develop out of evolution, and it does ask a very interesting question: why did natural selection select *only* humans to fill an intelligent species niche? It’s an interesting thing to think about, in light of all the fantasy books ever written with multiple intelligent species of beings on the same planet.

I don’t have too much to say about this book, really, though. As a religious text it’s unwieldy and too absurd to make sense to anyone but already there diehards. As a fantastic novel, it’s shown its age, like a lot of the older books in this genre (in that, it’s evident it’s not written by someone who’s a master of the craft of fiction, but rather a theologist and essayist who thought deep thoughts in his fiction). It doesn’t particularly accomplish either of its goals for a modern reader, but it’s an interesting classic, one I’m glad I took the time to read.

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