© 1943 C.S. Lewis
In Out of the Silent Planet, Dr. Erwin Ransom was kidnapped by two malevolent technologists who thought to offer him as a sacrifice to the ruler of Mars, a planet they were interested in mining and otherwise exploiting. Their plan failed in part because they were dolts who didn’t realize they were reckoning with powers beyond their ken — not a creature like themselves, fixed on gain, but something else altogether, a being Ransom later understood to be more like an angel or a Greek god. The governor of Mars was a creature of goodness, and one who ruled not as sovereign but as the steward of Another– Maledil, the Creator. Now Ransom has been dispatched by Maledil Himself to the planet Venus, where an Edenic paradise is about to be disrupted by the presence of one of those formerly vanquished scientists, who is now the pawn of something malevolent. When Ransom realizes what his former captor is up to — playing the part of the serpent and attempting to seduce a new Eve into disobedience — the doctor can only do his best to resist, debating the Devil and later giving him a good right hook to the jaw, Resist the adversary and if he will flee; if nothing else, fisticuffs will suffice.
Having now read all three books in the Space Trilogy, I’m struck by the progression of them. Ransom begins Out of the Silent Planet as a fellow out for a walk, who literally stumbles into an abduction. (His captors were planning on taking a slow-witted youth, but Ransom foiled that by rescuing him.) Here, his knowledge of the real nature of the Cosmos and his ability to speak the common tongue of creation allows him to interact with the new Eve, and so act as a counter to the possessed corpse attempting to lure her into destruction. By That Hideous Strength, he is the leader of the resistance, a King Arthur fighting a rearguard action against an evil conspiracy. The stakes, too, rise in every novel: in the first, Ransom is no real danger because he is in the realm of goodly creatures; here the stakes are heightened, but the threat is to another world and to two people; in the last, all of Earth’ is imperiled. The philosophical content also rises throughout, although I was not as conscience of the debate going on in That Hideous Strength when I read it. This novel is taken up largely with conversations and debates between Ransom, the Eve figure, and the “Un-man”, the animated corpse being used a puppet of another being. Their primary topic is will and obedience: Maledil has given Eve and her husband (who is off exploring) the entire planet to play in, and asks only one thing: don’t sleep on one particular piece of land. They can visit it during the day, but must retire elsewhere at night. The corpse attempts to persuade Eve that Maledeil secretly wants her to rebel, because that would be heroic and soul-enlarging. She would prove herself a creature with a will of her own, and that’s what Maledil wants. Of course, if she chooses to obey, she’s also demonstrating a will of her own, but the Devil doesn’t sleep and Ransom has to, which is why at one point he’s so tired of arguing he decides to start grappling in the truest sense of the word.
While a retelling of the story of Adam and Eve, told largely through conversation and debate, make for an odd novel, I found that the pieces of Lewis’ worldbuilding here are fitting together better now that I’ve seen more of their shape. I was baffled in the third book by his odd mix of Greek mythology, Merlin, and SF dystopia, but as with any imaginatively-developed world, it makes more sense the more time you spend in it. I found Lewis’ Venus far easier to imagine and enjoy than I did his Mars, what with its golden sky, intensely pleasurable water and fruit, and island living. Pity the real Venus would melt you before you ever so much as saw the surface..
Coming up in Read of England…either a bit of medieval literature, Victorian fiction about a medieval hero, or some history.