Saturday, January 22, 2011
Out of the Silent Planet: Review
Out of the Silent Planet (1938) is the first book of C. S. Lewis' space trilogy. I have had these books sitting on my shelves for decades. And I had every intention of reading them much sooner. Having finished the first one and having loved other works by Lewis, I can't imagine why I have waited so long.
The first book of the trilogy tells the story of Dr. Elwin Ransom. It begins with Ransom on a walking tour which brings him to a house where two men are trying to force a boy into doing something he doesn't want to do. Ransom discovers that one of the men is someone he went to school with (and who he despised) and the other is an eminent physicist. Before he knows quite where he's at, he's been drugged and hustled into a spaceship and awakens to find himself on a interplanetary journey. A little eavesdropping soon tells him that he has been kidnapped as some sort of offering to the Sorn. He has no idea who the Sorn are, but he's quite sure he won't like being made an offering to them.
Once the trio make their landing, Ransom escapes from his captors at his earliest opportunity. His adventures lead him to make friends with one of the inhabitants of the planet. He is welcomed into the Hross village and he soon learns the language and customs. Eventually, he is taken to the master of the planet, the Oyarsa, who it seems is the one who really wanted to meet him (or at least one of his kind) all along. The Oyarsa has become concerned about the inhabitants of Earth (Thulcandra to inhabitants of this world) and the intentions of the two men who brought Ransom with them.
Lewis, as usual, writes beautifully. He is incredibly adept at bringing the scene to life--whether it is a scene from Ransom's walking tour in the beginning chapters or a description of the alien landscape. One can actually see the vivid colors of the other world in the mind's eye. And the story is brilliantly told--with the action moving quickly and carrying the reader along to the finish. Of course, since it's Lewis, there is Christian imagery...a Christ-like figure, God and even a mention of Satan. But the imagery is not blatant and could quite easily fit other stories as well.
Truth be told, the most important idea I'm going to take from this book is that of tolerance. That just because someone looks different from you, doesn't mean you should fear them. It reminded me of the Vulcan ideology of IDIC: Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations....the celebration of the differences that make each of us valuable. The book also speaks to the idea that there are more ways than one to view things. When Ransom is talking with Hyoi, his friend from the Hross, they are trying to come to an understanding about enjoying something. Ransom tries to make his new friend see that when humans enjoy something they tend to want more of it--or to experience it over and over again. Hyoi has trouble understanding this....for him the doing of something and the memory of the doing are all one. It all makes for one complete experience that is enjoyed throughout life--there is no need to have more or to experience it again or to be jealous if someone else now has it or is doing it. He says:
A pleasure is full grown only when it is remembered. You are speaking as if the pleasure were one thing and the memory another. It is all one thing....When you and I met, the meeting was over very shortly, it was nothing. Now it is growing something as we remember it. But still we know very little about it. What it will be when I remember it as I lie down to die, what it makes in me all my days till then--that is the real meeting.
If only we could learn to be tolerant and to fully enjoy what we have rather than always wanting more. A marvelous book. Four and a half stars.