Friday, April 27, 2012

Book Review - Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis

Welcome to the next stop in TLC Book Tours promotion of C.S. Lewis’ classic novel, Out of the Silent Planet.  Be sure to check out all the points of this tour, as we have quite a few sites reviewing this beloved book.  A full listing can be found here.

For the uninitiated, here’s a bit of background from TLC on Book 1 of Lewis’ Space Trilogy:

Just as readers have been transfixed by the stories, characters, and deeper meanings of Lewis’s timeless tales in The Chronicles of Narnia, most find this same allure in his classic Space Trilogy. In these fantasy stories for adults, we encounter, once again, magical creatures, a world of wonders, epic battles, and revelations of transcendent truths.

Out of the Silent Planet is the first novel in C. S. Lewis’s classic science fiction trilogy. It tells the adventure of Dr. Ransom, a Cambridge academic, who is abducted and taken on a spaceship to the red planet of Malacandra, which he knows as Mars. His captors are plotting to plunder the planet’s treasures and plan to offer Ransom as a sacrifice to the creatures who live there. Ransom discovers he has come from the “silent planet”—Earth—whose tragic story is known throughout the universe!

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C.S. Lewis
I first encountered Out of the Silent Planet while a religion major at Wake Forest University in 1991.  I still have my yellowed paperback copy, which I unearthed for this occasion. The new Kindle edition by Harper Collins ended up being the version I used the most in this reading, but it was fun to go back and look at the old cover art and peruse my now-ancient notes written on the pages from college days.  I remember very little of my first experience with this novel, and was glad to have the opportunity to reread it for this book tour.

Notice: As this title has been in print since 1938, I’m going to assume that many of its details are public knowledge.  Thus, my review may hold what many would consider to be “spoilers”.  If you’d like to avoid these, I’d recommend returning to this post after you’ve had a chance to read this slim novel.

As a meager book blogger/reviewer I feel a sense of trepidation in even assuming that I can critique C.S. Lewis’ work.  He has been a favorite of mine for decades, and I will never hold a candle to him in anything that I will ever write in my lifetime.  That being said, I feel that this space affords me a chance to merely offer my opinion, even if my impression of this classic work is in the minority of reader preferences.

One of the first things that struck me as I began Planet was some of the coarse language that Lewis chose to use in his dialogues. My 11 year-old son Matthew, who attempted to read the book several months back, alerted me to the colorful words before losing interest in it altogether. So to those of you who are most familiar with Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, which were written more for the younger set, be aware that not only is this story written with a depth that only adults will come close to appreciating, but it also has occasional mature language as well.

Planet begins interstingly enough, with the kidnapping of Dr. Ransom and his travels with Weston and Devine to the distant planet of Malacandra, or as we know it, Mars.  Of course, Lewis’ knowledge of space travel is based purely on speculation, as we as a species didn’t slip the surly bonds of earth for more than two decades after this was written. Still, his depiction of the astronautical journey and arrival on Malacandra was interesting.  He got a number of things correct, but in many cases, as a reader I just enjoyed the fictional aspects of this science fiction work.

While I had moments of enjoyment with Out of the Silent Planet, more often than not I found myself frustrated with Lewis’ choices in his narrative, or rather, the lack thereof.  He spends an inordinate amount of time describing the Malacandrian landscapes and the creatures that inhabited it.  The interest seemed to lie more in an anthropological study of this world, and less on actual story and/or spiritual allegory.  Of course, my weaknesses as a reader may have caused me to miss allusions that are obvious to others, but it’s hard to deny the word count on so many terrestrial descriptions.

Once Lewis gets past all of his literary illustrating, he provides quite a few philosophical moments interwoven throughout his text.  Dr. Ransom encounters creatures who are aware of The Bent One on our planet, the one whom we refer to as Satan.  In this alien world, God’s name is Maleldil.  Lewis uses this science fiction platform to discuss matters of humanity back on Earth, or Thulcandra as it’s called by the Malacandrians.  If I understood correctly, Thulcandra is “silent” because of The Bent One and choices he has made throughout history.  Weston is advised by the Malacandrian Oyarsa:

It is the Bent One, the lord of your world, who wastes your lives and befouls them with flying from what you know will overtake you in the end. If you were subjects of Maleldil you would have peace.

Despite the several moments of Lewis’ philosophizing within the narrative of the story, I found Out of the Silent Planet to be more of an exercise of frustration for me than anything else. I wish I could report something different. Far be it for me to give a negative review of this favorite author, but I simply can’t say that I enjoyed this one very much.

That being said, as a Lewis fan, I do still plan to read Books 2 and 3 of the trilogy, Perelandra and That Hideous Strength.  Perhaps as I continue the journey I’ll have a greater appreciation of this first episode.  If not, I’m sure Out of the Silent Planet will not suffer from one semi-negative review.  It has long been considered a classic, and long after I’m gone it will certainly retain that title. For those of you who care to give it a try, I encourage you to take the journey and see where it takes you. May it be a pleasant trip, one that you can enjoy despite one lowly human’s opinion.

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1 comment:

  1. How interesting to revisit the book after so many years!

    Thanks for being on the tour!



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