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||This article may contain original research. (March 2008)|
||This article's plot summary may be too long or excessively detailed. (May 2012)|
|Out of the Silent Planet|
Front cover of unknown edition
|Author(s)||C. S. Lewis|
|Genre(s)||Science fiction novel|
|Publisher||The Bodley Head (first)|
|Media type||Print (hardcover & paperback)|
|Pages||264 pp (first edition, hard)|
Out of the Silent Planet is a science fiction novel by the British author C. S. Lewis, published in 1938 by John Lane, The Bodley Head. Five years later it was published in the U.S. (MacMillan, 1943). Two sequels were published in 1943 and 1945, completing the so-called Cosmic Trilogy or Space Trilogy.[a]
The fragment of another sequel, evidently set prior to Perelandra and That Hideous Strength, was published as "The Dark Tower" in a 1977 collection of short fiction by Lewis (deceased 1963) and essays by four others, The Dark Tower and Other Stories (Collins, ISBN 0-00-222155-1)
According to biographer A. N. Wilson, Lewis wrote the novel after a conversation with J.R.R. Tolkien in which both men lamented the state of contemporary fiction. They agreed that Lewis would write a space-travel story, and Tolkien would write a time-travel one. Tolkien's story only exists as a fragment, published in The Lost Road and other writings (1987) edited by his son Christopher.
The story begins with Dr. Elwin Ransom, a professor of philology at a college of the University of Cambridge, setting out on a hiking trip in the English Midlands. Being refused lodging in the village of Nadderby he must travel into the night the six miles to Sterk. He comes to a small, isolated cottage, the home of a woman and her mentally subnormal son, Harry. The anxious woman thinks Ransom is Harry and runs into him as he comes toward the cottage. She implicitly declines to accommodate Ransom, but tells him about where Harry works, the Rise, the small estate of Professor Weston. She also speaks of a gentleman from London staying there, Mr. Devine, whom Ransom discovers to be his former schoolfellow, a person whom he "cordially disliked." Despite the woman's doubt that Ransom would find lodging, he decides to go there anyway, assuring the woman that he will see to it that Harry is sent home.
When he gets to the front door of the Rise, Ransom hears shouting and struggling inside. When he goes around back, he sees Weston and Devine trying to force Harry to enter a structure on the property ("It weren't the wash-house," Harry insists) against his will. Ransom intervenes in the struggle, and Devine sees him as a better prospect than Harry for what he and Weston have in mind. With Weston's grudging consent Devine offers Ransom a drink and accommodations.
After enjoying what he thinks is a beverage, Ransom loses consciousness. When he awakens shortly thereafter he realizes that he has been drugged. He tries to escape but is subdued by Weston and Devine. When he again regains consciousness he finds himself in a metallic spherical spacecraft en route to a planet called Malacandra. The wonder and excitement of such a prospect relieves his anguish at being kidnapped, but Ransom is put on his guard when he overhears Weston and Devine deliberating whether they will again drug him or keep him conscious when they turn him over to the inhabitants of Malacandra, the sorns, as a sacrifice. Ransom, who has been put to work as cook and scullion, appropriates a knife and plans to escape when he gets the chance.
Soon after the three land on the strange planet, Ransom gets his chance to run off into the unknown landscape, just after he sees the Sorns. He wanders around, finding many differences between Earth and Malacandra, in that all the lakes, streams, and rivers are warm; the gravity is significantly less; and the plants and mountains are strangely tall and thin.
Ransom later meets a civilized native of Malacandra, a hross named Hyoi, a tall and well-formed creature. He becomes a guest for several months in Hyoi's village, where he uses his philological skills to learn the language of the hrossa and learns their culture. In the process he discovers that gold, known to the hrossa as "sun's blood", is plentiful on Malacandra, and thus is able to discern Devine's motivation for making the voyage thither. Weston's motives are shown to be more complex; he is bent on expanding humanity through the universe, abandoning each planet and star system as it becomes uninhabitable.
The hrossa honour Ransom greatly by asking him to join them in a hunt for a hnakra (plural hnéraki), a fierce water-creature which seems to be the only dangerous predator on the planet, resembling both a shark and a crocodile. While hunting, Ransom is told by an eldil, an almost invisible creature reminiscent of a spirit or deva, that he must meet Oyarsa, the eldil who is ruler of the planet. He hesitates to respond to the summons, as he wishes to proceed with the hunt. Hyoi, after killing the hnakra with Ransom's help, is shot dead by Devine and Weston, who are seeking Ransom in order to take him prisoner and hand him over to the séroni. Ransom is told by Hyoi's friend (another hross named Whin) that this is the consequence of disobeying Oyarsa, and that Ransom must now cross the mountains to escape Weston and Devine and fulfil his orders. On his journey, Ransom finally meets a sorn, as he long feared he might. He finds, however, that the séroni are peaceful and kindly. Augray (the sorn) explains to him the nature of Oyarsa's body, and that of all eldila. The next day, carrying the human on his shoulders, Augray takes Ransom to Oyarsa.
After a stop at the dwelling place of an esteemed sorn scientist, wherein Ransom is questioned thoroughly regarding all manner of facts about Earth, Ransom finally makes it to Meldilorn, the home of Oyarsa. In Meldilorn, Ransom meets a pfifltrigg who tells him of the beautiful houses and artwork his race make in their native forests. Ransom then is led to Oyarsa and a long-awaited conversation begins. In the course of this conversation it is explained that there are Oyéresu (the plural) for each of the planets in our solar system; in the four inner planets, which have organic life (intelligent and non-intelligent), the local Oyarsa is responsible for that life. The ruler of Earth (Thulcandra, "the silent planet"), has turned evil (become "bent") and has been restricted to Thulcandra, after "great war," by the Oyéresu and the authority of Maleldil, the ruler of the universe. Ransom is ashamed at how little he can tell Oyarsa about Earth and how foolish he and other humans seem to Oyarsa. While the two are talking, Devine and Weston are brought in guarded by hrossa, because they have killed three of that race. Oyarsa then directs a pfifltrigg to "scatter the movements that were" the bodies of Hyoi and the two other hrossa, using a small, crystalline instrument; once touched with this instrument, the bodies vanish. Weston is summoned to Oyarsa's presence and makes a long speech justifying his proposed invasion of Malacandra on progressive and evolutionary grounds, which Ransom attempts to translate into Malacandrian, thus laying bare the brutality and crudity of Weston's ambitions.
Oyarsa, passing judgment, tells Weston and Devine that he would not tolerate the presence of such creatures, but lets them leave the planet immediately, albeit under very unfavourable orbital conditions. To Ransom, Oyarsa offers him the option of staying on Malacandra. He decides he does not belong there, perhaps because he feels himself unworthy and perhaps because he yearns to be back among the human beings of earth. Oyarsa gives the men ninety days of air and other supplies, telling the Thulcandrians that after ninety days, the ship will disintegrate; either way, they will never return to Malacandra. Weston and Devine do not further harm Ransom, focussing their attention on the perilous journey home. Oyarsa had promised Ransom that the eldila of "deep heaven" would watch over and protect him against any attacks from the other two Thulcandrians, who might seek to kill him as a way of economizing their air and food supplies; at times, Ransom is conscious of benevolent presences within the spaceship—the eldila. After a difficult return journey, the space-ship makes it back to Earth, and is shortly "unbodied" according to Oyarsa's will.
Ransom himself half-doubts whether all that happened was true, and he realizes that others will be even less inclined to believe it if he should speak of it. However, when the author (Lewis) writes him asking whether he has heard of the medieval Latin word "Oyarses" and knows what it meant, he lets him in on the secret. Ransom then dedicates himself to the mission that Oyarsa gave him before he left Malacandra of stopping Weston from further evil.
The storyline may have been influenced by H. G. Wells's First Men in the Moon, which Lewis described as "The best of the sort Science Fiction I have read...." in a letter to Roger Lancelyn Green. Wells's book, like Lewis's, reaches its climax with a meeting between an Earthman and the wise ruler of an alien world, during which the Earthman makes very ill-considered boasts of his species' military prowess. The characters of Weston and Devine might be, in general, dark versions of Wells's Cavor and Bradford. In both books, a scientist with a wide-ranging mind forms a partnership with an eminently practical man who has a special attraction to extraterrestrial bars of gold, and they quietly build themselves a spaceship in the English countryside. In both stories, the interplanetary craft are spherical, though only Lewis' is called a "space-ship". According to the Oxford English Dictionary, J. J. Astor in his A Journey in Other Worlds first used the term "space-ship" in 1894, but Lewis was the fourth person to use the term in published material.
The eldila, who work for Oyarsa as messengers and maintainers of the planet, are meant to supply the role of angels. Oyarsa is a more powerful angel, perhaps an archangel, and Oyarsa's superior, Maleldil the Young, represents Jesus. The 'Old one', the creator of Mars, is God the Father. Part of the background in Out of the Silent Planet is that Earth's Oyarsa (who is obviously Lucifer) became "bent" (corrupt), destroyed most of the life on Mars, and was forcibly imprisoned inside the Moon's orbit leaving him to rule the inhabitants of the Moon and the (subsequently created) humans of Earth. His attempts to convince the inhabitants of Mars to flee the devastated planet to other worlds were stopped by the Oyarsa who killed the rebels and subsequently reshaped some parts of the planet's surface to continue to support life. This was, however, in the distant past, many generations ago.
Mars' Oyarsa also asks Weston, "What do you do when a planet is dead? ... Then what when all are dead?" To Weston, such a "defeatist" attitude is intolerable, although had the Martians settled Earth, nascent mankind would have obviously received short shrift. On hearing it he declares himself on the side of the Bent One and his defiant attitude ("He fights, jumps, lives, not like Maleldil who lets everybody die").
The concepts of space and other planets in this novel are largely taken from medieval cosmology. For more information on it, see C. S. Lewis's The Discarded Image, a series of lectures on this cosmology that were published after his death.
Lewis depicts Mars based partly on what was known of it at the time and partly on legend. For example, Mars' atmosphere was known to be thin and unbreathable, but he decided to treat the canals of Mars as real though he was already aware that they probably did not exist. Lewis reconciles this by having Mars' breathable atmosphere concentrated in the canals, or handramits, and some blotchy lowland areas where the pfifltriggi live, while the bare surface of Mars, or harandra, is cold and lifeless. While journeying through a trench in the harandra with Augray the sorn, he had to breathe out of an oxygen bottle, and the sky was pitch black, except when a dust storm colored the sky ochre (of course, this ochre colour is permanent in the real Mars' sky). He also depicts things on Mars as having vertical exaggeration relative to their closest Earth counterparts, which he felt to be appropriate for Mars' lower gravity.
On Malacandra there are three native hnau, reasoning species such as humans ("sentient races" in popular science fiction terms).
The hrossa (singular hross) resemble bipedal otters or seals, and are somewhat taller and thinner than humans. They live in the low river valleys (handramit in the speech of the eldila) and specialize in farming, fishing, and performing arts such as dancing and poetry. They are especially gifted in making poetry; yet they refuse to write it down as they believe that books ruin words and poems. Their technical level is low, and they wear only pocketed loincloths. The boats that they build are similar to our canoes. They add an initial /h/ sound to their words.
The séroni (singular sorn; the plural is sometimes given as sorns) are thin, fifteen-foot-high humanoids having coats of pale feathers and seven-fingered hands.[b] They live in mountain caves of the high country (harandra in the speech of the eldila), though they often descend into the handramit where they raise giraffe-like livestock. They are the scholars and thinkers of Malacandra, specializing in science and abstract learning. Their technical level is high, and they design machinery, which is built by the pfifltriggi. Although they can write they do not compose written works of history or fiction as they feel the hrossa are superior at it.
The pfifltriggi (singular pfifltrigg) have tapir-like heads (with a bulge at the back containing the brain) and frog-like bodies; they lean their elbows on the ground when at rest, and sometimes when working with their hands. Their movements are quick and insectlike. They are the builders and technicians of Malacandra. They build houses and gadgets thought up by the séroni. They are miners who especially like to dig up "sun's blood" (gold) and other useful and beautiful minerals. They are the only species said to wear a form of clothes, other than the hrossa, and even wear goggles to protect their eyes.
Malacandra's hnau are "unfallen": free of the tendency to evil and sin that plagues humans. Ransom describes the emotional connection between the races as a cross between that of equals and that of person to an animal, mirrored in the way that humans tend to anthropomorphize pets. Members of the three races do not believe any one of the races to be superior to the others; they acknowledge, rather, that no single race can do everything.
In the sequels it is made clear that the language of the hrossa is the primary Old Solar language, and that the languages of the other two species are late derivatives of it. This represents Lewis' view that the symbolic and mythopoeic imagination is the primary language of the human mind and that scientific and technological analysis is a later development. In the essay Bluspels and Flalansferes: A Semantic Nightmare he argues that, though reason is the organ of truth, imagination is the organ of meaning.
The speech which Weston delivers at the book's climax, and Ransom's effort to render it into the Old Solar spoken by the Malacandrians, demonstrate the enormous gulf in cultural and moral perceptions, which renders Weston's value judgements utterly untranslatable and may be said to make them absurd; thus creating a sort of social criticism. The “translation” that we read is to be understood as a back-translation into English of what Ransom said in Old Solar.
|Weston's speech in English||Ransom's rendering into Old Solar|
|To you I may seem a vulgar robber||Among us, Oyarsa, there is a kind of hnau who will take other hnau's food and - and things, when they are not looking. He says he is not an ordinary one of that kind.|
|but I bear on my shoulders the destiny of the human race.||He says what he does now will make very different things happen to those of our people who are not yet born.|
|Your tribal life||He says that, among you, hnau of one kindred all live together|
|with its stone-age weapons||the hrossa have spears like those we used a very long time ago|
|and bee-hive huts||and your huts are small and round|
|its primitive coracles||and your boats small and light and like our old ones|
|and elementary social structure||and you have only one ruler|
|has nothing to compare with our civilization -||He says it is different with us.|
|with our science||He says we know much.|
|medicine||There is a thing happens in our world when the body of a living creature feels pains and becomes weak, and we sometimes know how to stop it.|
|and law,||He says we have many bent people and we kill them or shut them in huts and that we have people for settling quarrels between the bent hnau about their huts and mates and things.|
|our armies,||He says we have many ways for the hnau of one land to kill those of another and some are trained to do it.|
|our architecture,||He says we build very big and strong huts of stones and other things - like the pfifltriggi.|
|our commerce||And he says we can exchange many things among ourselves|
|and our transport system which is rapidly annihilating space and time.||and can carry heavy weights very quickly a long way.|
|Our right to supersede you is the right of the higher over the lower.||Because of all this, he says it would not be the act of a bent hnau if our people killed all your people.|
The hrossa's word for "to eat" contains consonants unreproducible by the human mouth. It is not clear how that word would be pronounced on Venus, where Ransom, in the sequel, finds humans speaking the same language spoken by the hrossa.
The hrossa, séroni, and pfifltriggi are several of the races living on Mars in Larry Niven's 1999 novel Rainbow Mars; they are referred to as the "Pious Ones" by the Barsoomian races. The hrossa are called the "Fishers", the pfifltriggi the "Smiths", and the séroni the "High Folk". The pfifltriggi are one of the races who chose to ride to Earth on Yggdrasil.
The séroni appear at the beginning of the second volume of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen as one of the Martian races allied against the "mollusc invaders" (the Martians from The War of the Worlds).
In Scarlet Traces: The Great Game, a hieroglyphics-filled chamber seems to show the hrossa, séroni, and pfifltriggi as the original races of Mars, that were wiped out by the arrival of the War of the Worlds Martians.