Classic Sci-Fi Review: Out of the Silent Planet

Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis

Out of the Silent Planet (Space Trilogy, #1)
by C.S. Lewis
4 out of 5 stars
Ransom is kidnapped and taken to another planet, where he escapes his kidnappers and must fend for himself on an alien world. Everything he encounters is entirely foreign and strange, from the water to the trees. The landscape is wild and inhospitable, and there are aliens who (he has been told) need a human sacrifice for some pagan ritual.

Malacandra is such a vibrant planet, with rich cultures and languages of its own. I love all the little details of the aliens and their society that make it feel like a real place. It’s utterly bizarre and wild, but with little flecks of familiarity that endear you to the alienness of it all.

The writing and story-telling are truly brilliant. The plot is exciting, and the writing draws the reader into each scene so that you are experiencing what Ransom is experiencing through every adventure. I love that there are a lot of philosophical questions and spiritual lessons in this book, but it never weighs down the plot or spoils the adventure.

I love the incredible world-building in this book! The imagination of the author knows no bounds. As Ransom is travelling through space, he is invigorated by the naked sunlight in a physical and spiritual way. The gravity generated by their little spaceship would be actually impossible in the real world. This was written in the 1930s, decades before anyone had landed on the moon and before much was known about the physics of space, so there are things about the space travel that don’t quite add up. However, the whole fantasy of it is so brilliant and attractive that it doesn’t really matter that it doesn’t match reality. It’s not supposed to match reality.

Ransom is a fantastic hero! He is good but flawed, and he reacts to all the unusual things he encounters in the most basic human ways that are sometimes wonderful and sometimes unattractive. He is such a deep character, and I love that he ponders deep questions about life and the nature of the universe. As he journeys across the planet and learns more about the aliens who live there, he is also going on an internal journey with extreme character development.

I have enjoyed this book so much more reading it the second time!

Keep Reading for my SPOILER notes on each chapter of the book!


Notes on Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis

Chapter 1

I love the picturesque walking tour setting in the beginning. It really sets the scene, and tells us a lot about our main character in just a few pages. And then a mystery is presented to us. A young boy who is late coming home. A strange old house with locked gates. An old classmate that was disliked in the past, and a grumpy old scientist with secrets.

I love the way that Ransom is gradually drawn into the mystery. He hadn’t intended to go in, but finds himself deciding to do it almost before he realized. I love how introspective the writing is, and we really see all the little intricacies of Ransom’s inner feelings.

Chapter 2

I love the creepiness of this chapter. Obviously something sinister is going on, but we don’t know what it is. I love the weird dream that Ransom has of trying to climb a wall, and the beings on the other side only answer Hoo Hoo Hoo. It promises some special meaning down the road, but we don’t know what it is yet. And we find out that Weston is basically a Nazi with no regard for the sanctity of human life.

Chapter 3

The way this chapter describes Ransom realizing that the moon he is looking at is not really the moon  is absolute genius. His experience is so powerful that the reader is carried along in a wave of terror and excitement with him.

Chapter 4

Weston is truly terrifying in this chapter. We begin to see that he really is a lunatic with wild ideas about his own importance.  A man like that might do anything, absolutely anything, and rationalize it to himself and pretend that he is the hero.

I think the description of the space ship is really cool with all the circular rooms. I don’t understand why they aren’t wearing clothing though. That is not quite explained. I guess it is just so hot with the sunlight beating on the spaceship all the time.

Chapter 5

As Ransom stares at the stars out of his skylight, he is likened to a “second Danae”. In Greek mythology, Danae was the daughter of King Acrisius of Argos. King Acrisius shut her up in a bronze chamber with no doors or windows, just a sky-light as the source of light and air.  It also says that Ransom finds it difficult to disbelieve astrology. He imagines a “sweet influence” pouring into his body.

It was amazing to read about the vitality that Ransom gets from the pure sunlight in the spaceship. He feels strengthened and “magnanimous”.  Incredible descriptions that fire the imagination! I’m not surprised that he quotes Milton when describing it. Epic and wondrous!

It is astonishing how Devine talks about human sacrifice like he’s commenting on the weather. He really has no heart at all. I was delighted with the insight that Ransom shows when he suddenly realizes that Devine has hated him all these years since school, just as much as Ransom always hated Devine. It’s little insights like that which make this book truly genius and interesting. It makes the characters come alive.

Chapter 6

I find it incredibly interesting how Ransom is described as underestimating his own courage, because of his experiences during the first World War. He focuses on his “unheroic qualities” and worries that his determination will be short-lived. But don’t we all worry that we will be cowards when faced with adversity? Such a core human trait that resonates with every reader.

Oh my God. Ransom tries to talk to Devine about the spiritual lightness he feels even though the sunlight is diminishing in intensity the farther away they get, and Devine quotes a soap commercial to him. Devine is the smallest of small souls. What absolutely brilliant writing! We don’t only hate Devine, we despise him, we are annoyed and disgusted. (This is the moment when I realized that Devine is the Umbridge of the story, and Weston is the Voldemort.  Maybe this is where Rowling got the idea for her two greatest villains.)

“The moment of his arrival in an unknown world found Ransom wholly absorbed in philosophical speculation.” I like the way that he flips the way we think of Space upside down, making Space the place of life and light, and the Planets are dark and “heavy” voids. Such an imagination!

Chapter 7

It’s so cool how Ransom can’t make out shapes at first on Malacandra. Just a blur of colors. It feels so alien and wild.

The tension in this chapter is incredible. Ransom knows some aliens, the sorn, will try to make contact with Weston and Devine at some point. He is looking for his opportunity to escape, and when they are actually contacted and then attacked by some unknown creature, the action actually had my heart thumping as Ransom runs for his life.

Chapter 8

I am continually astonished and delighted at Lewis’ ability to capture little details of human nature that we will barely admit to ourselves. Ransom feels an ” affection” for himself, and says to himself “We’ll stick together”. Personifying a second self is such a human thing to do. Talking to yourself and making promises to yourself as if you were a second person is so beautifully and perfectly human. Haha! I love it.

I loved the little detail of how the sound of himself yawning brought back memories of peaceful sleep on earth. Such a little detail, but it carries a powerful meaning of home and safety.

Chapter 9

And then when he wakes up, he is still half-asleep and thinks there really is a second Ransom with him. He is disturbed by it though, and tries to stop himself from thinking that way.

The adventure in this chapter is fantastic. Something wild and new in every paragraph, as Ransom discovers some herbivore animal herds, runs away from a sorn, and meets a new kind of alien. Just incredible storytelling!

“The love of knowledge is a kind of madness.” Ransom is so curious about this new alien that he doesn’t even think of the risks. The scene where they try to teach each other a few words is absolutely delicious and fun, and I love that it does not come easily for them. The alienness of the hross is not suddenly manlike or familiar in any way. There is no rupture in the illusion of the otherworldliness that Ransom encounters. And yet, the boat is very like a human boat. But Ransom asks himself, “What else could a boat be like?” I love that there are commonalities between them, but it still feels utterly foreign.

At the end of the chapter, Ransom tries to makes sense of the hross. If he thinks of it like an animal with reason, he finds that idea more attractive than thinking of it as a giant man with fur. His mind is trying to find comparisons with things he already knows, so he can try to find his mental footing and organize his thinking. But everything around him is so outside of normal experience that he can’t make a comparison really work either way. But I love that he thinks about these things and asks the weird questions about the nature of rational thought and rational communication.

Chapter 10

I’m so intrigued by the way Lewis talks about Ransom’s “imaginative training” shaping his ideas about what he is experiencing. He makes assumptions about what he encounters because of the “training” he has had in stories and experiences back on earth. He assumes that the hrossa have a “low cultural level.” Makes me wonder what sort of “training” my imagination has had. It’s incredible that Lewis can make us aware of something like that and throw so many of the old ideas out the window and give us so many original and wildly weird stories outside of the normal things we would imagine.

Again we see Ransom making a decision before he has realized that he has already decided. He is bound to the hross before he realizes it, and makes the decision to get into the boat and put his fate in the hross’ hands (paws).

I love that Ransom has flaws and reacts in less than heroic ways. He is disturbed when he meets a group of hrossa by the “ghastly inappropriateness” of their animalistic features. But he feels differently when he meets their young, and feels a strange affection for them. His moods are so changeable and so wonderfully real.

Chapter 11

One thing that really shows the alienness of the hrossa is their music. The fact that the rhythm patterns are incomprehensible to Ransom is such a brilliant detail.

I just love that Ransom is irritated with the hrossa for being more intelligent than he has supposed, and he is annoyed to find that they regard him as ignorant and savage. Such great storytelling!

Ransom goes through so many emotions in this chapter. Annoyance, delight, curiosity… He is even SHY to be questioned too much about Earth. Such a deep and well-rounded character!

At the end of the chapter, we are tantalized with another mystery about the eldil. Lewis does such an amazing job at answering one question and then immediately introducing a new question, a new mystery to the reader, so that you are always pulled into the adventure.

Chapter 12

Lewis talks a lot in his other books about how most physical pleasures are completely out of proportion in human culture. It’s interesting how Hyoi talks about intimacy and likens it to eating or sleeping. All pleasures have their natural place in life, and to want more and more to the point of illness is ridiculous. There’s a reason why gluttony is a sin. It’s unhealthy on so many levels to be obsessed with any one kind of pleasure. A normal and healthy life will embrace pleasures in moderation and be fully satisfied. I love the simple and wise way that Hyoi approaches the subject. And I like that Lewis adds a little preaching into the story, but weaves it in with the culture and the adventure.

I also love how Hyoi says that a memory of a thing is a continuation of the thing itself. The event is not over, the person is not gone, the thing is not lost, because the memory is “growing” as you move through life.

And he says that if there were no danger or sorrow in the world, we would never know what it means to be safe, comfortable, and happy. We would have no reference for anything good, if there were nothing bad. Beautifully deep ideas in this book!

Ransom asks about the eldil and is told that he may not be able to see them.  I feel like Lewis is commenting on all of mankind and our inability to see angelic presences in our everyday lives even while spiritual warfare and spiritual protection are all around us.

Chapter 13

I like that Ransom feels that he needs to prove himself in the hunt with the hrossa, and uphold some courageous ideal of his species. And when he comes through it and has “not disgraced” himself, he feels that he has grown up.

I just love that he feels a strong bond of kinship with the hrossa, Hyoi and Whin, after they fight off the hnakra together. Facing danger together will bond people, and Ransom doesn’t feel strange embracing them or feel that they are “ghastly” or “inappropriate” anymore. “He had grown up.” He has matured so much and his ideas have been so broadened that he really has grown UP out of the limited understanding he had before.

And right in that moment of triumph, disaster strikes. Masterful storytelling that breaks my heart. We’ve had so many scenes where we get to know Hyoi and love and respect him, and now this tragedy comes just when Hyoi says that he has achieved the thing he has wanted all his life, killing a hnakra. It’s a senseless death from senseless men. Horrible, and yet a brilliant twist in the story that raises the stakes for Ransom and makes everything more intense.

“It is not a question of thinking, but of what an eldil says.” So many things in life are not a question of thinking but of obeying what God says. I wish I could stop thinking or relying on my own understanding (“This is cub’s talk”), and just be content to trust and obey. So many great spiritual lessons in ever y page in this book!

I wonder what the eldil’s message was for Hyoi’s wife. Maybe she is pregnant!

Chapter 14

“.. he was determined henceforward to obey…. His efforts to rely on his own judgement… had so far ended tragically enough.” Such a wonderful spiritual lesson, and one that Lewis explores in many of his books.

“He made a strong resolution, defying in advance all changes of mood…” Lewis is always saying how you can’t use your feelings or moods to guide you through life. It’s such a delight to see Ransom learning these lessons through his adventures.

I love the imagery of the mountain pass, and the high clear road. It is like a symbolism for Ransom’s own internal journey. He is gradually coming out of the fuzzy thinking where thoughts are like the close and stifling trees of the forest, and up into a higher understanding of himself and God. But he says “The landscape was terrifying.” It is scary to begin to understand something bigger than yourself.

Another commentary on the swift changes possible in our moods, as Ransom considers it “fantastic” and impossible that he could have felt comradeship with the alien hrossa. Only hours after Hyoi’s death, his mood changes and he begins to detach himself. His thoughts are tricking him into dismissing his previous feelings. Lewis’ lesson: You can’t trust your moods. You can’t trust your random thoughts.   And it makes Ransom, once again, such a deliciously human and real character. “But all the time the old resolution, taken when he could still think, was driving him up the road.” Yes! Trust the good resolution you made when you could still decide to obey God. Gosh, the theology Lewis manages to weave into the adventure is absolutely genius!

Chapter 15

Augray reminds me so much of Treebeard. The way he calls Ransom “Small One”. His booming voice, and his practical way of talking, his height and girth, all remind me of a certain big tree friend from Middle Earth. I wonder if Tolkien and Lewis shared ideas about a booming character like this. And of course, no adventure would be complete without the wise old sage character who guides the hero on his journey.

The fact that Augray speaks “without  any suggestion of their persistent inital H” shows me that you are meant to pronounce the H in all the hrossa names and words. I had been wondering if it was a silent H or what.

Augray’s explanation of the swift movement of bodies is so brilliant and wild and weird. And yet, it makes sense. I just love the way that Lewis combines scientific and spiritual explanations in his world-building. This completes the story-telling idea of Ransom going up into the mountains and reaching a higher understanding.

Another delightful bit of storytelling! Ransom sees Earth through a telescope, but the North Pole is downward, and he sees the continents upside down, and that “shocked him.”  Haha! We are so used to seeing things from a certain perspective. I think if I saw the world upside down, or even a map of the world hung upside down, it would disturb me too.

But this is the genius of all Lewis’ books. He makes you see things upside down and inside out and backwards. He shakes you out of your complacent everyday perspective, and makes you really look.

I love that moment of despairing home-sickness as Ransom thinks about England, Athens, Shakespeare, all the old familiar things, and his pack that he left sitting on the porch of that dark house in the first chapters. To throw a familiar thing like Shakespeare into an alien world is another way of looking at the story upside down, and it reminds the reader just how far Ransom has come.

Chapter 16

What a delight to hear Ransom defending the hrossa when Augray criticizes them a little! He is reacting in such a human way, according to social norms that he knows.

And Augray actually carrying Ransom on a long journey just reminds me of Treebeard even more!

It’s wonderful to read about how Ransom gradually changes his mind about the sorn, and instead of thinking of them as ogres, he thinks of them as beautiful. He is ashamed of his previous cowardice and calls his previous reaction “vulgar”. That is always the way when we grow and our horizons are broadened. We are ashamed of our old attitudes.

“Every one of them wants to be a little Oyarsa himself.” Yes! Yes yes yes. That is the tragedy of all human kind from Adam and Eve to the present.

“Your thought must be at the mercy of your blood.” Exactly what Lewis has been demonstrating in Ransom’s reactions through the entire story.

Chapter 17

I find it interesting that Augray refuses Ransom’s gift of his watch. In most human societies, it would be rude to refuse a gift. A human gift is given to express the giver’s affection, and the benefit to the person who receives the gift is only sometimes a factor. Augray suggests that the pfillitrigg would benefit from it more and be more appreciative of it, which indicates that sorn gifts are given to benefit the receiver, not to show gratitude or affection. Such a little thing, but it fits with what we know so far of the intellectual sorn society.

I love the words that describe Ransom walking around the island, sensing the eldila around him, but unable to see the. “embarrassment, shyness, submission, uneasy.” It really paints a picture of something indescribable to use these vivid words to describe Ransom’s reaction to what the reader cannot see either.

Ransom goes “upwards and inwards” on the island to avoid other hnau. Those are the same words used in “The Last Battle” to describe the heaven Narnia.

Ransom finds stone carvings recording the history of Malacandra, and sees a carving of the solar system. I love that Venus is depicted as a woman, and Mercury has a trumpet, aligning closely with Earth’s mythology about those planets. It shows an underlying spiritual knowledge that runs throughout the universe. As the Bible says, “The heavens declare the glory of God.” And Lewis turns that universal truth into a world-building block for his fantasy world.  I wonder how this would be analyzed in the “Planet Narnia” book?

I love the reference to Arthur Rackham’s artwork in the description of the pfifltrigg. I just adore his art, and it’s so lovely that Lewis was familiar with it too.

I love that the pfifltrigg is so abrupt in his speech. He just orders Ransom around, and doesn’t have time for niceties like ‘please’ or ‘thank you’. Haha!

The social commentary as Ransom is told about the pfifltrigg society is so wonderful! We on Earth are kept working because ‘we are given no food if we stop.’ If only things could be so simple and harmonious as a pfifltrigg society.

Chapter 18

The descriptions of the different types of humor from each species is such fantastic world-building! Details like this are what make Malacandra a real place. The depth of imagination is astonishing!

The meeting with Oyarsa is so incredible. Lewis describes the indescribable, a spiritual being, and yet making us feel the whole experience right along with Ransom. “His heart and body seemed to him to be made of water.”  I felt that right down to my bones.

There is no way that Ransom could have met Oyarsa earlier in the story. His experiences with the other hnau have prepared his mind and heart and purified his attitudes so that now he is ready to comprehend some small portion of what Oyarsa is. The pinnacle of the mountain is reached. The top of the story arc. And every part of the journey that led there was a necessary step in Ransom’s internal journey to become a person who could stand on a mountain peak and talk with an angel. Brilliant story telling. The best storytelling mimics some universal truth about life. Every step of our life-long journey is preparing us to talk with angels someday, or maybe leading some people down into greater darkness like Devine and Weston.

And the story has led the reader into a deeper understanding too. If you had introduced angels at the beginning of the story, many readers would have dismissed it as a silly Christian story. But Lewis has led us to this point with a sure and steady hand, preparing his reader to accept and welcome the spiritual ideas that are at the turning point of every heart. Lewis really is a master at hiding his Sunday School sermons into attractive fantasy adventures.

“We think that Maleldil would not give it up utterly to the Bent One, and there are stories among us that He has taken strange counsel and dared terrible things, wrestling with the Bent One in Thulcandra.” If you ever doubted that Maleldil is the Son of God, Jesus Christ Himself, here is your proof. The pronoun is capitalized, which is only done when referring to the God of Christianity. I just adore these mystical allusions to Christ in all of Lewis’ fiction!

“If you can prevent it only by killing all three of us, I am content.” The ultimate in heroic courage and sacrifice. And he was worried at the beginning of the book that he would disgrace himself. Just look how far Ransom has come!

What an epic chapter full of the depths of time and space!

Chapter 19

Ransom’s first impression of seeing his own human kind again after many months is so funny and crazy! Haha! The description of how they stomp their feet on the ground with “unnecessary violence” is priceless! And to say that Devine is in a “state of furious sulks” like a petulant child is absolute perfection. We see how spiritually small and silly these two really are.

When Devine and Weston cannot see Oyarsa, it reminds me of how Uncle Andrew refuses to believe in what he sees at the Creation of Narnia. He refuses to see or hear or understand anything. He prefers to be blind rather than look at the light. The reactions of Devine and Weston are very similar to the way Digory’s uncle reacts with selfishness and avarice and greed, and of course always assuming that everyone else is intolerably ignorant and stupid, and never realizing that it is their own self-centeredness and pride that has made them fools in the eyes of all good and decent people.

The description of Ransom finally understanding the beauty of the hrossa music… oh wonderful! As a musician myself, I am always delighted to hear about music in stories and see how the characters react and how their journey changes or is enhanced by the music they hear. Music in stories is so important to set a cultural scene. “…through his love for them, he began… to hear it with their ears.”  What a beautiful step for Ransom on so many emotional and spiritual levels!

The manner of disposing of the bodies of the dead is wondrous. A solemn and hushed moment as the hrossa’s song references the afterlife and the universe’s end when everything will be made new. And then that horrid Devine has to make a nasty comment! Ugh.

Chapter 20

Hnoo is so adorable, “a conscientious creature” worried about whether or not they have done right to dip Weston’s head in the cold water after his hat fell off. Haha! This reminds me strongly of the talking animals at the Creation of Narnia, wondering what to do with Uncle Andrew, and they plant him in the ground and pour honey on him. Haha!

The whole conversation between Weston and Oyarsa is insane and wonderful. An angel talking with a madman. And an ordinary man trying to translate the ravings of the madman into something intelligible, and the more plainly he translates it, the more foolish it sounds. Lewis talks about this in some of his other books too. That if you can’t say what you mean in plain solid words, then all the fancy vocabulary you use is just rags surrounding a foolish idea. Lewis is so good in all his books at explaining great and mighty cosmic ideas in simple everyday words. Not that you can’t use beautiful or fancy words, but the idea being expressed must be able to be reduced to its simplest parts and explained to a child. And it only when the fancy trappings are removed that you can really see the heart of the matter and discern the true nature of the idea and its logical conclusion. Having Ransom translate the silly things Weston says is genius storytelling that uses this concept of simple plain words to advantage in showing what a horrible evil madman Weston is. Weston even says that he chooses to be on the devil’s side. Insane.

I love how Ransom is called “Small One” by Augray, but Weston is called “Thick One” by Oyarsa. I think these are not just references to their bodies, but also to their minds.  Ransom is small but growing. Weston is thick and stupid and unwilling to learn. And Devine is called the “Thin One” because his mind is narrow with only room for greed.

Chapter 21

The final words that Ransom has with Oyarsa are full of mystery and power. It’s the beginning of the ending of the story, and the loose ends are beginning to come together, but there are new threads introduced that could lead to more stories and greater adventures. I love the way that Oyarsa says they may meet again while Ransom is still in his physical body. He implies that it is taken for granted that they will meet after Ransom has died.

I wish that there were more of a farewell scene between Ransom and the friends he has made. He doesn’t embrace anyone. He doesn’t say goodbye.

“It had ceased to be Malacandra. It was only Mars.” This one sentence captures perfectly that end-of-vacation, end-of-the-journey feeling when you are headed home.

I love Ransom’s idea that space would “kill them by excess of its vitality.” The whole idea of the empty space not being empty but full of life is a beautifully spiritual one. I’m not even sure what I mean by that, but I feel that it is true in some way. I’m not sure what it represents. I’ll have to think on that some more and organize my thoughts.

“His heart became steadier than it had ever been.” This feels somewhat like Eustace, Lucy, and Edmund at the end of their voyage with the Dawn Treader, when they sit and eat with Aslan at the edge of the world. A wild place of impossible things, but they are comfortable and steady. The almost-end of their adventures, just as Ransom is nearing the end of his.

And his heart is steady because he in contemplating the “three-dimensional infinitude” of the eldil and his own “insignificant” life. But there can be comfort in thinking about things that are higher and bigger and more important than yourself. It doesn’t make you insignificant. It makes you steady, because you know where you fit into that larger picture.

The terrible ordeal they go through as the heat becomes unbearable, as the oxygen gets lower and the air becomes more and more stale and unbreathable. All these things are so vivid and gripping. And after that oppressive atmosphere inside the space ship, to emerge suddenly into a refreshing rain and clean air again! Wonderful writing!

Chapter 22

I don’t really like this last “explanation” of how the author heard the story from “Ransom.” Both Lewis and Tolkien seem compelled to break that wall and inform the reader that they have changed or translated the names of the characters. I feel like it ruins the magic.

Postscript

I like all the interesting details about the hrossa! I think they would have been better inserted into the story though.

I am curious about Ransom’s last comments about Jupiter and it’s special significance to the hrossa. Is that set-up for the next books? I can’t remember. It’s been so long since I’ve read this trilogy.

And I love that final crack to Tolkien about time travel. Tolkien was supposed to write about time travel, while Lewis agreed to write about space travel, but Tolkien never wrote his. haha!

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