Out of the Silent Planet – Chapter Five

SUMMARY

This chapter is admittedly slow, though quite deep as well. It summarizes Ransom’s daily life on the ship during the journey to Mars, though it does provide an account of Ransom overhearing a conversation toward the end.

Ransom takes to ship life pretty well. He ends up doing most of the cooking among other things, prefers his cooking to that of Weston or Devine. The other two take time about in a room that is off-limits to Ransom, assumed to be the ship’s control room. Ransom engages with Weston and Devine during their off-shifts. Weston will not say much but Devine is “more loquacious,” though Ransom’s quest for knowledge or their mission is thrown off often by Devine’s sarcasm and general disinterest in Malacandra. He spent more time planning what he would do when he returned to earth, rich from the journey, than what the journey actually would entail.

Ransom enjoyed the ship, generally. There was constant day on one side and constant night on the other due to the fact that they were traveling away from the sun. Ransom did worry at times that the ship would be hit by a meteor or something and destroy them all, but at the same time enjoyed traveling through space, or as he preferred, the heavens.

Late in the chapter, Ransom overhears Devine’s side of a conversation with Weston and learns they are planning to turn him over to some alien chief on Malacandra; he hears of something called a sorn that they expect to scare him. This conversation certainly scared him and he resolved not to be handed over to a sorn, even if the only alternate course was suicide, though he would attempt an escape if the opportunity availed itself. In preparation he too for himself a sharp knife from the kitchen and planned to keep it with him.

SCI-FI ASPECT

I’ll mention little here. The description of constant day on the sunward side of the ship and of constant night on the skyward side was certainly of interest. It would be odd to be able to walk from day to night at will within a couple of seconds – the true day of sun’s shining and not merely flipping a light switch.

Then of course there is the mention of aliens, both times somewhat nonchalantly by Devine. When asked by Ransom if Malacandra is inhabited, he replies, “Ah-there’s always the native question in these things.” Then later he mentions something he calls a sorn. Whether intelligent or not is not yet divulged but there is something of life there, and that something may very well be terrifying. It has that affect on Ransom:

His mind, like so many minds of his generation, was richly furnished with bogies. He had read his HG Wells and others. His universe was peopled with horrors such as ancient and medieval mythology could hardly rival. No insect-like, vermiculate or crustacean Abominable, no twitching feelers, rasping wings, slimy coils, curling tentacles, no monstrous union of superhuman intelligence and insatiable cruelty seemed to him anything but likely on an alien world… he dared not thing what the sorns would be.

This truly took a toll on his psyche and drove him to consider suicide as a reasonable alternative.

RELIGIOUS ASPECT

Though likely not an evangelical Christian of the modern American idea, Ransom was certainly a product of Wester Christian civilization and as such was concerned by the prospect of suicide, since it was considered such a serious sin, but “Ransom was a pious man. He hoped he would be forgiven.”

That our situations and responses to them have moral consequences is present in most fiction, and should be in our “real-life” minds. Thus, once again, the line between there merely sci-fi and the moral implications is blurred once again.

Lewis, in this chapter also brings into the prose much from Western and pre-western history. He refers to himself as “a second Danae,” a reference to the mother of Perseus by Zeus, of Greek mythology, a woman thought to be so beautiful that Zeus desired her. She was painted several times, often nude, by Western painters, notably including Rembrandt.

Later Ransom mediates on “space” and feels that his modern scientific mind is giving way to a clearer way of thinking, at least about space. He had read and thought of space previously as a “black, cold vacuity, the utter deadness, which was supposed to separate the worlds.” But now that he was in that “space” he thought quite differently about it. Even the term for it – space – seemed a “blasphemous” for the “ocean of radiance” they traveled through. He no longer thought of space as black, cold and dead. He now saw it as the “womb of worlds.”

Older thinkers had been wiser when they named it simply the heavens – the heavens which declared the glory – the “happy climes that ly/Where day never shuts his eye/Up in the broad fields of the sky.”

Ransom here references, in his own mind, Milton’s Comus, a lyric poem from the epic poet which, interestingly enough, tells a tale of a young lady kidnapped and taken to a strange palace where she is kept safe by her reason and virtue (two distinct ideas to us, but considered complementary sides of a clear mind, or recta ratio, in Milton’s time) until rescued by angelic spirits.

MISCELLANY

This twisting-together of art, science, history, morality and spirituality are at the heart of Lewis’ Space Trilogy. He sought a unity of these different fields in his classical understanding of life, and understanding I think we would do well to latch onto.

We see in Ransom, I think, an early modern man. He is caught between his respect for the classical ideals and unity of education and morality, science and spirituality and a fear and insecurity that has crept in from the modern age, a Romans 7 man somewhere along his journey between “conformed to the world” and “transformed by Christ” (or, as he would more likely put it, a Christ-inspired Western man of virtue and reason). But he is, at least at this point in the narrative, not yet arrived and may go either way – just as Milton’s heroine of Comus had been caught up several centuries earlier.

Lewis’s Space Trilogy is no mere science fiction, but an exploration of the soul of man.

(I’m loving this book already!)

Proposed Chapter Title: And There Was Evening and There Was Morning

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