Out of the Silent Planet – Chapter Six

SUMMARY

Ransom awakes the following “morning” (after overhearing the conversation about giving him to a sorn) feeling some despair and thinking he’ll never return to earth. Ransom notes that the temperature gradually cools and the intensity of the light decreases though retains the same quality of clarity. They also began to feel gravity’s pull from Malacandra so that the center of the ship was not longer the dominant source of gravity but an external source, which made life on the ship a little bit difficult. Ransom found that he gained weight quickly, like “a pregnant woman, but magnified almost beyond endurance.”

Their senses of direction begins to change and to fail. Nausea develops and they are all generally miserable. At a certain point there became a specific “down” on one side of the ship. Finally they land the ship with some difficulty and the predictable short tempers and lack of patience that we humans often exhibit when stressed. At the time of landing on this new and unknown world, Ransom is drawn completely into “philosophical speculation” regarding the nature of earth and our solar system and our universe.

SCI-FI ASPECT

The scientific implications here are obvious and deal primarily with entering Malacandra’s gravitational pull and atmosphere. I can’t say I know much about the experience of gravity as one approaches a heavenly body such as astronauts landing on the moon or returning to earth. The mass of Mars is about a tenth that of earth, but gravitational pull is about 40%. So comparing to earth is not going to quite do justice. Likewise, the moon’s pull is about 40% of Mars’ so that comparison wouldn’t do justice either. American astronauts are firmly strapped into chairs and so the gravitational pull will feel different to them as well.

The physical effects described – “all of them were afflicted with vomiting, headache and palpitations of the heart” – should be fairly accurate just based on normal human physiology and the disturbance in the vestibular system.

There is little to no expounding on the ship’s landing – the thrust used to slow descent, maneuver and stabilize the ship. This is regrettable from a scientific standpoint, but it probably is a boon to the general flow of the prose. Its just not that kind of book. For that type of science fiction, see The Martian, which interestingly takes place on essentially the same planet (and is excellent in its prose and science).

METAPHYSICAL ASPECT

(I’ve decided to switch terms from religious to metaphysical. Metaphysical is a broader term that better encompasses the scope of the section. It still deals with religious aspects, as well as the philosophical. Its almost as if these sections could be titled physical and metaphysical, but the word physical connotes biology and though that may be involved it is not the main thrust of the section. The headings may change again in the future and more headings may end up being added. I’m organizing on the fly here.)

The chapter is short but there are a couple of pretty interesting comments along the way. The first comes in the first paragraph as Ransom is considering the terror he felt the day before. Ransom begins teasing out the differences between the rational fear of death – which is perfectly reasonable and common to all of us – and the “irrational, the biological, horror of monsters.” The rational and the irrational are here set as different sides of Ransom’s inner struggle. I guess one could get all Freudian here if so desired, but I do not desire that. I would prefer to turn to Roman’s 7 for a slightly different discussion which I think illuminates Ransom’s struggle. And I also think Ransom’s struggle helps illuminate biblical text:

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

This internal struggle between the spiritual man and the flesh is constant in the life of the believer. Sanctification – becoming more like Christ – plays a role, but that struggle continues. It is not reasonable (I could say sane) to sin in light of the cross, of forgiveness and regeneration. But the old man is at war with the new. So we must discipline our body’s to keep them under control, as Paul says in Romans 7.

These ideas of suicide, of murder, of panic, despair and fleeing are likewise unreasonable. This fear of the unknown, the “horror of monsters” is irrational. But it is quite understandable and identifiable to person alive.

Later, in the penultimate paragraph of the chapter, Ransom is meditating on an idea that he doesn’t fully develop, for it is interrupted by landing on the planet. Its an idea that is really hard to develop but comes as though light is shining through some windows from some unclear light source that one is trying to comprehend.

The windows are comments like “They were falling out of the heaven, into a world.” “Unless visible light is also a hole or gap, a mere diminution of something else. Something that is to bright unchanging heaven as heaven is to the dark heavy [planets].” Its almost as if space travel has given him the beginnings of a sixth sense – to observe a deeper spiritual reality below the physical we usually see.

MISCELLANY

I just wanted to pause on a quick idea that jumped up early in the chapter with the lines: “Like many men of his own age, he rather underestimated than overestimated his own courage; the gap between boyhood’s dreams and his actual experience of the War had been so startling, and his subsequent view of his own unheroic qualities had perhaps swung too far the opposite direction.”

Considering that Lewis’ friend Tolkien was a philologist and veteran of what we call World War I, I wonder if this is partly biographical of Mr Tolkien. But then I suppose a great many men of Lewis’ generation were veterans of that war, so I guess it is as like as not that this be so. Just a thought.

PROPOSED CHAPTER TITLE

Out of the Bright Heavens

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