The chapter opens as Ransom awakens on the side of the stream where he had lain down to sleep. His thirst wakes him up and he forgets the caution of the previous day and drinks deeply of the blue “water.” It was good, though mineralish. He carves a piece of a tree off to eat, but it is more like tasteless chewing gum and doesn’t really provide sustenance. Then he is off again. His journey today is one of a combined fleeing, exploring and searching for food. He happens upon some giraffe-like creatures eating “leaves” out of the tops of “trees.” They seem friendly and pass on.
He notices again these mountain-ish landforms in the distance. They are greenish white, irregular, very tall and sharp, enough to make earth’s mountains look like “mountains lying on their sides.” He sees then another creature walking, possibly toward him, like he had seen the day before and presumed to be a sorn. It is tall, with a “cadaverous leanness.” Its head is “narrow and conical,” with “thin, mobile, spidery and almost transparent” hands. Ransom, still fearing the worst from these sorns, flees through the woods and down hills to the bank of a lake, and there seemed to be no pursuit.
He is no sooner kneeling for a rest when another creature rises out of the lake just in front of him. It is covered with thick black hair and stands 6-7 feet tall. It has short legs with webbed fore and hind feet, stands upright with a beaver-like or fish-like tail. It has a seal-like head and mouth and wears a belt-like item about its abdomen used for carrying things.
Ransom quickly hides, hoping it won’t see him, until he hears it utter some sounds that, to his philological ear, must be language. He doesn’t utter the mere sounds of an unreasoning beast, but actual language, though Ransom no idea what he is saying. Then, the creature sees Ransom and they each watch each other cautiously and curiously. It’s obvious that they each want to meet, but they are also fearful of what the other one is.
Once Ransom speaks to it in English, it offers Ransom a beverage made from the blue “water” with some drops of a liquid it is carrying, which Ransom thinks is the greatest thing he’s ever had to drink. The creature identifies itself as a hross – its “species” name, not its proper name. Ransom calls himself a man which the hross pronounces as hman. They attempt further communication and Ransom begins piecing together the beginnings of some Malacandrian grammar. The hross gives Ransom some odd food, which he enjoys. And though it seems friendly, Ransom can’t help but wonder about its relation to the sorns.
This is a bit of a longer chapter, but quite rich as well. Ransom observes three different types of natives – 2 that seem intelligent and one unintelligent. There is also a “first contact” between Ransom and the hross. It is possible the hross – others of its kind – has met men before since Devine and Weston have previously been to Malacandria, but judging by its actions, I would call it very unlikely that this hross has interacted with them. This first contact is rich. There are a range of emotions and attitudes present: fear, curiosity, good-will, suspicion. And how very “lucky” I will say for now that it is a lover and learner of languages – Ransom – who was kidnapped and taken to this planet. His immediate recognition that the hross is speaking is what drove this first contact.
Then something happened which completely altered his state of mind. The creature, which was still steaming and shaking itself on the back and had obviously not seen him, opened its mouth and began to make noises. This in itself was not remarkable; but a lifetime of linguistic study assured Ransom almost at once that these were articulate noises. The creature was talking.
The play between the two is almost a dance, with each initiating a bit, observing, responding in kind. It is quite successful in the end and a delight to read.
Additionally Ransom interacted to some degree with the giraffe-like creatures who aren’t yet named: “enormous pale furry creatures… [that] were slenderer, and very much higher, than giraffes.” Its interesting how Lewis “fills” the world of Malacandra. I would consider Tolkien and expert in this area, going so far as to discuss the varieties of hobbit pipe-weed. My general feeling is that Lewis does not quite measure up in the Silent Planet, but does better in Perelandra. But I enjoy his creatures none-the-less. A previous chapter had a mention of a small red creature of some sort.
Then there is further mention of the sorns (note: we have at this point only the assumption that these creatures are indeed the sorns, but I’ll call them that for now. I really can’t remember if that is accurate or not). I discussed there description in the Summary above. Ransom naturally assumes from the conversation he overhead that the sorns are evil, or at least amoral and bloodthirsty. But he really has no information at this point to support that claim. We, the readers, have little reason to think otherwise. Except that the true bad guys in the story are probably the mad scientist and his henchman (Weston and Devine). Has Weston ever read fairy tale? This can’t end well for Weston, but I digress…
The idea of intelligent life elsewhere opens up all kinds of thought regarding religion, philosophy, the nature of man, the meaning of life. This first contact between Ransom and the hross is metaphorically dipping your toe into an ocean of ideas. I’m not going to explore a lot of those ideas at this point, but I’ll just make a comment and ask some questions.
First, Lewis is Western and Christian, like me. And his writings express this, even (and I would go so far as to say especially) his science fiction. Now he is British and not American. There are differences. But lets get into Lewis’ mind and start considering things.
So there’s other intelligent life out there… Has God revealed himself to them? Do they sin? Is there redemption, or gospel, available to them? If they haven’t ever sinned, do they even need it? How does our contact with them then affect them? How does our contact affect us? These may be merely hypothetical questions, as there’s probably no more intelligent life out there, at least not that we will ever meet. But they certainly are interesting questions to an inquisitive mind like mine.
Consider the Chronicles of Narnia, a much more well known and more widely understood mythology by Lewis. What would Jesus look like in Narnia? What would the gospel look like? We have Aslan and his substitutional atoning death in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Will there be something similar in this other world of Malacandria? We must wait and see.
PROPOSED CHAPTER TITLE:
Of Hross and Men.