Out of the Silent Planet – Chapter Sixteen

SUMMARY

Ransom awakes in Augray’s tower feeling relieved but still concerned about meeting Oyarsa. After breakfast, Ransom and Augray begin the journey to Oyarsa, mostly with Ransom riding on Augray’s shoulder. They bring the breathing device. Along the way they discuss the hrossa and the pfifltriggi. They see the “old forests of Malacandra” – the reddish or pinkish stuff that Ransom had seen shortly after landing. The old forests, now “petrified,” used to be inhabited by flying hnau before the atmosphere became to thin to sustain life. Augray tells them they have few books, that its better to remember and that Oyarsa remembers important things if the hnau forget.

They spend the night among other sorns who are very curious and ask Ransom many questions about his home world, its people, plants and  animals, geography, history, weather and a great many other things. The two most interesting things to the sorns are the fact that there is but on kind of hnau on earth and that earthlings spend a lot of time focused on transporting themselves and other resources. The conversation is “tiring and disagreeable” to Ransom.

SCI-FI ASPECT

On the seroni: Augray provides a somewhat different viewpoint of the hrossa than we, and Ransom, have previously considered. He is neither flattering nor disparaging, but his comments do lead Ransom to state, almost objecting, “I like the hrossa.” He thinks they use too little forethought in avoiding likely future hardships – such as Ransom possibly dying from exposure by taking the route they suggested. He appreciates that they fear not death, as we have noted, but that they do not seem to think reasonably about it. He further discusses the pfifltriggi, stating that they enjoy making things, but mostly only if it is pleasant to look at, but do not value making useful things, which the seroni sometimes design.

His comments are interesting enough regarding the other hnau but I think they really do a good job helping us understand the seroni. They are more of the thinkers than the other two – who I guess we could call “doers” and “feelers.” They plan and try to avoid danger and procure a good future. We’ve already seen they make cheese. They do not value things for being beautiful or meaningful, but for being useful, especially for thinking, investigating or exploring. We learn later that though they value knowledge they do not keep books, but prefer remembering. Augray tells us that the hrossa used to write many books of poetry but have generally stopped and no longer have many as they claim “the writing of books destroys poetry,” which is consistent with Hyoi’s description of a great line of poetry being great because of all that went before and after it, that the line repeated on its own would be “less splendid.”

On the surface of Mars: Also in this chapter we see a close up of what Ransom previously saw as a “great billowy cumular mass of rose-colour” which seemed at first to be a cloud. “It looked like the top of a gigantic red cauliflower – or like a huge bowl of red soapsuds.” (Chapter 7) Mars looks red from earth. This would be the reason why… the old forests that once grew when Mars was warm and had a thicker atmosphere still stand, now petrified. Augray also tells us how there were hnau there that are now dead, who had feathery coats and could fly. It begs the question of whether or not they could have been the evolutionary ancestors of sorns. They are not named. It seems a Darwinian evolution would be inconsistent with Lewis’ worldview, but he may have had some type of God-guided system in place which could account for it. An essay here goes into more detail on Lewis’ views on evolution and it seems he wouldn’t have argued against it early in life – when OOTSP was written though he may have several years later. He certainly believed in an historic Adam and wrote a nice Evolutionary Hymn later in life.

Augray seems authoritative in his statement that it isn’t “Maleldil’s way” for a world or race to last forever. With Malacandra’s atmosphere thinning, could this be the twilight of the planet as a home to “hnau?” The idea of the now passed flying hnau and the old forests, now petrified, continue to haunt Ransom in the end of the chapter. A race, a world, a culture lost.

METAPHYSICAL

(Given the last chapter’s description of spiritual beings having bodies that move quickly, I wonder if metaphysical should be a category at all…)

On Oyarsa: First I just want to touch on Oyarsa and the extinction of the flying hnau. Ransom seems surprised Oyarsa didn’t stop it from happening. Augray’s response is telling I think. He does not say that Oyarsa did what he could but was unable. He says that stopping it would not have been Maleldil’s way. This clearly shows that Oyarsa is Maleldil’s servant on Malacandra. Oyarsa works in accordance with Maleldil’s will. He is under Maleldil, which is not a surprise but a reinforcing of what the hrossa have previously told Ransom.

And what of earth’s Oyarsa? The seroni were “astonished” by what Ransom told them of mankind, especially of war, slavery and prostitution. There immediate reaction is to say that earth has no Oyarsa. But Augray corrects them, I think accurately: “It is because every one of them wants to be a little Oyarsa himself.” We all want to rule. We all want our way. We all elevate ourselves to a position of moral authority and clarity, saying what is right and wrong when we have no jurisdiction over such matters. Lewis cited Lord Coleridge in an essay when had written, “We are often compelled to set up standards we cannot reach ourselves and to lay down rules we could not ourselves satisfy.” We can’t even live up to our own standards. We have attempted vainly to usurp God’s role as ruler. How this happens in the mythology of Lewis’ Space Trilogy and the role our own Oyarsa plays, we do not yet know. I hope Lewis elaborates on it later. But for now let it suffice that we have war and slavery and prostitution because we all want to be a little Oyarsa.

“They cannot help it,” said the old sorn. “There must be rule, yet how can creatures rule themselves? Beasts must be ruled by hnau and hnau by eldila and eldila by Maleldil. These creatures have no eldila. They are like one trying to lift himself by his own hair – or one trying to see over a whole country when he is on a level with it – like a female trying to beget young on herself.”

Only one kind of hnau: The seroni are also surprised at earth having one kind of intelligent being, or hnau. They felt that if we had more than one, then we would be forced to consider the other hnau’s point of view. A different type of community would be present. We assume everyone should think and believe and act just like we ourselves, but if we had others that were obviously different then we would be forced to broaden our sympathies. I also think its notable and correct that Lewis (or at least Ransom) does not consider different races of men different hnau. We are of one blood. We are one people. But if there were other hnau on our planet, we could compare our thoughts “with thought that floats on different blood.”

And I really like that phrasing – that our thoughts float on our blood and are at the mercy of our blood.

On Dominion: In the end of the chapter Ransom is haunted by this extinction and loss of much of the surface of the planet:

He thought only of the old forests of Malacandra and of what it might mean to grow up seeing always so few miles away a land of colour that could never be reached and had once been inhabited.

I think this speaks to humanity’s seeming inner drive to explore. The Malacandrians do not seem as troubled about it as Ransom, though perhaps they have merely grown used to the idea so that it no longer seems fantastic. Or perhaps, it goes back to our command from our Creator to have dominion over the earth. Maybe our internal drive to explore is hard-wired into us by that command.

We dream. We explore. We conquer. We build. We even write science-fiction novels.

MISCELLANY

Ransom begins the chapter feeling that he has reached “The last fence.” I think this is a reference to a poem by William Henry Ogilvie that deals with death.

PROPOSED CHAPTER TITLE

Sitting on the Shoulder of Giants

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