Out of the Silent Planet – Chapter Seventeen

SUMMARY

The following day, Ransom and Augray continue traveling to Meldilorn. They reach the handramit earlier spoken of by Whin and descend into it. There is a large lake here with an island in it. The island is Meldilorn. Augray passes off Ransom to an hross ferryman, saying that Oyarsa has called only for Ransom and not himself.

He’s told there are huts for sleeping, food to be had if he asks and that Oyarsa will call on him when ready – which may be a few minutes or several days. Ransom explores Meldilorn as other native Malacandrians arrive. He feels shy and generally remains solitary, eating the groundweed and taking a nap.

Upon Meldilorn there is a great “monolithic avenue” like a “much larger stonehenge,” but no temple or traditional buildings – other than the huts for visitors. Upon close inspection of the monoliths he sees several symbolic images carved into them. On some he sees representations of the hnau of Malacandra and Oyarsa. On another he sees representations of the planets, each with a figure, similar to Oyarsa, except for the one representing earth. On that one the figure had been “cut as if to erase it.”

His inspection is interrupted by a hammering sound which turns out to be a pfifltrigg carving a rough likeness of himself (as human but not necessarily as Ransom) in a pictoral representation of himself, Weston and Devine landing on Malacandra. He then has an interesting conversation with the pfifltrigg, whose name is Kanakaberaka.

SCI-FI ASPECT

Malacandra: The first paragraph introduces a sandstorm: “sand caught up from the great northern deserts by the winds of that terrible country.” I’m no meteorologist, but it seems like if there isn’t enough air to breath, there wouldn’t be enough for a massive sandstorm. This seems a stretch, Mr Lewis.

Meldilorn is an island in the middle of a great lake which is shallow enough for a sorn to wade through. There is further discussion of interesting Malacandrian flora growing on it.Upon parting with Augray, Ransom offers his watch as a gift, but Augray declines, saying the pfiffltriggi will have more use of such an item and appreciate it more. But we also learn that Augray is surprised earthlings need watches to keep the time. Maybe we care more about temporal precision than Malacandrians, or maybe they always know the time to the minute (like Jack Reacher).

Upon Meldilorn there is a group of upright monoliths, similar and larger than Stonehenge. This ties loosely into the third novel of the Trilogy which incorporates medieval and ancient England into the overall mythology of the series.  This is certainly not something noticeable in the first reading of the series, nor is it terribly consequential.

Eldila: As he looks around the island he feels “the island was having a look at him.” He was previously told there were eldila all over the island, and now he notices variations in the light on the ground, as if their is some type of “light-wind” (my term). Given the earlier explanation, though cryptic, of the eldil bodies and movement, maybe this is the result of so many eldila around, and the text seems to say as much. Maybe his eyes are beginning to adjust to see them.

Engravings: Most interestingly in this chapter is a page and a half description of the engravings on the monoliths – pictographs you could a call them I guess. There were pictures of hrossa, sorns and pfiffltriggi along with the fourth unnamed and extinct hnau. They seem to tell a story of the hnau on the surface of Malacandra being attacked, possibly just killed by the cold and lack of atmosphere, and of Oyarsa creating and leading them into the handramit, with the sorns building towers, the hrossa channels, and the pfiffltriggi digging caves.

“Ransom wondered whether this were a mythical account of the making of the handramits or whether they were conceivably artificial in fact.” I found this sentence, at first, difficult to understand, thinking it was asking something like – Are the pictures mythical or artificial? The idea of the true myth that Lewis discussed crossed my mind but didn’t seem to fit. On further thought, I think the “they” toward the end of the sentence refers to the handramit instead of the pictures. Was this a mythical accounting of the making of the handramit or was it a true account? Was the handramit carved out by Oyarsa to save the hnau of Malacandra? I think this is the true question Ransom was pondering.

Then there is the representation of the planets:

Mercury is first, whole Malacandrian name we do not know. It is depicted as closest to the sun, as a little ball, “on which rode a winged figure” with a trumpet. Mercury is named after the Greek god who was a messenger or herald. Interesting imagery as a trumpet could be carried by a herald and blown before an announcement. The figure is also described as “something like Oyarsa,” that is Oyarsa from the previous series of pictures.

Next comes Venus. Another flaming figure rides the planet and looks female with two bulges that resemble “udders or breasts.” Our own Venus is named after a female god.

This is followed by earth. And “where the flame-like figure should have been, a deep depression of irregular shape had been cut as if to erase it.” This seems connected to earth being the silent planet. Our own Oyarsa, if he exists still, no longer speaks with the others.

Mars is next, but isn’t, in this picture, represented as a ball but as the vantage point. This proves to Ransom that Malacandra is indeed Mars.

Pfiffltriggi: Finally Ransom meets a pfiffltrigg who is working on a visual representation of the three earthlings arriving on Malacandra. It was odd-looking to Ransom, “more insect-like or reptilian” than the others and with a small sloping forehead and brain-case held behind the ears. It sat hunched forward, supporting itself with its elbows while using its hands to work on the engraving. It was built like a frog with strong many-fingered hands. It was also described as similar to Arthur Rackham’s dwarfs. It worked oddly, keeping its tools close by and the most frequently used tools in its mouth.

As Ransom observes the image it has carved, he recoils from “disgust,” but states the pfiffltrigg, named Kanakaberaka, must see them like that. To which he replies that it must not be too realistic or “those who are born after” will not believe it is accurate. It seems he is more interested in telling the story as a narrative than getting the details just right. This may have implications on our own histories and origins. Only Lewis would know for sure.

Ransom then asks about the language and Kanakaberaka says that the hrossa language is the language they use when talking to each other. They use the hrossa language because the hrossa are best with words. The best poetry is in the hardest language “as the best pictures are made in the hardest stone.”

METAPHYSICAL ASPECT

I don’t want to say a lot here. I think most of the “meat” of this chapter fit well into the Sci-fi space. Just a couple of quick comments:

Again we have a picture – a literal picture this time – of something being wrong with Earth, or Thulcandra. The Oyarsa is gone/dead/cut-off… we don’t know. We don’t know why or how, though I’ve speculated before that it has to do with the Fall and Earthen hnau being bent.

Secondly I just want to touch on the end of the conversation between Ransom and Kanakaberaka. There is a fundamental misunderstanding, between the two cultures, of why we work. The Malacandrans seem to work from a pre-Fall mandate to have dominion over their creation – the pfiffltriggi digging, the hrossa hunting hnakra as we were once commanded. See Genesis 1:28. But after the Fall, mankind’s relationship with work was twisted (or bent). Work was now fraught with toil. See Genesis 3:17. Men work so that they can have food to eat and live. Malacandrans work to worship Maleldil the Young.

Lastly, as Ransom began to explore the island, he had a certain feeling: “The sense of awe which was increasing upon him deterred him from approaching the crown of the hill, the grove and the avenue of standing stones.” Is this a holy place?

MISCELLANY

I’ve already touched on this, but just wanted to point again to Arthur Rackham. He was a British illustrator of books and contemporary of Lewis. Lewis wrote of the joy he felt at seeing Rackham’s illustrations. I don’t know of any personal connection between the two or if they ever even met.

PROPOSED CHAPTER TITLE

On Holy Ground

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