Out of the Silent Planet – Chapter Twenty-one

SUMMARY

In short the trio travels back to earth. In the slightly longer version, the Malacandrians ready the ship for their 90 day max flight. They fly closer to the sun than anyone has ever been en route and it gets terribly hot, but they survive and head toward earth. Late in the journey the moon nearly blocks them from earth but they are able to reverse course and navigate by it, barely making it home before the ship is “unbodied.” Ransom escapes with only a few minutes to spare. They speak very little on the journey to conserve oxygen. And there is much introspection on Ransom’s part.

SCI-FI ASPECT

First, they should have some type of rudimentary water reclaimer on the ship. If it is as hot and sweaty as Lewis says, then there is moisture in the air. Maybe no one could come up with anything like this in the late ’30s but that is hard to believe. Moonshine stills were common and they run on a similar principle – catch the moisture in the air, condense it and collect it. Water should never have been a concern. Anyone who has read The Martian knows that modern science has taken it to a new level, but even in the 1930s, Lewis should have been aware. Oxygen is more difficult, but there seems to be plenty of it.

I appreciate Ransom’s description of Malacadra as he ascends from it. The handramits are so small as not to be visible from earth and obscured by the reddish surface. The discussion of the black space with two horns spreading around the planet was a bit more confusing, but I think Lewis was using it to change the setting, change Ransom’s idea of where he was – now in space and not on the surface, but seeing the planet from outside of it and inside of space. It is an odd description though.

There is little detail about their navigation about the sun or the moon, except to note that they wanted to keep some distance from the latter due to its gravitational pull. In modern space travel it is popular to use the gravitational pull heavenly bodies like the moon, sun or other planets to “slingshot” around and gain speed. Maybe that wasn’t an issue here as they wouldn’t wanted to approach earth’s atmosphere too quickly. Or, more likely, it wasn’t a concept Lewis, or science, was acquainted with at the time.

Mars’ two “tiny” moons are mentioned.

METAPHYSICAL

I found Oyarsa’s words to Ransom a little extreme: “You are guilty of no evil, Ransom of Thulcandra, escept a little fearfulness.” I guess I expect to see total depravity depicted a little more clearly. But maybe he is speaking specifically of Ransom’s actions on Malacandra and not his heart’s condition. He also gives Ransom an exhortation to watch and fight “those two bent ones,” and says that the eldila will be there to help when help is needed. But he does not promise, absolutely, a safe or successful journey home.

We don’t have the details of Ransom’s conversation, which could fill Chapter 20-and-a-half. All we have is Oyarsa’s conclusion, “You have shown me more wonders than are known in the whole of heaven.” I suspect by this he means to express his absolute awe, even as a near infinite being, at Maleldil the Young becoming a man and being crucified on a cross of wood, only to rise again in 3 days time and ascend to his rightful throne. But I suppose he may mean something else. Maleldil’s dealings with Thulcandra were Oyarsa’s chief concern in Chapter 19, though they didn’t get around to it much then either.

“It even occurred to [Ransom] that the distinction between history and mythology might be itself meaningless outside the earth.” A lot could be written about this. Indeed Lewis wrote about “true myth.” Much truth can be packed into a made up story. I am reminded of a later very different book as well. “The past that was differs little from the past that was not,” was spoken by the antagonist of a modern American novel called Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy. I think they mean much the same thing. What happened in the book, or in ancient mythologies, may not have actually happened, but they tell us much about who we are and where we are going.

Its also notable that there is some fearfulness left in Ransom but by and large his emotional response to this journey is much more confident and even courageous than the journey to Malacandra. He knows that the journey will likely fail and death is looking him in the eye, yet he has much peace. He felt that there was so much life outside the ship, waiting to join if they were suddenly unbodied, they would be killed not by being swallowed into nothingness, but by an “excess of vitality.”

And with that peace and that courage, they arrive safely back on planet earth. Weston and Devine, true to their natures, do not bother to wake Ransom and let him know. They simply flee the ship and the scene prior to its unbodying. Ransom, overjoyed by the sound of the English rain, runs to the nearest pub and orders a “pint of bitter.”

MISCELLANY

A pint of bitter – ale or beer of course.

Devine shines several times in this chapter: “His whole view of Malacandra had been altered overnight by the discovery that the ‘natives’ had an alcoholic drink, and he had even een trying to teach them to smoke. Only the pfiffltriggi had made much of it.” (Not surprising of the pfiffltriggi. They seem more “earthy.” “The sorns make least account of females and we make most.”) That alone is worthy of a smile. Then shortly later, Weston had informed them there would be no unnecessary movement or talking on the voyage to conserve oxygen. Weston proclaimed that he would only speak in the even of an emergency, to which Devine responds, “Thank God for that, anyway.” Good for somewhere between a chuckle and belly-laugh depending on the mood of the reader.

Later on, more seriously, when it looks as though they’ll crash into the moon and Weston “was crying like a child,” Devine took the helm of the ship and saved them. Devine knew the danger and “never had he appeared so admirable. His face was as pale as Weston’s, but his eyes were clear and preternaturally bright; he sat crouched over the controls like an animal about to spring and he was whistling very softly between his teeth.”

Oyarsa may prefer Weston, but I like Devine better.

PROPOSED CHAPTER TITLE

Out of the Talkee-Talkee Planet.

 

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