This chapter is unlike any in OOTSP in that it is told in first person from the narrator’s (Lewis) point of view. He is traveling to Ransom’s house as Ransom had requested just a little after dark one evening. He is overcome on the way with feelings of doubt and dread and more than once considers turning back, but he presses on in spite of himself. He is most fearful that he will end up meeting one of the eldila and worries that they are actually evil and have duped Ransom into doing their dastardly deeds. He arrives at Ransom’s country cottage to find that Ransom himself is not home and has left a note inviting Lewis in and to make himself at home.
Once inside he notices an odd chemical smell and a strange object on the floor shaped like a coffin, though he doesn’t go so far as to say so explicitly. He also hears a non-human voice asking for Ransom and finally sees a “pillar of light” (16) which he takes for Oyarsa of Malacandra. Though still fearful of the eldila, he no longer worried that they were evil. Rather he feared them because they were so good.
Presently Ransom comes through the door and begins to converse with the eldil in the language I will hence-forth refer to as Old Solar. His presence, though not his foreign speech, is quite relieving.
The eldil: Most striking science fiction related part of this opening chapter is that inhuman voice of the eldil asking for and then speaking to Ransom (16-18). I think its interesting that Lewis doesn’t quote him directly, but then he (it?) is speaking in another language except when it asks for Ransom. The voice wasn’t human or animal. It wasn’t mechanical either. It was almost musical, just “two notes” and “rather beautiful.” Lewis also sees the eldil or something of it. Like a “faint rod or pillar of light.” It was interesting that it seemed upright yet not upright as the surface of the earth is concerned. Its as if it was aligned to some other, truer up-down axis. Its very faint and hard to see. Still it seems more visible than what Ransom was able to see of them on Malacandra.
Lewis postulates that this is not just any eldil but the Oyarsa of Malacandra. But we don’t have any confirmation of that just yet. I still find it curious that it is there. In OOTSP we learned that the eldila cannot travel to earth, that it is walled off, separate from the heavens, which includes just about everything else, even the other planets. Maybe Ransom has become some kind of a bridge or an island giving them access?
The object: I’ll only mention it here since I recall there is more discussion of it in a later chapter. But this thing on the floor – what is it? “A great big thing, very long: a kind of box, an open box: and of a disquieting shape which I did not immediately recognize” (16). First, I’m not sure I approve of all those colons. Second, the disquieting shape I’m pretty sure is a reference to a casket. Its white, like ice, semitransparent; and it has an odd chemical smell and is cool to the touch.
The fear: The fear Lewis feels at different places in the novel may be nothing at all. But it stands out so I’ll mention it. It feels oppressive. Indeed the entire chapter feels oppressive. I think its very good writing. It keeps me from liking the chapter, but at the same time helps me admire the chapter.
We’ve all been afraid of things in the dark. We can all recall a time in our lives where we had an unreasonable feeling that there was something hiding in a dark corner waiting to pounce. Is this all that was going on? Just that run-of-the-mill creepy feeling? Or is there something more? Maybe Lewis is surrounded by eldila. Maybe they are spurring him on, but their goodness is still frightful. Or maybe there are some fallen, dark Thulcandrian eldila willfully trying to stop his way and keep him from arriving at the cottage?
There is an interesting thought on page 17. Lewis was previously afraid of the eldila in part because he was suspicious of them and worried they may be evil, enticing Ransom into participating in their devious plans. Now that he sees and hears one, he no longer has that concern. He is now sure they are good, but that is not encouraging.
I felt sure that the creature was what we call “good” but I wasn’t sure whether I liked “goodness”… This is a very terrible experience. As long as what you are afraid of is something evil, you may still hope that the good may come to your rescue. But suppose you struggle through to the good and find that it also is dreadful?
I am reminded of a couple other similar instances here. One is from the OT account of Isaiah in Isaiah 6 when he sees “the Lord sitting upon a throne.” He concludes that he, an unclean man, will be destroyed by this terrible upright goodness that he is seeing. But he finds mercy instead. His guilt is taken away and his sin is atoned for.
There are also biblical accounts of people encountering angels and being filled with fear. But these spiritual warriors aren’t there to hurt, but to speak a good message. That doesn’t make the good any less frightening.
PROPOSED CHAPTER TITLE
A Terrible Experience of Goodness