Out of the Silent Planet – Chapter Ten

SUMMARY

After eating with the hross, Ransom travels with him to his home, or village. The journey is mostly by boat. They begin by crossing a large lake in a small boat with the hross paddling. At some point near the opposite shore they pick up a current which whisks them along at a pretty good rate. The choppiness of the water and curvy -ness of the current is enough to make Ransom a bit sea-sick. At one point they enter a more narrow stream and the elevation change is enough that the duo must walk along the side of the stream carrying the boat for a while until the ground levels out and they took to the water again.

During the journey, Ransom picks up on more of the language and realizes the harandra is the high country – mountainish areas and where he has been, while the low country, where they are headed is called the handramit. The handramit is like a large long crevice in the harandra. He also seems to get the idea that the hrossa (plural of hross) live in the handramit while the seroni live in the harandra. Ransom wonders if the sorns are the seroni.

Eventually they make it to a village of the hrossa, where Ransom is generally welcomed and cared for, though he missed seeing other humans. He also meets some of the hrossa young who are “jolly little things,” then falls asleep in the village later that night.

SCI-FI ASPECT

This chapter allows for some further language development and bonding between Ransom and the hross. Ransom also learns how the world is somewhat divided between the high- and low-country and a little of the different natives who occupy each. It makes me wonder when he will meet these others and if there are yet more “races” of natives here.

Ransom has an interest in hrossa physiology where he wonders if they ever get sick and vomit. I think this is an interesting thing thrown in though it is probably of little significance to the story. If there are aliens out there what is there physiology like? Are they green-blooded like Star Trek’s vulcans?

We also get a little bit of a further look at the general weather and geographical conditions of the planet – a quicker nightfall, the high and low country areas. And there’s that red stuff which he initially takes to be clouds… what is that red stuff? Mars, viewed from earth, is the  red planet. Maybe that’s why it was named after the ancient Roman god of war – war being bloody and all. “Behind and sometimes above the mountain peaks he could make out in many places great billowy piles of the rose-red substance which he had yesterday mistaken for cloud.” What is that red stuff?

Ransom further ponders the relationship between the hrossa and the sorns. Are the sorns some blood-thirsty animal-like pet the hrossa keep? Are the sorns some super-intelligent suzerain of the hrossa? We don’t yet know.

METAPHYSICAL ASPECT

As I’ve briefly mentioned before, when you get into science-fiction you begin to bend the normal physical laws of the universe. This opens the door to explore the metaphysics of the universe as well. Sometimes that is brilliant and beautiful ways – as in the Space Trilogy or Nolan’s Interstellar. But it can also be shocking and horrific as in the film Event Horizon.

I say that to say this: some of the material above – concerning the society of Malacandra and the interaction of the different natives – could go in the Metaphysical section instead. But alas  I placed it in Sci-Fi. It is aliens, after all. So I won’t go into anything further in this space, except to say that it can be hard to classify these things. And now some humor:

PROPOSED CHAPTER TITLE – To keep it “Lewisian”

The Voyage of the Malacandra Treader

Out of the Silent Planet – Chapter Nine

SUMMARY

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.

SCI-FI ASPECT

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…

METAPHYSICAL ASPECT

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.

Out of the Silent Planet – Chapter Eight

SUMMARY

This chapter follows Ransom running through the strange foreign planet upon which he has found himself. He quickly tires – out of shape from having been inactive on a spaceship for a month and continues at a brisk walk. He notes the environment around him – the almost squishy ground, something he refers to as “trees,” a series of ups and downs – small ridges he is crossing, and streams of the warm blue “water.”

He notes that the “aliens” he saw must be the sorns. And though they are much different than he imagined, they are still quite horrifying – “spooks on stilts… surrealistic bogy-men with their long faces.”

He ponders a bit upon which planet he has landed upon. The planet – Malacandra – he has not yet identified as what we call Mars. He thinks it too cool to be Venus so it is likely either Mars or our own moon.

As he travels he grows a bit cool, quite tired, very thirsty and somewhat hungry. He decides to lay down for a rest near one of the streams because they give off heat. He considers drinking the “water” but is unsure if that’s safe, so he ends up falling asleep still quite thirsty.

SCI-FI ASPECT

This relatively short chapter focuses on Ransom’s travel and surroundings through the unknown world. It doesn’t get very science-y apart from his wondering about which planet he is on. I think he is putting together that the force of gravity is less than that on earth, though its not quite explicit. It seems he favors the moon as the most likely destination. It doesn’t seem that he considers moons of other planets.

Lewis again references HG Wells, saying the Malacandrian natives “appeal away from Wellsian fantasies.” I think this makes the third reference to HG Wells thus far including the pre-Chapter one “note” in which he writes “The author would be sorry if any reader supposed he was too stupid to have enjoyed Mr. H.G.Wells’s fantasies or too ungrateful to acknowledge his debt to them.” The other was in chapter five, following Ransom overhearing the conversation between Devine and Weston. Lewis remarks that, given Ransom’s reading of “his H.G. Wells” he imagined the universe as being filled with horrible aliens.

Wells’ most notable work on that subject is War of the Worlds, a novel in which aliens from Mars attempt to take over the world. They overcome human ingenuity and warfare but are eventually fought off by a type of biological pathogen – another idea that has hung around in literature for many years.

METAPHYSICAL ASPECT

There really isn’t much in this chapter. What little I could draw, I’ll just leave for another day.

PROPOSED CHAPTER TITLE

Lets throwback to ’80s sci-fi and call it: The Running Man

Out of the Silent Planet – Chapter 7

Long delay since chapter 6 – been out of town.

SUMMARY

After landing, the trio wiggle out of a small hatch at the bottom of the ship onto the ground. Nearby is a small hut built by Weston and Devine on a previous trip. They commence to unloading the supplies they have brought and Weston and Devine both carry revolvers. After a bit they break for lunch – earth food – and Ransom gets to take a break and observe his surroundings.

They are on a peninsula or island surrounded by blue water with high-peaked gentle waves. In the distance there are some tall mountain-like landforms and Ransom also admires the flora which seems to be at least partially made up of purple vegetables. Its all very other-worldly and quite beautiful. Ransom is surprised to realize that he never imagined Malacandra could be beautiful.

While eating, Devine notices some life-forms across the water on the opposite shore. They are tall and slender and it takes Ransom a minute to realize that they are actually alive as they don’t look like any of our planet’s life-forms. Startled, Ransom turns to flee, but is caught by Devine and Weston. A scuffle ensues which is interrupted by one of the aliens calling out to them what turns out to be a warning. When they turn, they see some other beast torpedoing toward them across the water. Weston fires his gun at it, but it arrives and attacks, jaws open. In the confusion Ransom breaks free and takes off running across the land away from Weston and Devine leaving them to whatever fate they can work out between themselves, their guns, and the beast attacking.

SCI-FI ASPECT

This is the chapter where our protagonist steps foot on a different planet… so there’s that. Pretty exciting unless you are obsessing over every detail (like me). I again enjoy the way Lewis describes the planet. It is not visual alone. He describes the tactile sensations as well as some sounds. Everything here seems to be very tall – waves, mountains, natives (I almost called them aliens, but the aliens here are the humans).  This makes sense considering the decreased gravity. However post-Mars Rover and moon pictures (if you really believe that stuff is legitimate), it doesn’t seem that less gravity really causes things to be taller or more peaked. The moon’s seas are dry and Mars’ are frozen so I guess we still have to wait and see regarding waves. I see little point in expounding too much on this. All the description is there in chapter seven if you want to review it.

METAPHYSICAL ASPECT

Chapter seven is admittedly light here. I will mention only one thing briefly. In past readings this chapter has left me so excited that I turn the page immediately to see what happens to Ransom next, but this time I am pausing to think and expound and I’m taken with how terrifying Ransom’s experience has been. The only humans on the whole planet were just holding him at gunpoint. The only reason he escaped was because a great beast interrupted them. And now he is running away from those people and the only space-ship around. His prospects for a long fruitful and satisfied life are pretty bleak. He’s all alone, on the run, in a completely unknown foreign planet.

His running – does that reflect the rational fear of death or the irrational fear of monsters? I would say the former.

PROPOSED CHAPTER TITLE

An Alien Encounter

Out of the Silent Planet – Chapter Six

SUMMARY

Ransom awakes the following “morning” (after overhearing the conversation about giving him to a sorn) feeling some despair and thinking he’ll never return to earth. Ransom notes that the temperature gradually cools and the intensity of the light decreases though retains the same quality of clarity. They also began to feel gravity’s pull from Malacandra so that the center of the ship was not longer the dominant source of gravity but an external source, which made life on the ship a little bit difficult. Ransom found that he gained weight quickly, like “a pregnant woman, but magnified almost beyond endurance.”

Their senses of direction begins to change and to fail. Nausea develops and they are all generally miserable. At a certain point there became a specific “down” on one side of the ship. Finally they land the ship with some difficulty and the predictable short tempers and lack of patience that we humans often exhibit when stressed. At the time of landing on this new and unknown world, Ransom is drawn completely into “philosophical speculation” regarding the nature of earth and our solar system and our universe.

SCI-FI ASPECT

The scientific implications here are obvious and deal primarily with entering Malacandra’s gravitational pull and atmosphere. I can’t say I know much about the experience of gravity as one approaches a heavenly body such as astronauts landing on the moon or returning to earth. The mass of Mars is about a tenth that of earth, but gravitational pull is about 40%. So comparing to earth is not going to quite do justice. Likewise, the moon’s pull is about 40% of Mars’ so that comparison wouldn’t do justice either. American astronauts are firmly strapped into chairs and so the gravitational pull will feel different to them as well.

The physical effects described – “all of them were afflicted with vomiting, headache and palpitations of the heart” – should be fairly accurate just based on normal human physiology and the disturbance in the vestibular system.

There is little to no expounding on the ship’s landing – the thrust used to slow descent, maneuver and stabilize the ship. This is regrettable from a scientific standpoint, but it probably is a boon to the general flow of the prose. Its just not that kind of book. For that type of science fiction, see The Martian, which interestingly takes place on essentially the same planet (and is excellent in its prose and science).

METAPHYSICAL ASPECT

(I’ve decided to switch terms from religious to metaphysical. Metaphysical is a broader term that better encompasses the scope of the section. It still deals with religious aspects, as well as the philosophical. Its almost as if these sections could be titled physical and metaphysical, but the word physical connotes biology and though that may be involved it is not the main thrust of the section. The headings may change again in the future and more headings may end up being added. I’m organizing on the fly here.)

The chapter is short but there are a couple of pretty interesting comments along the way. The first comes in the first paragraph as Ransom is considering the terror he felt the day before. Ransom begins teasing out the differences between the rational fear of death – which is perfectly reasonable and common to all of us – and the “irrational, the biological, horror of monsters.” The rational and the irrational are here set as different sides of Ransom’s inner struggle. I guess one could get all Freudian here if so desired, but I do not desire that. I would prefer to turn to Roman’s 7 for a slightly different discussion which I think illuminates Ransom’s struggle. And I also think Ransom’s struggle helps illuminate biblical text:

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

This internal struggle between the spiritual man and the flesh is constant in the life of the believer. Sanctification – becoming more like Christ – plays a role, but that struggle continues. It is not reasonable (I could say sane) to sin in light of the cross, of forgiveness and regeneration. But the old man is at war with the new. So we must discipline our body’s to keep them under control, as Paul says in Romans 7.

These ideas of suicide, of murder, of panic, despair and fleeing are likewise unreasonable. This fear of the unknown, the “horror of monsters” is irrational. But it is quite understandable and identifiable to person alive.

Later, in the penultimate paragraph of the chapter, Ransom is meditating on an idea that he doesn’t fully develop, for it is interrupted by landing on the planet. Its an idea that is really hard to develop but comes as though light is shining through some windows from some unclear light source that one is trying to comprehend.

The windows are comments like “They were falling out of the heaven, into a world.” “Unless visible light is also a hole or gap, a mere diminution of something else. Something that is to bright unchanging heaven as heaven is to the dark heavy [planets].” Its almost as if space travel has given him the beginnings of a sixth sense – to observe a deeper spiritual reality below the physical we usually see.

MISCELLANY

I just wanted to pause on a quick idea that jumped up early in the chapter with the lines: “Like many men of his own age, he rather underestimated than overestimated his own courage; the gap between boyhood’s dreams and his actual experience of the War had been so startling, and his subsequent view of his own unheroic qualities had perhaps swung too far the opposite direction.”

Considering that Lewis’ friend Tolkien was a philologist and veteran of what we call World War I, I wonder if this is partly biographical of Mr Tolkien. But then I suppose a great many men of Lewis’ generation were veterans of that war, so I guess it is as like as not that this be so. Just a thought.

PROPOSED CHAPTER TITLE

Out of the Bright Heavens

Out of the Silent Planet – Chapter Five

SUMMARY

This chapter is admittedly slow, though quite deep as well. It summarizes Ransom’s daily life on the ship during the journey to Mars, though it does provide an account of Ransom overhearing a conversation toward the end.

Ransom takes to ship life pretty well. He ends up doing most of the cooking among other things, prefers his cooking to that of Weston or Devine. The other two take time about in a room that is off-limits to Ransom, assumed to be the ship’s control room. Ransom engages with Weston and Devine during their off-shifts. Weston will not say much but Devine is “more loquacious,” though Ransom’s quest for knowledge or their mission is thrown off often by Devine’s sarcasm and general disinterest in Malacandra. He spent more time planning what he would do when he returned to earth, rich from the journey, than what the journey actually would entail.

Ransom enjoyed the ship, generally. There was constant day on one side and constant night on the other due to the fact that they were traveling away from the sun. Ransom did worry at times that the ship would be hit by a meteor or something and destroy them all, but at the same time enjoyed traveling through space, or as he preferred, the heavens.

Late in the chapter, Ransom overhears Devine’s side of a conversation with Weston and learns they are planning to turn him over to some alien chief on Malacandra; he hears of something called a sorn that they expect to scare him. This conversation certainly scared him and he resolved not to be handed over to a sorn, even if the only alternate course was suicide, though he would attempt an escape if the opportunity availed itself. In preparation he too for himself a sharp knife from the kitchen and planned to keep it with him.

SCI-FI ASPECT

I’ll mention little here. The description of constant day on the sunward side of the ship and of constant night on the skyward side was certainly of interest. It would be odd to be able to walk from day to night at will within a couple of seconds – the true day of sun’s shining and not merely flipping a light switch.

Then of course there is the mention of aliens, both times somewhat nonchalantly by Devine. When asked by Ransom if Malacandra is inhabited, he replies, “Ah-there’s always the native question in these things.” Then later he mentions something he calls a sorn. Whether intelligent or not is not yet divulged but there is something of life there, and that something may very well be terrifying. It has that affect on Ransom:

His mind, like so many minds of his generation, was richly furnished with bogies. He had read his HG Wells and others. His universe was peopled with horrors such as ancient and medieval mythology could hardly rival. No insect-like, vermiculate or crustacean Abominable, no twitching feelers, rasping wings, slimy coils, curling tentacles, no monstrous union of superhuman intelligence and insatiable cruelty seemed to him anything but likely on an alien world… he dared not thing what the sorns would be.

This truly took a toll on his psyche and drove him to consider suicide as a reasonable alternative.

RELIGIOUS ASPECT

Though likely not an evangelical Christian of the modern American idea, Ransom was certainly a product of Wester Christian civilization and as such was concerned by the prospect of suicide, since it was considered such a serious sin, but “Ransom was a pious man. He hoped he would be forgiven.”

That our situations and responses to them have moral consequences is present in most fiction, and should be in our “real-life” minds. Thus, once again, the line between there merely sci-fi and the moral implications is blurred once again.

Lewis, in this chapter also brings into the prose much from Western and pre-western history. He refers to himself as “a second Danae,” a reference to the mother of Perseus by Zeus, of Greek mythology, a woman thought to be so beautiful that Zeus desired her. She was painted several times, often nude, by Western painters, notably including Rembrandt.

Later Ransom mediates on “space” and feels that his modern scientific mind is giving way to a clearer way of thinking, at least about space. He had read and thought of space previously as a “black, cold vacuity, the utter deadness, which was supposed to separate the worlds.” But now that he was in that “space” he thought quite differently about it. Even the term for it – space – seemed a “blasphemous” for the “ocean of radiance” they traveled through. He no longer thought of space as black, cold and dead. He now saw it as the “womb of worlds.”

Older thinkers had been wiser when they named it simply the heavens – the heavens which declared the glory – the “happy climes that ly/Where day never shuts his eye/Up in the broad fields of the sky.”

Ransom here references, in his own mind, Milton’s Comus, a lyric poem from the epic poet which, interestingly enough, tells a tale of a young lady kidnapped and taken to a strange palace where she is kept safe by her reason and virtue (two distinct ideas to us, but considered complementary sides of a clear mind, or recta ratio, in Milton’s time) until rescued by angelic spirits.

MISCELLANY

This twisting-together of art, science, history, morality and spirituality are at the heart of Lewis’ Space Trilogy. He sought a unity of these different fields in his classical understanding of life, and understanding I think we would do well to latch onto.

We see in Ransom, I think, an early modern man. He is caught between his respect for the classical ideals and unity of education and morality, science and spirituality and a fear and insecurity that has crept in from the modern age, a Romans 7 man somewhere along his journey between “conformed to the world” and “transformed by Christ” (or, as he would more likely put it, a Christ-inspired Western man of virtue and reason). But he is, at least at this point in the narrative, not yet arrived and may go either way – just as Milton’s heroine of Comus had been caught up several centuries earlier.

Lewis’s Space Trilogy is no mere science fiction, but an exploration of the soul of man.

(I’m loving this book already!)

Proposed Chapter Title: And There Was Evening and There Was Morning

Out of the Silent Planet – Chapter Four

SUMMARY

Chapter 4 presents a conversation between Ransom and Weston, within which Weston begins to explain to him what is going on…

Ransom assails Weston with questions – why are we in space? why did you kidnap me? how is this even possible? Weston doubts Ransom’s non-scientific mind’s ability to even understand. “Unless you were one of the four or five real physicists now living you couldn’t understand: and if there were any chance of your understanding you certainly wouldn’t be told.”

However, Weston attempts to condescend to Ransom’s level and explains to Ransom they are on a mission to the planet Malacandra, which is the real name of one of the known planets that Weston won’t disclose. He calls Malacandra its “real” name because that is what the inhabitants call it. Yes, there are space people – he has visited them before. And it will take approximately 28 days to arrive.

Ransom expresses his indignation at having been kidnapped and taken on this mission. Weston shrugs off Ransom’s anger, saying “small claims must give way to great” meaning that they are doing the unimaginable – interplanetary travel – and that Ransom shouldn’t make a big deal about a relatively commonplace occurrence of kidnapping.

Weston then describes the ship – its roughly spherical. Gravity pulls them down toward the center of their ship (so the gravity they experienced is actually produced by the ship). The core of the ship is hollow and contains their supplies. All the other rooms are arranged around it. They also wore metal weighted clothes to give gravity a boost.

The sun provides a very bright and hot light which is energizing but almost unbearable in its intensity. Weston closes the conversation by saying the ship lacks the oxygen necessary to sustain the journey if it is filled with talking.

SCI-FI ASPECT

Quite a bit here to discuss. We’ll start with the gravity question. The ship has its own gravity (as does everything) and that’s what they rely on. This is somewhat disappointing, as a ship this size would certainly not produce enough gravity to hold a man still. Yet that does give us an answer.

They are traveling to Malacandra which  – spoiler alert and surely you already know – is Mars. He says that it will take 28 days to arrive. What is the distance between earth and Mars? It varies because both planets are in constant motion about the sun and do not travel in synchrony. Further discussion can be found here. Let us just say that the shortest possible distance would be 33 million miles. To arrive in 28 days they would have to average just under 50,000 miles per hour. Earth itself moves around the sun at about 67,000 miles per hour. Our space shuttles traveled about 17,500 miles per hour with respect to earth. (But of course earth is moving relative to the sun and the sun is moving relative to the galaxy… speed in outer space can be confusing) They are a small fraction of the speed of light (Warp 1 on Star Trek), just in case you are wondering.

The shape of the ship is further explained though its power-source is left quite vague, “by exploiting the less observed properties of solar radiation.”

RELIGIOUS ASPECT

(What exactly is meant by ‘religious aspect.’ Well I will try to include all that deals with the nature of morality, the value and purpose of life, the nature of existence. It may very well be more philosophic than religious. It certainly is at this point.)

We have a rather interesting conversation and Weston’s take on morality in response to Ransom’s questioning: “You… are apparently carrying me off as a prisoner in this infernal thing. What have I done to you? What do you say for yourself?”

Weston answers thus:

We have learned how to jump off the speck of matter on which our species began; infinity, and therefore perhaps eternity, is being put into the hands of the human race. You cannot be so small-minded as to think that the rights or the life of an individual or of a million individuals are of the slightest importance in comparison with this.

There we have all humans serving science. It is for the scientific breakthrough that people must suffer and die if needs be. Some have termed this scientism. I would call it a form of idolatry. By saying that all eternity is in our hands – through science – he is taking on powers that belong only to God. In this, Weston’s endeavor has much in common with the Genesis 11 account of Babel. Man was trying to achieve what was rightfully God’s. Given Lewis’ religious beliefs, the ending of that account may shine a light on the overall direction of this little novel.

Ransom presses further, however, wanting to know why specifically a man, such as himself, should be kidnapped to Malacandra. To which Weston responds simply, “That I don’t know… We are only obeying orders.” Exactly who gave the orders remains unknown to Ransom and the reader.

Ransom draws out Weston’s philosophy further asking, “I suspect all that stuff about infinity and eternity means that you think you are justified in doing anything… on the off chance that some creatures or other descended from man as we know him may crawl about a few centuries longer in some part of the universe,” meaning, as I understand it, Weston thinks his advances will allow mankind to leave earth when we have depleted earth’s resources, and colonize another planet to live for several more generations.

Weston does not waver in his answer: “Yes – anything and everything… and all educated opinion – for I do not call classics and history and such trash education – is entirely on my side.”

MISCELLANY

I would like to add only that I have always taken to science-fiction as a genre. It stretches the nature of our knowledge of reality and, in doing so, lends itself very well to pondering the nature of life, of morality, existence. It can be very interesting indeed, even if a little “nerdy.”

PROPOSED CHAPTER TITLE

Babel

Out of the Silent Planet – Chapter Three

SUMMARY

Ransom awakens again on what turns out to be a spaceship, looking out the window at what he at first takes to be the moon – though it looks strange and bright. He finds himself lying in bed in a very strange room. One wall is hot and the rest of the room seems to be getting its heat from that wall. He makes several guesses as to his location, beginning with thinking he is at Weston’s home next to his furnace. As he gets out of bed he realizes he is in an oddly shaped room where the walls seem to spread out sideways from the floor, so that the ceiling is much greater in area than the floor, and yet the walls come off the floor at ninety degree angles.

He also notices that he has an “extraordinary lightness of body” and that he has difficulty keeping his feet on the floor; it is very easy for him to pop up and hit his head. He began to suspect that maybe he was dead and what seemed to be himself was only a ghost form of himself. The room also had a “silent vibration with a strangely life-like and unmechanical quality about it.” He deduced that he was in a vehicle moving, but not what kind of vehicle it was.

Puzzled he looked back at the “moon” and recalled that there had been nothing close to the full moon he was seeing. Maybe there had been a slight crescent, but certainly not a full moon that night. “The thing wasn’t the moon at all; and he felt his hair move on his scalp.”

At that point Weston enters the room. Ransom, relieved to see another person in this strange place, spoke, sobbing, asking about the “moon.” And Weston replies simply – its not the moon, its the earth.

SCI-FI ASPECT

The Ship

He we have a description of one room of a spaceship by a man who finds himself within that room and having very little understanding of it. This is a pretty interesting way to introduce interplanetary space travel.

In his room there is a window in the ceiling, which would somehow be against the outside of the ship. So the floor of his room would be close to the inside of the ship. The walls of his room would be adjacent, of course, to the walls of the other rooms. The ship is small enough and round enough that the ceiling is notably larger than the floor. The floor must be curved to some degree as all the walls are at right angles to it and yet stretch apart from each other as they extend upward.

The ship also has a vibration or a hum but not a mechanical type vibration. Lewis describes the ship very interestingly, starting with the way Ransom feels, then what he can see, and finally noting the sound. I like the way he takes his time with the description and allows it to unfold organically, as it would to a man who had awakened in a – shall we say – alien environment.

There is more description of the ship yet to come. It will give a better idea of the ship as a whole and not just one little room.

Gravity

His rising was disastrous and raised graver apprehensions in his mind about the effects of being drugged. Although he had been conscious of no unusual muscular effort, he found himself leaping from the bed with an energy which brought his head into sharp contact wit the skylight and flung him down again in a heap on the floor.

Of course if you know he’s traveling on a spaceship, this is obviously the effect of the odd gravitational forces, but Ransom initially attributes it to the effects of the drugs.

Interesting that Lewis described it this way. This was many years prior to any space travel, so all of this was imagined in his head. He didn’t get it exactly right. We see that Ransom can keep his feet on the floor, though it takes much effort. But during space flight things will just sort of float. Now, this isn’t true solely because there is a lack of gravity. There is gravity in space – that’s what holds the moon in earth’s orbit and earth in the sun’s orbit. It has more to do with all of the momentum of the observable environment – the ship and everything in it including the traveler – going in the same direction at the same speed.

So the only way Ransom’s feet could stay on the floor is by artificial gravity which can be accomplished in a few different ways. Magnets can be used – magnetic boots can substitute magnetic forces between the wearer’s feet and the floor in place of the more natural gravity. I don’t think this is what is going on because there is no mention of boots. Acceleration can be used, as was done in the film Interstellar. Parts of the ship move around in a circle so as to move everything in an outward direction, mimicking gravity at least at that point. That doesn’t seem to be what is going on either because the outer part of the ship where the window is would need to be on the floor, not the ceiling.

Its possible that a ship could be so big that it “produces” enough gravity to keep one pulled toward the center, therefore generating its own gravitational forces. It is true that all mass generates gravitational forces, but a spaceship would have to be of such and immense size that this would be unfeasible. At this point, we cannot say that Lewis is not depending on this idea. I can’t remember if he addresses gravity at all. But if this turns out to be the source of his gravity, then we will have to say he failed on that one.

Or, theoretically, a gravity inducing device could be used. This could be the case. I cannot recall. We’ll have to wait and see in the next few chapter.

MISCELLANY

soccer ball
Is that the moon?

I was taken by the comparison of the “moon” to a football. Being American, I thought – an oblong brown moon? That is a strange moon indeed. But Lewis’ football would be our soccer ball. And the popular alternating white pentagon black hexagon pattern that we often associate with a soccer ball now was not the common type at that time.

Also interesting was Ransom’s response to seeing Weston. Weston had been involved in drugging him and getting him there. And yet we see Ransom relieved to see another human being – even Weston – because the strangeness of the place where he had awoken.

PROPOSED CHAPTER TITLE

Orientation

Out of the Silent Planet – Chapter Two

(Why start with a summary? Some people have read the book, but it has been some time since doing so. The summary enables you to catch up and know what’s going on without re-reading the book. That way you can comment, or just rethink what you have read in the past without the time required to read the book.)

SUMMARY

Once inside the home, which Ransom finds to be a mixture of “luxury and squalor,” he discusses how he came to be out in the countryside – a “walking-tour” for pleasure. Further, he describes how he has got out on his own, and not a soul knows where he is, nor does he even have family to speak of. Devine describes, very briefly, Weston’s scientific work and seems to be hopeful of making a good profit from it. Weston, however seems to be into it more for “the march of progress and the good of humanity.”

At this point, Ransom goes into a bit of a daze. In short, he’s been drugged. He has a dream of sorts in which he, Devine and Weston are in a garden surrounded by a wall. At the others’ request he helps them up over it, then climbs it himself. While at the top, unable to go on over into the darkness on the other side, a door opens and some very odd folk bring Weston and Devine back in, leaving them there and locking the door whence they arrived.

As he comes to, he hears Devine and Weston arguing over whether or not “he’ll do” and comparing him to Harry with Devine very much in favor of Ransom while Weston is much more hesitant. Weston shows that he considered Harry, with his mental deficiencies, as less than human, but acquiesces to Devine’s insistence. Ransom then summons what little strength and coordination he has left and bolts for the door in an unsuccessful attempt to escape the clutches of this dastardly duo. But alas, he fails to escape and is drug back into the house.

SCI-FI ASPECT

Again in this early chapter there is little. Weston is shown to be working on some sort of scientific research that he considers to be of great import in moving humanity forward into the next era.

RELIGIOUS ASPECT

We know little about religious or moral leanings of any of the three men so far involved. In his fiction, Lewis rarely gets deep into the beliefs of his characters where organized religion is concerned, but generally commends a traditional morality in line with the great flow of orthodox Christianity throughout 2000 years of western history. And he generally condemns newer ideas, especially of morality, that would take away from an individual’s worth, what we might call the imago dei, and use a person for other means.

This seems to be how Weston is thinking of Harry – merely a subhuman to be used in some way for the benefit of humanity. This idea of using up a person in order to benefit some other person or all persons in general is a common theme in the Trilogy. Lewis commonly fought against that idea, and strove to help us value everyone. As he once wrote, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.”

MISCELLANY

This odd dream sequence reminds me somewhat of the dream sequence from that mid-90s Coen Brothers film – the Big Lebowski. Both dreams are drug-induced. Both are without the consent of the dreamer. Both seem to have a deeper meaning, though what that may be is not completely evident. This does not strike me as a mere night terror nor daydream.

I will venture an interpretation, just speculation mind you. It could be that these two – Devine and Weston – are trying to get into something they ought not get into. But they need help in doing so, and compel Ransom to aid them. He does but is not quite content to go along with it. Then the “Queer People” bring them back, admonishing them not to attempt such a thing, to stay in their own “garden.” It seems to fit.

I like the last bit:

Then [Ransom] looked down into the darkness and asked, “Who are you?” and the Queer People must still have been there for they all replied, “Hoo-Hoo-Hoo?” just like owls.

Very odd.

A proposed title for this chapter: Sweet Dreams, Ransom

A Note on Reading Books

CS Lewis once said “It is a good rule after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between.” For a while I thought that by an old book, he meant a previously read book. But in the context, you can clearly see that he is talking about books that were written several years ago and have stood the test of time. They are reliable. The “experts” have had a chance to read and re-read them, have deemed them worthy, and have commended them to others for further reading. Whereas a new book is still in its “trial” run. It may yet stand the test of time. But it is dangerous, or at least unwise, for an amateur to consume too much of the new without the old, lest he be lead astray in his understanding.