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. 

Out of the Silent Planet – Chapter 1

Regrettably chapters Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra lack titles. I may sometimes suggest titles for chapters as we go along. You, the reader, are invited to do so as well in the suggestions section. Let’s keep them tongue-in-cheek, shall we?

SUMMARY

The book opens rather mundanely. There is a bit of a scuffle, possibly criminal, but nothing remotely sci-fi occurs in the first chapter apart from a brief mention of an odd shape blotting out the stars which is all but missed if you aren’t paying close attention.

Our soon-to-be hero is on a walking tour across the english countryside looking for a place to pass the night comfortably. At first identified only as the Pedestrian, Elwin Ransom is later described as “The Ransom, you know. The great philologist.”

While walking past a small cottage he runs into a woman who comes out thinking he is her Harry, a relative, probably a son, who seems to be somewhat mentally retarded and works for a professor doing odd jobs around his estate which is just up the way a bit. She implores Ransom to have a look for him as he passes by and he promises to do so.

Shortly later, he is none-too-happy with his promise as he has trouble even getting into the estate. It seems guarded by a large gate, an uninviting hedge, and no one to answer the call of a stranger. Our “hero” regrets the promise he made to the lady, but feels duty-bound to attempt to follow through. He bounds through the hedge and upon resting a moment hears a scuffle from around back of the house.

Thinking the boy Harry is in trouble, he runs around back, admitting the “last thing” on his mind is an adventure. Once around back he meets Weston, a physicist, and Devine, a college schoolmate with whom Ransom did not get along well. At first visibly upset at being intruded upon while scuffling with Harry, Devine and Weston settle down, invite Ransom in for a bite to eat and offer a place to spend the night. Though Ransom is concerned something criminal was going on when he interrupted, he seems satisfied enough by their explanation of trying innocently to help the boy find his way to the wash-room.

SCI-FI ASPECT

There is little here save one sentence occurring during his run around the back of the house: “He had a momentary vision of a tall chimney, a low door filled with red firelight ,and a huge round shape that rose black against the stars, which he took for the dome of a small observatory: then this was all blotted out of his mind by the figures of three men…”

This “huge round shape:” could it be something other than the roof of a small observatory?

RELIGIOUS ASPECT

It’s no secret that CS Lewis was a thoughtful and dedicated Christian and that his writings, even the fiction (some would say especially the fiction) reflect this. It will come up time and again in the Trilogy, though not heavy-handedly or preachy. It’s almost more in line with magic realism, at least in the Trilogy. So a discussion of this will come up as the books unfold. There is really little here in the first chapter of the first book, though, to point in that direction.

MISCELLANY

I can’t help but consider names in things I read:

  • Ransom – a payment for the release of a prisoner
  • Weston – one from the west – western England? Western civilization?
  • Devine – as a name it can refer to a small animal like a young deer. I can’t help but think of it as an alternate spelling of the word “divine.” However it also bears a similar initial spelling as the word “devil.”

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.

The Space Trilogy

CS Lewis’ writings have been enjoyed by countless readers for over 75 years. A writer of both fiction and non-fiction, he stretched the bounds of everything he touched. His writings touched education, religion, science… but to many of his readers, it is the fiction that draws us back again and again.

Most famous are his Chronicles of Narnia, in which he created a world rich in thought and experience, emotion and intellect, conviction and cowardice. “For Narnia and for Aslan!” his merry men (and women) shout as they charge into battle. The Chronicles are a series that scarcely needs further commendation than the word-of-mouth encouragements to read made by readers of all ages, but has been given even more attention by recent full length big budget films. Truly great are the Chronicles of Narnia.

But dig a little deeper into the trove of Lewis’ body of work and you will find three precious gems which together complete the Space Trilogy. They are Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength.

Out of the Silent Planet is the first and shortest of these novels. It introduces the reader to the hero of the series, Elwin Ransom. Ransom is a well-studied philologist (much like Lewis’ long-time friend JRR Tolkien), who, by no deliberate means, ends up on the planet Mars. Here we learn of the reality below or within our reality and discover the “spiritual” beings that inhabit our planets.

In Perelandra, Ransom travels to Venus and victoriously battles his old nemesis (from Silent Planet) for the soul of a new and innocent world. He comes home a victor, but not unscathed.

Finally, the trilogy culminates in That Hideous Strength, in which Ransom – due to his previous injury – seems to take a lesser role as a number of new characters are front-and-center in an all out struggle against more power than any of them – or us – could have imagined.

The content of That Hideous Strength is more relevant today than ever before – so pertinent for our ever changing world, our “swiftly tilting planet” to borrow a phrase.

As I chose to re-read this trilogy I thought, why not open it up to others, for comments, insights and encouragements to dig a little deeper. So join me in reading, and discussing the Space Trilogy.

And no, I’m not really Mr. Bultitude. And I’m sure my musings can’t compare to those of a bear of Logres. But I’m sure he has better things to do, being a bear and all…