The Novels (Masterplots II: British and Commonwealth Fiction Series)
The first novel in Lewis’ series of “interplanetary romances,” Out of the Silent Planet, introduces Ransom, an English philologist who finds himself kidnaped and forcibly taken to the planet Malacandra, or Mars, by the evil physicist, Dr. Weston, and Dick Devine, a rich eccentric who had attended school with Ransom. During the voyage to Malacandra, Ransom overhears that they intend to deliver him to the sorns—who, he assumes, are like the horrible monsters in H. G. Wells’s science-fiction tales.
When a sea monster attacks the trio’s campsite, Ransom escapes. As he encounters representatives from each of the three species on Malacandra, he begins to learn the language and history of the planet. The sorns, he discovers, are a wise, peaceable race whom he can trust and from whom he can learn much. Most important is what Ransom learns about Maleldil the Younger, righteous ruler of the universe and the head of the eldila, the angel-like creatures of light who serve him. He finds that each planet has its own special eldil, or Oyarsa, who rules it—every planet except Earth, or Thulcandra, the silent planet, whose Oyarsa is “bent.”
The novel reaches its climax when Ransom is called into the presence of the Oyarsa of Malacandra, who explains, to Ransom’s surprise, that it was, in fact, the Oyarsa himself who had engineered Ransom’s voyage in order to prepare him for service to Maleldil. He is being called to battle against the treachery of Devine and Weston. Lured with the promise of riches, the two villains were tricked into bringing Ransom along as a human sacrifice. The Oyarsa declares that Devine and Weston must be banished from Malacandra; the three of them are then ordered to return to Earth, undertaking the perilous voyage back.
Out of the Silent Planet ends with a framing narrative written by “Lewis,” a friend of Ransom, who explains that he has recorded Ransom’s adventure so that Weston and Devine, and the forces behind them, may be thwarted before they can further corrupt Earth and spread their evil to other planets. This same “Lewis” begins the narration of Perelandra within a similar framing device. He is rushing to meet Ransom at his cottage at an appointed time and...
(The entire section is 926 words.)
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Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Lewis’s science-fiction trilogy is sometimes called the Ransom Trilogy, after the central figure of Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra. Elwin Ransom, a middle-aged linguistics professor at the University of Cambridge, grows in the course of the novels from a lonely independence to find relationships with others, maturing into a leader against hostile nonhuman forces. Lewis transforms a conventional science-fiction pattern by making his villains demoniac powers and his protagonists Christians literally on the side of the angels. While science fiction has frequently dealt with issues of religion, Lewis lays aside the typical dualistic “good against evil” plot for an explicitly Christian worldview. All three of the novels attempt to make believable the presence of a spiritual reality transcending the everyday life.
Out of the Silent Planet opens as Ransom, on a walking tour of England, falls in with two acquaintances, one an old friend from his prep school. His friend Devine and the scientist Weston kidnap Ransom, carrying him to Mars, or Malacandra, in Weston’s spaceship. Late in the voyage, Ransom learns that the others were commanded to bring another human back as the condition of their return. When they land, Ransom escapes. The novel is so far entirely conventional: mad scientist, greedy assistant, innocent victim, threatening aliens.
Here, however, Lewis diverges from convention. Ransom finds Mars inhabited by three species of rational beings, all friendly. More, he finds present a fourth species, the eldila, something on the order of angels. After Ransom learns the Martian language, he is reunited with Weston and Devine, who have killed a Martian. Judged by the ruling eldil, the Oyarsa, all three are exiled to Earth. Ransom learns from the Oyarsa that Earth is the “Silent Planet” because of the rebellion of its Oyarsa millennia ago. It becomes clear to Ransom, already a Christian, that the biblical story of the incarnation of God in Christ is historically true, one incident in a war that has left Earth isolated and dominated by evil powers.
Two elements of the story are particularly significant: first, the minimal place of “science” in the action, and second, the “reperceptions” that Ransom experiences. The “good society” of the Martians is almost Rousseauian in its rejection of technology, and the one species with which Ransom spends much time is...
(The entire section is 997 words.)