C. S. Lewis Long Fiction Analysis
The happy fact of C. S. Lewis’s creation of long fictional works is that the more of them he wrote, the better he became as a novelist. This is not to say that with each book from Out of the Silent Planet to Till We Have Faces he measurably improved, but from the early Space Trilogy (1938-1945) through the Narnia tales (1950-1956) to his last novel, there is a clear change in Lewis’s conception of fiction. In the early books, characters exemplify definite sides in an ethical debate, and plot is the working out of victory for Lewis’s side. In the later books, however, character becomes the battleground of ambiguous values, and plot takes place more and more within the minds of the characters.
The hero of the Space Trilogy, Cambridge don Elwin Ransom, is often less theprotagonist of novels than an embodiment of the Christian and intellectual virtues that Lewis recommended in his essays. Throughout the trilogy, Ransom represents Lewis’s ideal of the relentless intellectual, his learning solidly founded on respect for great ideas from earlier ages, who valiantly maintains his integrity despite the powerful temptations posed by modern materialism. In both Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra—Ransom’s journeys to Mars (Malacandra) and Venus (Perelandra), respectively—Ransom’s adversary is as clearly villainous as Ransom himself is heroic. The antagonist is Edward Weston, a brilliant physicist, who represents for Lewis that most insidious modern outgrowth of Renaissance humanism: the belief that the highest goal of humankind is to establish dominance over all forms of life in as many worlds as humans can conquer. This view, which Lewis saw as the root of the boundless ambition of political leaders Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Benito Mussolini, is exemplified in Weston’s misuse of technology to build a spacecraft that enables him to reach other planets so that he might make them colonies of Earth.
By moving the scene of this attempt away from Earth, Lewis can manipulate material reality so that the limitations of Weston’s philosophy become obvious and his actions ludicrous. Assuming the innate superiority of man over all other forms, and thus a perpetual state of war between man and nature, Weston fails to see the simplest, most significant facts of the new worlds he intends to conquer. As Ransom, the Christian student of myths and languages, easily perceives, the forces that rule Mars and Venus are both fully hospitable to humankind and infinitely more powerful. Thus, Weston shoots gentle creatures because they appear strange and, in a parody of the European explorers, tries to bribe with shiny trinkets the Oyarsa of Malacandra, who, as Ransom learns, is second only in power and wisdom to Maleldil, ruler of the universe. In contrast to Weston, Ransom—a far truer scientist than his opponent—befriends and learns the language of these extraterrestrials; hence, mysteries are opened to him. In Out of the Silent Planet, he learns that only Earth (Thulcandra), long under the dominance of the “bent eldil,” is deprived of clear knowledge of the Oyarsa and Maleldil; Thulcandrans believe themselves enlightened above all others, when in reality they are the most benighted. He learns also that the universe is in a state of becoming: that the creatures of old worlds, such as Malacandra, can no longer be endangered by such forces as those that guide Weston, but that newer worlds, such as Thulcandra, are still theaters of contending principles, while the youngest worlds, such as Perelandra, have yet to achieve spiritual identity.
This is vital knowledge for Ransom, who realizes, in the second book, that he has been given wisdom because he has also been given the responsibility of helping to bring about Maleldil’s reign on Perelandra, which places him in open confrontation with Weston, now clearly the mere instrument of the bent eldil. In a probing recapitulation of the temptation of Eve, Lewis has Ransom and...
(The entire section is 3,392 words.)