Out of the Silent Planet is the first of three books that tell the story of Elwin Ransom. In the second book, Perelandra (1943), Ransom is transported to Venus, where he prevents the king and queen of that world from falling to temptation. In the third book, That Hideous Strength (1945), the focus shifts to Earth, where a team of scientists threaten England. In Out of the Silent Planet, C. S. Lewis writes a fairly straightforward narrative. What gives the book its unusual power is its mythic quality. The complexity of the Martian cultures, the sensitivity of the description, and the themes of courage, friendship, and charity all combine to create a cosmic vision that is moving, poetic, and uniquely beautiful.
Lewis intends his space trilogy to be a criticism of typical space operas and an answer to the scientific materialism of writers such as H. G. Wells, Olaf Stapledon, and J. B. S. Haldane. Lewis mocks science-fiction conventions—such as aliens that are insects or bug-eyed monsters, the need for page after page of pseudoscientific explanation, and constant conflict and adventure. Lewis addresses each of these conventions by contrasting Ransom’s expectations with the reality he finds on Malacandra. Ransom expects cold, dark space; instead, as he travels he is flooded with light, “totally immersed in a bath of pure ethereal colour and of unrelenting though unwounding brightness.” Ransom expects Martians to be characterized by “twitching feelers, rasping wings, slimy coils, curling tentacles”; instead, he meets aliens who are thoughtful, not physically repulsive, and civilized. Ransom expects science to be central to advanced cultures; instead, he finds a superior culture in which art, music, and poetry are integral to survival. Ransom expects nonstop, hair-raising adventure; instead, he is most moved by his experience as part of the ordinary, decent, daily life of the hrossa.
Lewis also uses the novel as a platform to condemn the notion of progress for its own sake, progress without regard for the worth of the individual. This is seen most clearly in the discussion between Weston and Oyarsa toward the end of the book. Ransom must act as interpreter between them, and through this ingenious device, Lewis shows that Weston’s high-sounding goals—more technology, human progress, greater space exploration—are motivated by selfish ambition. Oyarsa emphasizes that it is impossible to love humanity as an abstract concept; one can only love each individual person. It is clear from everything Weston has said and done that he does not know how to do that.
In his letters, Lewis also makes clear that he intended his novels to elaborate Christian truths without using typical Christian symbols. In his description of Maleldil the Younger, for example, Lewis is making reference to Jesus Christ. In discussing the rebellion of the Oyarsa of Earth, Lewis is making reference to the rebellion of Satan. The silence that has come to the planet as a result of this great rebellion has separated Earth from the other planets, and has separated Earth’s people from knowledge of their creator. Throughout the novel, Lewis is arguing that the peace, charity, artistry, and productivity of the hnau of Malacandra are the direct result of their harmony with God.