Out of the Silent Planet

by C. S. Lewis

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Out of the Silent Planet Analysis

  • On Malacandra, three races live in perfect harmony under the rule of the benevolent spirit Oyarsa. Lewis contrasts the happiness on Malacandra with the turmoil on Thulcandra, or Earth, where racism has led to widespread discord.
  • The novel employs many common science fiction tropes, such as space travel, the discovery of extraterrestrial life, and language barriers between aliens and humans. Malacandran society may seem simplistic in its harmony, but it contrasts with the evil on Earth.
  • The inhabitants of Malacandra share a common language, which allows for harmonious interactions between residents, emphasizing the power of language and communication in promoting peace.

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Thulcandra. Martian name for Earth, meaning “Silent Planet,” where the narrative begins and ends. Ransom, a Cambridge philologist, is a solitary bachelor starting out on a walking tour, savoring the charms of his native England. Like a classic epic, this tale begins and ends on the native green. Before Ransom has gone far, he is hijacked to Mars by two villains he knows. While on his adventure, Ransom discovers that Thulcandra is presided over by a perverted Oyarsa (demoniac being), who has revolted against Maleldil the Younger (Christ), and therefore has been placed under planetary quarantine. Though Ransom clearly sees why the universe must be protected from the poisonous practices of Earth, when given the opportunity, he does not hesitate to return home.

Decades before the first photos of Earth from space were made, Lewis provided a vivid and accurate description of the planet as seen from Mars. Even as he views that radiant agate ball hanging in the sky, Ransom nostalgically tries to spot England and thinks of the tiny plot where he left his backpack.

Malacandra (Mars)

Malacandra (Mars). Martian name for their own planet. While epic adventures, such as the hnakra (vicious monster) hunt take place, suggesting that not all is paradisiacal on this planet, Ransom discovers that three intelligent species live here in harmony, with a neat division of tasks. These are the intellectual sorns, the artisan pfifltriggi, and the hrossa, skilled in navigation and agriculture. By allowing Ransom to anatomize Malacandrian culture in the manner of an anthropologist, Lewis is able to make, by implication, further comments on the failings of human societies, always competitive and suspicious. For example, Ransom learns that not all hrossa are alike; they exist in different colors, a treasured diversity.

Lewis has sometimes been criticized for his scientific carelessness, especially by readers who prefer “hard science fiction.” Though the careful mapping of Mars would take place decades after this book was published, Lewis knew that telescopic observations had demolished Percival Lowell’s theory of a carefully engineered network of canals on Mars. However, since canals were part of the popular beliefs about Mars, Lewis chose to retain them in his book.

Lewis felt that fantasy writing should not merely expand experience, as all good literature may do, but should actually enlarge understanding of the range of possible experience. Early critics praised Lewis’s Miltonic or Dantesque love of light, which made his descriptions of Malacandrian landscapes exciting. Lewis wrote about how, throughout his life, he had enjoyed conjuring visions of imaginary landscapes while lying in bed at night. With his setting on the still unexplored surface of Mars (in 1938), Lewis was able to describe wonderfully strange scenes, filled with diffused light, aromatic perfumes unknown to Earth, and resounding with panegyric hymns issuing from alien throats deeper and more varied than any known at home.

Literary Techniques

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As is the case with any fantasy novel, Lewis must establish verisimilitude as the work begins and sustain it throughout the narrative. He uses psychological verisimilitude, analogies, vivid imagery, mythic allusions, and an epilogue in order to gain credence. Still another technique which he employs is typical British humor, e.g., when Ransom is lost in the Malacandrian world, the narrator comments that Ransom has nothing to fear, "except the fact of wandering unprovisioned and alone in a forest of unknown vegetation thousands or millions of miles beyond the reach or knowledge of man."

The narrative technique is effective in achieving verisimilitude. The point of view is third-person, limited omniscient. The intrusive narrator not only speaks directly to the reader in the body of the...

(This entire section contains 328 words.)

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story (chapters S. 7, and 9); he uses chapter 22 as an epilogue during which he tells that Ransom is not the protagonist's real name (Lewis changes his mind about that point inPerelandra, 1943) and quotes from a letter to him from Dr. Ransom. Moreover, he adds a postscript which is ostensibly another letter from Ransom in which he describes in greater detail some of the Malacandrian scenes as well as observing that space travel is probably over.

Finally, Lewis's use of archetypes adds to the depth of the novel. He employs the rite of passage to structure the novel, using each one of Ransom's separations to prepare for an ordeal which is successfully completed and which results in his growth-morally, experientially, even physically. A clear instance is the hnakra hunt, significant because of its anthropological echoes and because of its outcome. Of equal importance are the archetypal descriptions of light, particularly those which occur during the journeys in space. The sense of a light-filled, life-filled space dominates Lewis's depiction of the journeys to and from Mars. Just as all of the elements of the novel are welded together to form a whole, so do the archetypes serve to reinforce characterization, intensify plot, and communicate themes.

Literary Precedents

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The debt to Swift's Gulliver's Travels (1726) is apparent in several details of the novel: Ransom is a philologist, and Gulliver states he "had a great Facility by the Strength of my Memory . . . [for] learning . . . Language"; each comes to the lands unwillingly; each describes the beings with whom he comes into contact with great and prosaic detail; each uses analogy to explain the unfamiliar; each is commenting on his own time and place by describing places which are ultimately fantastic.

H. G. Wells is another literary influence on the novel. The vagueness of the physics needed in both Out of the Silent Planet (1938) and Wells's The First Men in the Moon (1901) and the protagonists' sighting earth from the spaceships are parallels. However, in substantial ways Out of the Silent Planet is a rejoinder to Wells's fantasies. For example, when Ransom is afraid, his fears are generally attributable to Wells; for example, in chapter 11 his hesitancy in explaining some things about earth is motivated by his remembering Cavor's end on the moon. Nonetheless, Lewis acknowledges his enjoyment of Wells's fantasies and his debts to them in a note prefixed to the opening chapter.

Moreover, Jules Verne, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Lucian, Kepler, Kircher, Dante, Tasso, Stapledon, Haldane, and David Lindsay are writers whose accounts of imaginary voyages influenced Lewis from boyhood on. Several of them are cited in letters discussing the composition of Out of the Silent Planet; he wrote in 1944 that "The real father of my planet books is David Lindsay's Voyage to Arcturus," But for all these influences, Lewis's work is the product of his fertile and image-making mind, a new combination of a thrilling science fiction novel and Christian apologetics.


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Downing, David C. Planets in Peril: A Critical Study of C. S. Lewis’s Ransom Trilogy. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1992. The only book-length study of the space trilogy. Exceptionally insightful, helpful, and complete. Begins with a discussion of Lewis’ life, showing how Lewis’ values and Christian faith influenced these books.

Gibson, Evan K. C. S. Lewis: Spinner of Tales: A Guide to His Fiction. Washington, D.C.: Christian University Press, 1980. Out of the Silent Planet receives a rather brief chapter; a good introduction to Lewis’ fiction.

Howard, Thomas. C. S. Lewis: Man of Letters: A Reading of His Fiction. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1987. Contains a lengthy chapter about Out of the Silent Planet. A highly personal and energetic discussion.

Manlove, Colin N. C. S. Lewis: His Literary Achievement. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1987. Analyzes each of Lewis’ novels, with careful attention to the underlying themes of each.

Walsh, Chad. The Literary Legacy of C. S. Lewis. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1979. Evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of Lewis’ works, concluding that Lewis’ best work is his fiction. Praises Lewis’ ability to combine great literary skill with a distinctly Christian worldview.


Critical Essays