The Space Trilogy Critical Context - Essay

C. S. Lewis

Critical Context

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Lewis was a prolific writer who published more than fifty volumes of stories, novels, literary criticism, and Christian apologetics. He is best known in scholarly circles for his The Allegory of Love: A Study in Medieval Tradition (1936), a then ground-breaking study of the medieval view of courtly love, and among contemporary religious readers for his study of Christian faith, Mere Christianity (1952). If anything, Lewis has become even more popular than he was during his own lifetime; his space trilogy continues to be read and enjoyed by thousands each year.

He saw his task as “translating” the theological ideas and ideals of Christianity into a common, accessible language for the twentieth century. For his fictional “translation” work, he chose primarily the genres of science fiction and children’s fantasy. As a science-fiction novelist, Lewis was less capable of and less interested in crafting a plot with scientific verisimilitude than such notables as H. G. Wells or Jules Verne. Readers of the trilogy will not find, for example, extensive or detailed descriptions of the mode of space travel Ransom enjoys; one simply observes that Ransom departs the Earth and gets where he is going.

On the other hand, Lewis was a master of describing “other worlds”; his depictions of Malacandra and Perelandra are marvelous triumphs of the imagination that excite the senses and achieve a fantastic or mythopoeic realism that only the very best science-fiction writers have evoked. While critics are divided over which among the novels constituting the trilogy is the more successful, they generally agree that Out of the Silent Planet is probably the most effective of the three. By placing its unlikely, ordinary hero, Ransom, on a convincingly alien planet populated with visually and morally interesting creatures, and by pitting him against two truly villainous fellow earthlings, Lewis succeeds in weaving plot, characterization, theme, and setting into an entertaining and thoughtful interplanetary romance.