Saturday, 9 January 2010

Just Finished: Out of the Silent Planet by CS Lewis

First things first; this isn't the actual cover of the book I'm reading, but I googled the title and thought this one was far too delightfully retro to be passed up. HOWEVER, there were no pictures of the characters on the book I read, which meant my imagination had been trusted to build an image based on the descriptions given - until I saw this one. Retro as it is, it's illustrations conquered my mentally-built images and took their place. Much like Daniel Radcliffe and Harry Potter...the two become one (involuntary Spice Girls reference).

Anyway, down to the nitty gritty - Out Of the Silent Planet by CS Lewis. This is the first in a trilogy, which I may well read later but have to plough through the 20 books I got for Christmas before giving myself new ideas. First published in 1938, it strikes me as remarkably ahead of its time.

The plot revolves around a philosophy lecturer named Ransom who is kidnapped and taken to what later turns out to be Mars. Upon landing, he's due to be handed over to some tall, gangly aliens when a Martian shark tries to eat him and he escapes. The planet is known to those that live on it as Malacandra, and Ransom spends a great deal of time there, living among and learning about the various species that inhabit it. It's a bit of a utopia - all three species perform different tasks, interact with one another but don't fight, steal or demand. Everything ticks along quite naturally, everyone's happy and the world is a lovely rosey place.

Initially I thought this was a story about how, like in Avatar, nature is an infinite web of cooperation between different species. I've since decided this is wrong. Or maybe not wrong, but it's not the main focus. I think what Lewis was drawing attention to was the corrupt nature of our world and how, had we all been good Christians since the dawn of time our world now would be a really nice place to live. The Silent Planet is Earth. You see, each planet has its own Oyarsa, which is a kind of angel that you can't really see but you can visit and talk to. Each Oyarsa rules over the people and species on his planet and works to make their lives as happy as possible. Our one though, was a bit of a megalomaniac and threw a strop before heading down to earth to thoroughly fuck us up. He's now embroiled in a bitter fight for power over us, against the big god who rules over all or Oyarsas. Any biblical bells ringing here? Ransom's kidnappers represent the greed of commerce and the dangers of science and technology taken too far and there's a little conversation on how humans relentlessly pursue pleasure throughout their lives, whereas the good people of Malacandra are happy to experience it once and then remember it for evermore - a handy little list of all the things we do wrong.

Now, it's been a long time since I've been welcome in the House of God, and I'm not religious. Usually, if something is overtly, in my face Christian, I get a bit annoyed and decide I hate it. I didn't with this one though, because it's a good story, and perhaps it does have a very valid point - that we're a greedy bunch of bastards and should be a bit nicer too eachother.

Oh! At the end Lewis reveals that Ransom contacted him to ask him to publish his factual account as a novel, so that its message could reach the maximum number of people. He's even tacked on an piece of correspondence between Ransom and himself, saying things like, "I really wish you could have mentioned this, or gone deeper into that." Nice touch I thought, you think it's finished and then there's a totally new bit which adds a new dimension to the story. Clever.

Still...I think I prefer Narnia...

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