Friday, 19 February 2016

C.S Lewis' Space Trilogy

C.S. Lewis


Originally published between 1938 and 1945 C.S. Lewis' 'Space Trilogy' is an interesting counterpoint to his more well known Narnia books.  They tell of the fantastical adventures of a philologist named Dr. Elwin Ransom and of the creatures and planets that share our solar system and of the forces for good and evil that are battling for control of our own little rock.

For the most part the three books are more of an exploration of the type of theological themes that characterise his work but beyond that these are an odd and endearing slice of  imaginative science fiction.

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Out of the Silent Planet
Pan Books

In the first novel of C.S. Lewis's classic science fiction trilogy, Dr Ransom, a Cambridge academic, is abducted and taken on a spaceship to the red planet of Malacandra, which he knows as Mars. His captors are plotting to plunder the planet's treasures and plan to offer Ransom as a sacrifice to the creatures who live there. Ransom discovers he has come from the 'silent planet' – Earth – whose tragic story is known throughout the universe.

The Narnia books never held any sort of appeal for me. Talking animals were a turn off in a book even as a kid and as I got older and learnt more about what was in the wardrobe they became less and less of a draw. Then I read of his sci fi series and got very intrigued.  It took me a while to track down a nice set but I finally came across one tucked away in a corner of a dusty science fiction section of a great little bookshop in a small Welsh market town.

This first book in the trilogy tells of the abduction from Earth of philologist Dr Elwin Ransom by the arrogant physicist Weston and the avaricious Devine.  Taken as a hostage to Mars where the pair hope they can trade him for material wealth Ransom escapes into the wilds where he meets with the friendly and artistic Hrossa.

At this point Lewis spends some time developing the language and social order of the planet as Ransom is schooled by his hosts.  Later as he travels we get to see more of what he's learnt of the Utopian social structure as his preconceptions and assumptions shatter.

The book culminated in a meeting with the Oyarsa, the entity that oversees the planet, who explains - to both Ransom and his ex-captors - about his place and role in the universe and also that of our own 'silent' planet and it's mad, trapped Oyarsa.

It was a lovely but rather odd read that managed to remind me of a whole host of other authors - Wells, Tolkein, Moorcock - at different points.  It wasn't what you'd call a dynamic read, in parts it dragged terribly and the religious aspects and their role in defining personality and character of the planets didn't work for me at all.  It was however often a fascinating exploration of a deeply unscientific version of extra-terrestrial life which I'm fine with and one that has left me entirely intrigued for book 2.

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Voyage to Venus
Pan Books

The second book in C. S. Lewis's acclaimed Space Trilogy, which also includes Out of the Silent Planet and That Hideous Strength, Perelandra continues the adventures of the extraordinary Dr. Ransom. Pitted against the most destructive of human weaknesses, temptation, the great man must battle evil on a new planet — Perelandra — when it is invaded by a dark force. Will Perelandra succumb to this malevolent being, who strives to create a new world order and who must destroy an old and beautiful civilisation to do so? Or will it throw off the yoke of corruption and achieve a spiritual perfection as yet unknown to man? The outcome of Dr. Ransom's mighty struggle alone will determine the fate of this peace-loving planet.

The first volume of Lewis' Space Trilogy 'Out of the Silent Planet' saw Dr Elwin Ransom kidnapped from Earth and taken to Mars by the cold, calculating, sociopathic Professor Weston.  Whilst there he travels the planet meeting the various inhabitants including the Eldila, beings of light that transcend time and space and act as agents of the divine creator.  It was an odd, academically distant and deeply unscientific journey but one that was an entertaining read.

This sequel, more commonly titled 'Perelandra', sees Ransom taken by the Eldila on a mission to the newly awakening planet Venus ('Perelandra').  Once there he discovers an Eden of floating islands covered with delicious fruits and populated by benign creatures and a single, green, 'Eve' - there's an 'Adam' also but he spends the book elsewhere and we don't meet him until the end.  Soon however a 'serpent' is introduced into to the garden and Ransom's mission becomes clear.

It's at this point that the book becomes one long and fairly tedious meditation on the Christian origin myth as the 'Lady' is tempted by the 'Un-man' and Ransom does everything he can to stop her falling as Eve did and thereby dooming Venus to the same fate as the Earth.

In all it was a fairly tedious and uninspiring read that would probably have been a lot more entertaining if I had any sort of interest in Christian philosophy.  For me though outside of his imaginative world building there was little of interest here.

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That Hideous Strength
Pan Books

In That Hideous Strength, the final installment of the Space Trilogy, the dark forces that have been repulsed in Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra are massed for an assault on the planet Earth itself. Word is on the wind that the mighty wizard Merlin has come back to the land of the living after many centuries, holding the key to ultimate power for the force that can find him and bend him to its will. A sinister technocratic organization that is gaining force throughout England, N.I.C.E. (the National Institute of Coordinated Experiments), secretly controlled by humanity's mortal enemies, plans to use Merlin in their plot to "recondition" society. Dr. Ransom forms a countervailing group, Logres, in opposition, and the two groups struggle to a climactic resolution that brings the Space Trilogy to a magnificent, crashing close.

And so we reach the conclusion of the 'Space Trilogy' with a book whose feet remain firmly rooted on the ground and for the most part deep in the past.

Set some years on from Dr. Ransom's adventures on Mars and Venus this book finds him, along with various associates, rallying against the forces of the Maleldil in the shape of the National Institute of Coordinated Experiments or N.I.C.E. for short.

Here, Lewis has constructed a story rich in a sense of Englishness with links to a very specific reading of the Arthurian legend.  It's a far more readable and indeed contemporary novel less reliant on bizarrely unscientific understanding of extra-terrestrial planets and life (the first book) and less inclined to subject the reader to endless tedious debates of Christian philosophy (the second) and in their place is an almost Quatermass like story of control, free will, heritage and folklore.

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