Out of the Silent Planet
By C. S. Lewis
There’s a dividing line in the twentieth century between what may be thought of as naïve and modern conceptions of other intelligent life in our solar system. In the earlier, naïve dispensation other planets, like Mars, could be host to all sorts of strange beings – friendly, hostile, and indifferent – essentially functioning as newly discovered continents. And so we have the Old Mars of H. G. Wells, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and C. S. Lewis, among others. But when scientists started learning more about Mars in the 1960s and ‘70s, and the best that could be hoped for was finding trace evidence of water or the potential for terraforming, our fantasies had to be pushed further afield.
In 1938 Mars was still open ground imaginatively, allowing C. S. Lewis to indulge a flight of space fantasy. Out of the Silent Planet is the first in a trilogy of books describing a kind of cosmic religious allegory directed at effecting “a change-over from the conception of Space to the conception of Heaven.” Mars is Malacandra, an Edenic Technicolor playhouse inhabited by three rational species (Hrossa, Sorns, and Pfifltriggi) that are in turn ruled over by angelic beings known as Eldila. Earth, meanwhile, is the black sheep (silent planet) of our solar neighbourhood, the domain of a fallen (or “bent”) angel.
Not a book to read for its story, Out of the Silent Planet is more a novel of ideas, which are the main interest of the philologist Ransom anyway. The mockery of the (human) racist Dr. Weston is the highlight, and gives a good indication of where Lewis was most deeply engaged.