Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Trip to Mars: A Review of C.S. Lewis' Out of the Silent Planet

Title: Out of the Silent Planet
Author: C.S. Lewis
Edition: Hardcover
Publisher: Macmillan Company (1945)
Pages: 174
How I Came By This Book: Nonners from Ridiculous Reviews had been reading this trilogy and suggested that I try the first book to see how I like it. I acquired it from, where else?, my library.
Challenges: GoodReads 2011 Reading Challenge

Synopsis: On a walking trip, Dr. Ransom, Cambridge philologist, encounters two old school friends by whom he is, quite unexpectedly, abducted and drugged. Waking from this bad treatment, Ransom finds himself en route to a distant planet, Mars--or Malacandra, as the inhabitants call it.

In this book the distinguished author of "The Screwtape Letters" turns his brilliant and versatile talent to telling a story for "those who like books about other planets." (Those who do not, are invited to read it--and then ask themselves if the theme could have been embodied in any other way.) Whoever does accompany Ransom through the unknown onto the weird planet Malacandra, will revel in the voyage and the strange horror which await him. Whoever goes will also look down on our "civilized" global ways with pleasant detachment, and with that awareness of irony which can come only when beholding human actions from the Malacandran point of view.

Review: After reading The Screwtape Letters, I was ready to jump into yet another of Lewis' novels. As a sci-fi lover, the first book in Lewis' Space Trilogy seemed to be my kind of novel. I was absolutely right.

I'm not going to bog everyone down with terminology or plot or anything like that. For a short novel, Out of the Silent Planet packs a lot into it. There's three alien species who speak an alien language; there's religion, science (although completely wrong assumptions about space travel are made), and diplomacy; there's friendship and danger and discovery. Lewis manages to deftly sew them all together in a well-crafted quilt of a novel that imagines a Mars far more beautiful and haunting than it is in actuality.

Lewis' novels will always have religious themes, no matter which one you choose to read. The religion in this novel, however, is quite different than the religion in Screwtape Letters. Lewis doesn't hit you over the head with it; instead, he masterfully slides it into the narrative of the story and it is so beautiful and touching that you don't mind that it's there. In fact, the universality of the religious themes can be applied to anyone, regardless of their beliefs. While obviously intended to be Christianity, I felt that there was an openness to the Malacandran religion, an ability for the reader to paint the story with the brush of their own religion.

Continuing with the painting motif, Lewis himself paints a picture with this novel. The world he has created on Malacandra is nothing short of breathtaking, like a brilliant watercolor. It's nothing like Earth (or Mars, for that  matter) and it was so vivid in my mind that when I close my eyes I can still see it. The alien races on Malacandra were not so easily visualized, but, as I came to understand them more, they became clearer in my mind. Lewis does with this book what he did with The Screwtape Letters in that he pretends that it is a true story that he is just compiling from correspondences he's had with people and in this case I wish it were true. I would really love to visit this planet, to see everything that Ransom sees, to learn the language. It truly was amazing.

Even more amazing is the way that Lewis explores the themes of humanity, understanding, respect, and knowledge. By having three very different but equal types of hnau (sentient beings) on Malacandra, Lewis is able to expose the failings of the human race in loving and respecting one another. The inspirational relationship between these three hnau is what really made this novel stick with me after it was done. Well, that and the fact that the whole book is insanely good.

There are two more books in the trilogy that I haven't read and I'm looking forward to delving into them. If they are anything at all like Out of the Silent Planet, the Space Trilogy may end up on my list of favorite series. From the first page to the last, I was involved with the story, the characters, and the emotion of the novel. At times suspenseful, at times sad, at times triumphant--this novel was a veritable roller coaster of feelings and, even with a third person narration, you feel every one of them deeply.

Lewis is masterful and inventive and his novels are beyond enjoyable to read. I'm giving Out of the Silent Planet 5 out of 5 Gabriels.



  1. I loved the second book of this trilogy most of all. I can't wait to read your review of it!

  2. You might want to check out "Stranger In A Strange Land" by Robert Heinlein and "Martian Chronicles" by Ray Bradbury. They are really well crafted stories about Mars.

  3. Satia: I haven't checked to see if my library has it yet. If so, it's on the list for next month. I'm really looking forward to reading the rest of the trilogy.

    Ben: I own Martian Chronicles and my library has Stranger in a Strange Land. They've been on the TBR list in my head for a while, I just hadn't gotten around to them yet. Perhaps I'll read a Mars book a month for the rest of the year? :)

  4. I've been waiting to read this one... for a C.S. Lewis class I took a couple of years ago, we read the sequel, Perelandra (which was awesome) but not this one. Perelandra made decent sense without having read the first book, but I have been wanting to get to it anyway. Glad to hear it is a good one!

  5. L.L.: It turns out that the library I work at has all three of them, so I'm checking out the other two tonight before I go home from work. I'm glad to hear that the second one is good as well.

  6. It is funny - I always think that I am not a sci-fi kind of gal. And then I either accidentally read one or get daring and read outside of my box so to speak and always enjoy the ride. I have to be in the right mood to really get into the right spirit - your review makes that task sound much more inviting! Any book that creates a vivid world as you describe must be fun.


  7. This was really a fantasy/sci-fi combo, with more fantastical elements than anything else. It was also superbly written, so I highly recommend it.

    One thing that I like about sci-fi is that it allows us to look at our world through different eyes as well as to see issues through a lens that isn't clouded by the particulars of our own planet.

  8. I lOve YoU'Re ReviEW!!! lol. Yeah. Space was bigger mystery then :] *sigh* I think you explained it better than I did. Sometime, when I really love a book, I can't articulate it well enough. I can't wait till you read the next one, it's about Venus :]

  9. I really love Lewis' attempt at space travel; it's funny today because of what we know about "going to the stars" but my guess it that it seemed very plausible back then. When I review Perelandra, I'm going to try to find a clip of a "B movie" I once saw called First Spaceship to Venus, which is just as implausible when it comes to the science of space as Lewis' novels are.

    I'm glad you loved the review. Even that can't express just how much I loved this novel. I'm so much more articulate when I write than I am when I speak. If I tried to talk to someone about a book I liked as much as this one, I'd sound like I was an idiot because I get all flustered when I talk.

    I can't wait to read the next one either. I just grabbed the second and third books from the library last night and am having to stop myself from saying "the heck with what I've got planned for the rest of the month; I'm reading these." LOL