Not Quite Out of the Silent Planet Just Yet

I’m looking at CS Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet for inclusion in the CS Lewis chapter of my dream book. The framing is simpler in this one than in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

For starters, in Wardrobe I need to account for the other siblings: for now, I’m thinking in terms of Peter, Susan, and Edmund playing along with Lucy when she tells their adventures in Narnia.  Think of how angry Lucy gets when Edmund tells the older siblings that he and Lucy had been playing a game rather than sharing a real adventure. It would be natural enough to keep the peace by playing along after that. This line of reasoning is tenuous and circumstantial, but I think it might fit the details of the novel.

Another key way the dream frame of Out of the Silent Planet is simpler is that Ransom has only the one adventure, his trip to Malacandra.  In Wardrobe, of course, Lucy goes to Narnia, then Lucy and Edmund,

So, looking at Out of the Silent Planet as an Edwardian dream vision requires a first step of assessing the themes and motifs laid out in the opening “wakefulness” section, in this case, Ransom’s walking tour leading up to his trespass into Weston’s garden.

My initial thoughts are related to the excesses of scientific/technological research at the expense of nature and empathy and by extension at the expense of the welfare of people. Motifs contributing to the empathy-related theme:

  • Ransom’s perseverence when he needs to walk further than he anticipated to find a place to sleep, relying on the empathy of others, and being disappointed that the first Inn he stopped at refusing to offer hospitality.
  • His promise to the old woman to investigate her missing son, again demonstrating a perseverance related to fulfilling promises, exercising empathy both for the old woman (to assuage her anxiety) and for her boy (who might require protection).
  • The contrast between his visit to the old woman and his treatment at the hands of Divine and Weston suggests tension between the responsibility to provide hospitality (an exercise of empathy) and the responsibility to mind your own business (in some cases, an abdication of empathy).
  • In particular, drugging and abducting your guest is Not Good Hospitality.

Weston’s every comment and the overall project that Divine and Weston pursue are of course enough to introduce the issue of research and modernization at the expense of goodness.

I expect, when I analyze the trip to Malacandra and the events on that planet, to be talking about Election and Reprobation, assigning Ransom and empathy to the former and Divine, Weston, and their so-called “progress” to the latter.

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2 thoughts on “Not Quite Out of the Silent Planet Just Yet

  1. Very interesting, Bill! This is Nathan Fayard, from Kazoo. If you haven’t already, I recommend you check out C.S. Lewis on the Final Frontier. It has a good examination of Lewis’s treatment of tech and progress in OSP particularly. I’m actually going to have a chapter in my dissertation comparing the nature of Ransom’s journey, one of pure exploration, to that of the ‘Buffoon Villains,’ one of exploitation. The themes you are charting are key in the comparison.

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