After the Silent Planet

The closing section of Out of the Silent Planet supports my dream project. After an anxious, nearly-unsuccessful trip home through space, Ransom awakens alone in the space capsule, which he promptly leaves behind. There’s no need for him to confirm his experience with Weston and Divine, which leaves open the possibility that he has been dreaming without forcing him to face that possibility directly. Similarly, rather than witnessing the dissolution of the space capsule, which would confirm his experience as real, he leaves the landing site behind and resumes his walk-about. He sees a flash of light and assumes this is the expected un-bodying of the capsule, but he does not investigate or confirm it. This allows him to continue believing in the reality of his experiences on Malachandra while leaving room for the possibility of dreaming.

The final, extranarrative section of the book, in which the Lewis narrator interjects his own voice, supplements the very brief events that conclude the adventure itself and offers some guidelines, in the form of an epistolary debaat between Ransom and Lewis, about what themes they consider most important. In particular, Ransom laments the need to truncate the description of his philological work when composing the story, but acknowledges that the truncation is useful in support of more important issues.

I’m thinking at this point about Russell’s book The English Dream Vision, which takes a deconstructive approach to dream visions, concluding that several of them are about discourse itself. Lewis is careful to set the issue of philology itself as secondary, allowing readers to focus on the lessons Ransom learns by exercising the tools of philology rather than on the process or the resulting glossaries.

Of particular interest to me is Ransom’s insistence, in this post-narrative text, that the inhabitants of Malachandra are not homogeneous, that, for example, Hrossa come in many colors and live in many places. He insists that he has not seen enough of Malachandra or the cultures and species it hosts for his experience to be representative.

We are warned not to be distracted by our tools, and not to overgeneralize about Malachandra. Practically, each adventurer’s assumptions about civilizations and intelligence informs his experience and his approach to Malachandra. Weston insists in Oyarsa’s court that these are savages, and approaches them, disastrously, with attempts at intimidation followed by bribery. Divine’s complete focus on acquiring wealth leads him to sit down and ignore the entire proceedings, when he is not actively attempting to convince Weston to give up and just go home with what gold they have already loaded onto the spaceship.

Meanwhile, Ransom’s training as a philologist leads him to learn enough of the Hross language to understand that these people are not primitives at all, and his interactions with them are much more successful. The difference in outcomes is based on the difference in approach – Weston and Divine are motivated respectively by a devotion to scientific progress and a devotion to financial increase regardless of the consequences on existing individuals, whereas Ransom is motivated to make the best of his situation by learning what he can of the unfamiliar cultures that surround him. He is motivated in substantial part by empathy.

I won’t claim that Ransom has no interest in financial or technological concerns. He spends some time planning to write a dictionary of the Hross language, for example, which he considers will improve his standing in academic circles, a step forward for his career. And he offers his wristwatch as a gift, thinking that the unfamiliar technology will please his host. Also, description of the space ship itself serves as a second frame, suggesting that technology as interesting enough to Ransom that he wants to describe it in a very prominent way. I’ll want to analyze the particular motifs within that secondary frame in relation to parallel motifs in the waking frame and in the episodes on Malachandra.

Tentatively, I want to posit a theme related to how people ought to treat one another, in particular, that those in positions of relative power ought to consider the needs of those under their influence.


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