After the receiving many a recommendation and finding the first volume quite short, I finally decided to begin C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy. And what an enjoyable read! I did not care for the first 40 or so pages, since they involved unpleasant characters and drawn-out descriptions. The one observation in this first section that encouraged me to continue was that space is not so much space—empty and void—but something full and bright, and that planets are more truly considered dark and void-like. This theme is revisited throughout the book, and I think makes it ironic that the series is called the Space Trilogy, and perhaps why some editions call it rather the Cosmic Trilogy. I am also not so sure I would call it science-fiction, as I would fantasy (or a fairy-tale as Lewis says in the third volume). There are certainly themes and tropes of science-fiction, but no one calls Dante’s Paradiso science-fiction on account of his visiting several planets. So many of the “scientific” bits of the book don’t hold in light of consequent space-exploration, but I don’t think they were all that important for the story anyway.
Some accuse C.S. Lewis (in contrast to Tolkien) of using his fantasy as a simple allegory of Christian teaching, and though one can see this clearly in the Narnia books, I don’t see it here. The main charm of this book is that it sets the human race alongside other sorts of rational beings, allowing one to see by contrast some of the oddities that exist among men on our planet. This contrast becomes the sharpest near the end of the book in a translation scene, where the main character struggles to translate to sentences of a human being into the concepts of another race, and thereby shows how much absurdity is being said. Beyond these parallel rational beings, there are also certain higher beings who are described in a creative way which, though not how I understand or would explain higher beings to others, comes close to explaining how a being could be on a higher order and certainly prompts me to a more careful consideration of the subject.
Everything I said here pertains to the first volume, Out of the Silent Planet, but I was told by a friend that this volume compares to its sequel, Perelandra, “as a circle compares to a sphere”. With this advertisement, I won’t be long in picking up the second volume…
Also, I think Wes Andersen could make a very entertaining film based on this book. I kept imagining Owen Wilson playing one of the humans, and Claymation being used for the appearance of a shark-like creature.
[This volume, though not on my original list, I am counting as #10 on my classics challenge. Some may question whether this book counts as a classic; I might consider that in a future post.]