Out of the Silent Planet

by C. S. Lewis
Series: Space Trilogy 1
Reviewed date: 2011 Sep 9
Rating: 3
160 pages
cover art

I enjoyed Out of the Silent Planet a little less than I did sixteen years ago when I read it for my first book report in ninth grade. It's still a great introduction to the fantastic vision of Mars as Malacandra--a world populated with poetic hrossa, scientific seroni, and pfifltriggi craftsmen. The races of Malacandra remain unfallen (in contrast to the bent nature of humanity), but Malacandra itself has been gravely affected: when the Oyarsa of Thulcandra (i.e., Earth) rebelled against Maleldil, he struck Malacandra and rendered its surface largely uninhabitable. Only a by a colossal feat of engineering did the Oyarsa of Malacandra manage to dig handramits (canyons) where the little remaining atmosphere pools and concentrates enough to support life. It is to this dying planet that professor Elwin Ransom is kidnapped and brought against his will by two very bent men.

What struck me on this reading of Out of the Silent Planet, which I did not notice in my previous reading, is the passiveness of Dr. Ransom. Fantastic events happen to him, but never once makes any choice or decision of consequence. He is a character to which things happen, not an agent who makes things happen.

  • Dr. Ransom is hiking through the countryside when a storm forces him to seek shelter.
  • At the first house he spots, the woman asks him to help find her son Harry, who is out late at the house of Dr. Weston. Ransom's sense of English politeness obligates him to help her.
  • Ransom finds the house of Dr. Weston, but doesn't really commit himself to inquiring after Harry until he has already thrown his backpack over the hedge--at which point he realizes he has no choice but to go in after it.
  • Weston and Devine drug Ransom, bring him aboard their spaceship, and travel to Malacandra. At no point does Ransom have any choice.
  • Once on Malacandra, Ransom only manages to escape from Weston and Devine when he is startled by the appearance of a sorn; he runs out of uncontrolled fear, not out of any deliberate choice.
  • Ransom is rescued by the hrossa, with whom he stays out of a lack of any other options.
  • An eldil speaks to Ransom and instructs him to travel to Meldilorn and appear before Oyarsa. At the same time, Weston and Devine show up with their guns, leaving Ransom no choice but to leave the hrossa and run to Meldilorn.
  • Oyarsa gives Ransom a choice: remain on Malacandra forever, or take his chances with Weston and Devine on a return journey to Earth. This is Ransom's first and only real choice. It is a choice of little consequence: it affects nobody but himself. However, it is in fact, an actual choice. Ransom casts his lot with Weston and Devine.

As I recall from the sequel Perelandra, Ransom ends up being a much more active participant in the events of that book. But in Out of the Silent Planet, he is strictly an observer.

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