Fiction tells the truth better than truth itself because in fiction no one presupposes that the author has an angle. Of course, the author always has an angle.
No one writes anything without his notions and prejudices and accumulations of life’s experiences leaking into it. Even when it is not planned, a man’s writing is a reflection of himself, however distorted or grainy a caricature it may be.
C.S. Lewis, the famous Christian apologist best known for penning the Chronicles of Narnia, knew exactly the message he intended to propagate in the first installment of his fictional “Space Trilogy”, Out of the Silent Planet.
For those of us who love and admire subtlety and deception and its artful practitioners, Out of the Silent Planet is a slight disappointment.
Where Ayn Rand used Atlas Shrugged to bluntly advocate the merits of individualism, unrepentant selfishness, and the productive potential of industrious men left to their own devices, Lewis uses Out of the Silent Planet to elevate the wisdom of simple societies that value beauty, art, authority, and fellowship above the soulless imperatives of advanced technological societies.
As such, characters are given monologues in order to expound the philosophical ideas they represent. Dialogues between characters are meant to be dialogues between competing modes of civilizations.
The characters Weston and Devine, one a factual and cold scientist and the latter his profit-oriented partner, represent planet Earth, the so-called “Silent Planet”, which is the novel’s only discernible villain.
Ransom, the bumbling main character who gets whisked away to the distant planet of Malacandra as part of Weston and Devine’s plan to sacrifice him to natives in exchange for access to precious resources, represents a default Earthling, equipped with all the scientific, rationalistic and arrogant preconceptions we possess today. The arc of his philosophical and spiritual conversion is the story being told.
Our story enters its second act when Ransom escapes from his handlers and plunges into the wilderness of the foreign planet, where he encounters three distinct races of intelligent life that are not only not hostile, but entirely accommodating to Ransom and to each other. War and conflict is not part of the Malacandran vocabulary – each species has its specific specialty, and each supplies the others with the talents they lack, therefore ensuring global tranquility.
To seek protection from Weston and Devine, Ransom is told to find Oyarsis, who rules all the species of Malacandra. Oyarsis, once discovered, is apparently omniscient and body-less, but has an appropriately booming voice. But even Oyarsis, who rules only Malacandra, has a boss – an unseen character who rules all the heavens, including the Silent Planet, which is named so because long ago its ruler (Oyarsis’ former colleague) went rogue and is now fighting a great war against Oyarsis’ heavenly supervisor. Thus, the inhabitants of the Silent Planet are greatly corrupted and generally ignorant of their former nature.
Through this colorful little tale, in which we are treated to some fun imagination of the fictional planet and its inhabitants, Lewis successfully transmits valuable themes, however crudely. He does not try to push religious doctrine so much as show the difference between two types of societies; one devoted to each other and its ruler, and one devoted to itself and its propagation throughout the millennia.
This happens to be the main theme: just as the death of a man is certain, so is the death of a civilization, and so is the death of a species. This fact is of no consequence to the Malacandrans, who have come to terms with their mortality and have overcome any fear of death. Meanwhile, it is the very terror of death that drives humans to new planets in search of new homes and new resource potential, merely to extend life for future generations as a goal in and of itself.
Ironically, when the novel concludes, and Ransom is returned to the Silent Planet, he can no longer be sure that his stay on Malacandra even happened, and is hesitant to tell the story. His bizarre recollections, after all, can all be explained psychoanalytically.