Book Review – Out of the Silent Planet
by Marc Hays
This morning I finished reading Out of the Silent Planet, by C. S. Lewis, which is the first book of his “Space Trilogy”. I’m going to begin this book review with a genre review, because of how the genre unexpectedly affected the way I, as the reader, received the story. I am not a trained literary scholar, analyst, or guru, so if the things that struck me in the reading of this book seem infantile, it is probably because they are. After all, I’m nearly 40 and have just begun reading Lewis’ Space Trilogy.
As mentioned in a previous post, I enjoy taking my family on excursions into Narnia. In order to get there, we suspend what we understand as reality and follow the Pevensies and their cousins through magical portals. These gates are common items like wardrobes and wall-hangings that Aslan uses to supernaturally transport sons of Adam and daughters of Eve from this world to different one–a fantastical one. In our minds we suspend reality in order to step through to Narnia, a world like ours in many ways, but wholly unlike ours cosmologically; hence, the reason the Narnia Chronicles are considered “fantasy” literature. It is a place that is wholly other than our own. When you close the book, you actually can’t get there from here.
However, as you read Out of the Silent Planet, you realize that Lewis is working within Science Fiction, which may not be possible presently but could possibly happen in the future. He wrote the book in 1938, which makes him more akin to a prophet than a novelist in many ways. His dreams really did come true, just not to the extent that he proposed…yet. Though space travel may never actually be as far-reaching as in Out of the Silent Planet, it is far more probable, given our present understanding of things, than finding a portal to an alternate universe, e.g. Narnia. I found that this mere possibility changed the way I viewed other aspects of the story that might come across as too fantastic to ever be true. In Lewis’ account of Malacandra, creatures and occurrences that would normally be described as supernatural, or entirely fantastical on planet earth, may only exceed our current, and possibly truncated, view of the natural world. They do not happen outside of nature, just outside of our present understanding of nature.
One aspect of the story that had a huge impact on me, which lies outside the natural/supernatural conversation, was how Lewis created a world containing three rational species. To see different aspects of what we would simply call “humanity” personified in three different species allowed me to think outside the normal anthropological parameters. It afforded me the opportunity to dissect human nature into different shaped pieces than I’ve been used to cutting. The depth of analysis, which this affords the reader, makes this book far more philosophically stimulating than its Narnian counterparts. This is not to denigrate the simplicity of the Narnian stories; rather, it is to extol C. S. Lewis for his multifaceted brilliance.
My mind is dull and gray. I’m thankful that God gave us Lewis to awaken new thoughts, colors, poems, creatures, and worlds–worlds that may actually be there, and therefore, be reachable. Whereas my family only visits a place called Narnia in our imaginations, one day I may go to priceline.com and schedule an actual family vacation to Malacandra.
Here’s a link to this wonderful little volume on Amazon: