Places: Out of the Silent Planet

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1938

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Science fiction/fantasy

Time of work: Early twentieth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Thulcandra

*Thulcandra. Out of the Silent PlanetMartian name for Earth, meaning “Silent Planet,” where the narrative begins and ends. Ransom, a Cambridge philologist, is a solitary bachelor starting out on a walking tour, savoring the charms of his native England. Like a classic epic, this tale begins and ends on the native green. Before Ransom has gone far, he is hijacked to Mars by two villains he knows. While on his adventure, Ransom discovers that Thulcandra is presided over by a perverted Oyarsa (demoniac being), who has revolted against Maleldil the Younger (Christ), and therefore has been placed under planetary quarantine. Though Ransom clearly sees why the universe must be protected from the poisonous practices of Earth, when given the opportunity, he does not hesitate to return home.

Decades before the first photos of Earth from space were made, Lewis provided a vivid and accurate description of the planet as seen from Mars. Even as he views that radiant agate ball hanging in the sky, Ransom nostalgically tries to spot England and thinks of the tiny plot where he left his backpack.

*Malacandra (Mars)

*Malacandra (Mars). Martian name for their own planet. While epic adventures, such as the hnakra (vicious monster) hunt take place, suggesting that not all is paradisiacal on this planet, Ransom discovers that three intelligent species live here in harmony, with a neat division of tasks. These are the intellectual sorns, the artisan pfifltriggi, and the hrossa, skilled in navigation and agriculture. By allowing Ransom to anatomize Malacandrian culture in the manner of an anthropologist, Lewis is able to make, by implication, further comments on the failings of human societies, always competitive and suspicious. For example, Ransom learns that not all hrossa are alike; they exist in different colors, a treasured diversity.

Lewis has sometimes been criticized for his scientific carelessness, especially by readers who prefer “hard science fiction.” Though the careful mapping of Mars would take place decades after this book was published, Lewis knew that telescopic observations had demolished Percival Lowell’s theory of a carefully engineered network of canals on Mars. However, since canals were part of the popular beliefs about Mars, Lewis chose to retain them in his book.

Lewis felt that fantasy writing should not merely expand experience, as all good literature may do, but should actually enlarge understanding of the range of possible experience. Early critics praised Lewis’s Miltonic or Dantesque love of light, which made his descriptions of Malacandrian landscapes exciting. Lewis wrote about how, throughout his life, he had enjoyed conjuring visions of imaginary landscapes while lying in bed at night. With his setting on the still unexplored surface of Mars (in 1938), Lewis was able to describe wonderfully strange scenes, filled with diffused light, aromatic perfumes unknown to Earth, and resounding with panegyric hymns issuing from alien throats deeper and more varied than any known at home.

BibliographyDowning, David C. Planets in Peril: A Critical Study of C. S. Lewis’s Ransom Trilogy. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1992. The only book-length study of the space trilogy. Exceptionally insightful, helpful, and complete. Begins with a discussion of Lewis’ life, showing how Lewis’ values and Christian faith influenced these books.Gibson, Evan K. C. S. Lewis: Spinner of Tales: A Guide to His Fiction. Washington, D.C.: Christian University Press, 1980. Out of the Silent Planet receives a rather brief chapter; a good introduction to Lewis’ fiction.Howard, Thomas. C. S. Lewis: Man of Letters: A Reading of His Fiction. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1987. Contains a lengthy chapter about Out of the Silent Planet. A highly personal and energetic discussion.Manlove, Colin N. C. S. Lewis: His Literary Achievement. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1987. Analyzes each of Lewis’ novels, with careful attention to the underlying themes of each.Walsh, Chad. The Literary Legacy of C. S. Lewis. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1979. Evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of Lewis’ works, concluding that Lewis’ best work is his fiction. Praises Lewis’ ability to combine great literary skill with a distinctly Christian worldview.
Categories: Places