Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Lost C.S. Lewis Trilogy

I just finished reading C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy (look at the Amazon book list widget for the various books) and it was thoroughly enjoyable this time around as it was the last time around.  I discovered some new things in this books that I must have missed in the previous read or simply glossed over.

The first book, Out of the Silent Planet, starts us off with the introduction of Elwin Ransom, who is the protagonist in the first two books and plays a huge role in the latter half of the third book.  He is abducted by Professor Weston and an old school acquaintance Dick Devine (why would you choose the name Dick as your nickname, I’ll never know) and transported to Mars.  The book brings up many important themes about life on other planets and questions, given his fallen nature, whether or not we are supposed to travel into space and colonize other worlds.

Ransom himself manages to escape from his captors shortly after arriving and, being an expert philologist, is able to quickly pick up the language of the natives, of which there are three distinct species.  Much of the focus here is his interaction with the natives and how the habits of humans seem to confound them and shock Ransom into realizing the full gravity of the Fall and what was truly lost as a result.  For the longest time, Ransom assumes that the three specifies are organized into a caste-type system when the reality is that each species is simply doing what it desires to do.

The character of Weston is most intriguing as he exemplifies a warped sense of progressivism where humanity must survive beyond their own death, even if that means Earth itself is destroyed.  While the forces that are backing Weston are not made fully clear until the third book, along with the larger motives, it is made clear that Weston is out of his element on Mars.  He fails to recognize that the natives there are just as capable as humans are, just have had no desire for massive technological advancement that humanity has undergone.  Because of the apparent lack of technological advancement, Weston assumes them all to be dupes and dunces.  He cannot conceive of other possibilities.

Devine is merely an opportunist and he has traveled there in order to collect gold.  He is mostly Weston’s lackey throughout the novel, despite being a much more astute observer of the reality of the situations they find themselves in.  He plays a much bigger role in the third novel.

The Martians are, however, ruled by an Oyarsa, which is a kind of energy being, barely visible to the human eye.  It is made clear that the Oyarsa is not some kind of angel, and that they live in the heavens with the planets being more like a stop on the way.  Still, they are sometimes assigned to watch over some planets where sentient life exists.  The Oyarsa of Mars is annoyed with Weston as he tries to find the man behind the curtain, so to speak, but eventually Weston realized that there are higher beings than man and that he has just met one.

It is important to note that the Oyarsa of Mars lets Ransom know that the Oyarsa of Earth is “bent” or evil.  It was banished to Earth and is more than likely the Devil or Satan that we often hear about, although it is never explicitly stated, as far as I can remember.  This highlights the main theme of the novel in that it is Earth which is silent, or cut-off, from the rest of the universe because of its bent Oyarsa.  But calling Earth Thulacandra, or “Silent Planet” also highlights how much of the real world is hidden from the eyes of men.  On Mars, or Malacandra as they call it, the Martians regularly speak with eldila (lesser Oyarsa), and are aware of the supernatural world.  But on Earth, man is unable to discern such things, especially in the modern age.

The second book, Perelandra, takes place some time after the first one.  Here, Ransom is assigned to travel to Venus, or Perelandra.  His mission is not made all that clear at first, only that Earth’s Oyarsa is attempting a covert invasion of the new world.  Venus, you see, is just starting to be filled with life and it is believed that the bent eldila, along with Thulacandra’s Oyarsa, wish to take it over.  However, they are not willing to risk outright invasion as they would be crushed by the combined might of the rest of the universe’s eldila and Oyarsas.  So they send Ransom, largely because he is the only human who has mastered the language of the universe which he learned on Mars and because being a human and a Christian, he would know right from wrong and probably be better equipped to deal with the problem.

Ransom learns that Venus is to be a new Eden with a new Adam and Eve.  He meets the “Eve” of this world but his joy is short-lived as Weston arrives in his own ship.  It becomes quickly clear that Weston himself has become possessed by the dark eldila (how many is not certain and it is not clear if the Oyarsa of Earth possesses him either)  and has effectively eliminated Weston the man from existence.  What follows is a battle of wills, with “Weston” tempting the Lady to disobey God’s command while Ransom struggles to stop him.  Of course, “Weston” does not play fair, intertwining lies (a concept currently unknown to the Lady) and stories as well as keeping Ransom awake into the night.  “Weston” himself does not require sleep.  Eventually, the situation becomes desperate and Ransom is given a difficult task that ultimately determines the planet’s fate, as well as the fate of the King and Queen of that world.

The final book, That Hideous Strength, is my personal favorite.  This one can be read separately from the others, although there are few things you may miss if you haven’t.  The main focus of this book is on the struggles of Jane and Mark Studdock, two newlyweds.  Both characters through the course of the novel undergo a conversion to Christianity, but it does not come easily as both are secular progressives at the beginning.

Mark is a vain man who wishes merely to fit in.  He is a man who spent his entire life trying to get in on the secret circle of friends.  Throughout the novel, we have him thinking he is wanted or desired by the nefarious NICE (National Institute for Coordinated Experiments) when the reality, which is obvious almost from the start, that they are playing him.  While I won’t speak of their true motives, Mark finds himself in a very unfortunate position toward the end, largely because of his own foolishness and vanity.

Jane is a modern wife, who desires equality, yet cannot bear the emptiness she feels in her marriage.  She gets offended when the good side suggest she talk with Mark about certain decisions and much of her story focuses not only on St. Anne’s, the good side opposing NICE covertly, but her role as a wife to Mark.  Throughout most of the novel, Mark and Jane do not interact with each other.  It is interesting to see how that side of things plays out.

I won’t go into too much detail about the NICE but I will say that Lewis probably wrote the most accurate portrayal of New World Order-type organizations I have ever read about.  Even today I see a Fairy Hardcastle running a police force and a Filostrato trying to rid humanity of its organic limitations.  Dick Devine shows up as a member of NICE, but is quite clear he is only in it for himself and not the higher cause to which NICE represents.

As for St. Anne’s, it is merely the polar opposite of NICE.  I don’t want to talk too much about this group as I would give away too much about it.

It is shame that I will probably never see these novels portrayed on film.  The problem with these books is that while they are great adventures in science fiction and fantasy, they are also overtly Christian and, in some places, violent.  Hollywood barely tolerates Christian stories being made into films, unless they are implicit references and are children’s films.  They barely could get out The Book of Eli, with many of the people demanding less Christian references.

So your only alternative is to simply read these lost classics.

Oh, and one other thing: the third book indicates that this storyline occurs in the same universe of J.R.R. Tolkien's  Middle-Earth, only much later in time.  Of course, this is probably a superficial crossover, as the trilogy was written around the same time as The Lord of the Rings, but still an interesting fact nonetheless.