Book Review: Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis

Short Summary: A man named Ransom is kidnapped and taken to another planet, where he must navigate a new landscape filled with various lifeforms, each with their own interpretation of the world and their place in it. However, it soon appears that those most dangerous to Ransom might be of his own kind.

Discovering this gem of a book has been a tremendous blessing. Lewis’ writing style is nostalgic; it just sounds like a very old, very kind gentleman is telling the story, and this easily trusted narrator drew me in so that I enjoyed hearing him speak as I read. I read the Chronicles of Narnia in elementary school and junior high, but I have no distinct memories of Lewis’ voice or writing style from them. However, as soon as I began reading Out of the Silent Planet, it felt like listening to an old friend. The prose is almost lyrical, with significant passages filled with vivid details of unreal but very interesting places.

I really didn’t know what to expect from this book. I was actually beginning to think that I was losing interest in the sci-fi genre as a whole, so I anticipated struggling through. However, while the first few chapters were a bit slow, once Ransom landed on Malacandra (the planet where his captors take him), the pace of the plot and my interest greatly increased.

It is widely known that nearly all of Lewis’ fiction is allegorical. I am certain that all three books in this trilogy, known merely as “Lewis’ Space Trilogy” or “The Cosmic Trilogy”, fit this expectation. I have no doubt that Out of the Silent Planet has elements of allegory, and there are names and off-handed remarks which I hope will be explained in later books and which I expect to fill in some of the gaps of my current understanding of the presented allegory. Perhaps at some point I will write an article or paper on this subject, but I am not including my interpretation of the allegory in this review because I believe that how a person interprets an allegory is at the same time shaped by and part of the process for shaping what they believe.

One of the most significant instances of discourse with modern society in this book is that of how we as humans treat one another. I believe that what Lewis has to say on this subject is just as relevant and correct today as it was when he first wrote it. However, this is one of those things that I do not fully understand Lewis’ perspective on yet, and hope for clarification in further books. It is clear enough that humanity has a lacking reputation of treating others of its own species poorly while at the same time thinking very highly of itself. Lewis points out towards the end of Out of the Silent Planet that it appears it is not necessarily the human form, nor the quality of intelligence, which man regards so highly, but instead the possibility of becoming something better; in other words, man believes that he will be the ancestor of the greatest possible being, and thus that his superiority over all others is inherent and justified. However, this does not lead man to treat all of his kind well. Instead, he frequently mistreats those with characteristics different from his own, erroneously supposing himself to be the best of the best. In the characters representing humanity in Out of the Silent Planet, this circumstance is attributed to the fact that the ruler/owner/manager figure of the fictional Earth is evil, and does not teach humans what is good or right to do. It is not clear at the end of this book exactly how Lewis means for this to map onto the actual world. It is probably not an exact fit, but because of the allegorical elements I am sure there is some crossover.

I am very glad that I read this book, beyond the simple reason of enjoying the story and widening my range of literary exposure. I have decided that it is not so much that I am losing interest in science fiction as an entire genre, but that I am losing interest in the gore and immorality that seems to come with modern sci-fi and especially post-apocalyptic literature. Classic science fiction, which I consider Out of the Silent Planet to be alongside the likes of Ray Bradbury, is still distinctly able to hold my attention and entertain while teaching something about the state of humanity or warning of some possible vice.

I recommend this book to literally anyone with a high school reading level or higher. Those who enjoy science fiction, philosophy, shorter books, action, things that make you think, or any other aspect of literature can find something to like from Out of the Silent Planet. 

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