Wednesday, November 29, 2017

084. Out of the Silent Planet

A friend mentioned to me over breakfast that today is C.S. Lewis' birthday, his 119th. C.S. Lewis lived only 65 years, but his voluminous writings have inspired millions to seek for a more intimate relationship with Christ.

On this occasion, I thought I'd write a few thoughts about one of my favorite books of all time, The Space Trilogy, written by C.S. Lewis. Part I is called Out of the Silent Planet, which was written in the late 1930s, soon after Lewis was re-converted to Christianity. A man, unaided by or un-animated by God, could not have written these books. Anyone who has communed with the Divine, accessed truth for themselves from God, or has had even the smallest smidgen of the mysteries of Godliness revealed to them will recognize the profound truths expounded in these short novels. However, these books are unappealing to most people for many reasons. They are not filled with the quick sound-bytes that people of today prefer. They are 1930s science fiction. The sophisticated English of C. S. Lewis is off-putting to some. However, all those impediments are a small price to pay for the deep truths and profound insights that one can reap by reading these novels. There are layers of meaning and depths upon depths of truths buried within their pages. There is a lot of detail that needs to be sorted through before you get to the nuggets, but without the details, you cannot fully understand the nuggets. Most of the information conveyed by the stories in these books is extremely difficult to convey from one person to another because of the depth and complexity of the material, making it difficult to adequately summarize this book in a way that conveys the full import of what it entails, as it needs to be individually read and digested. So, perhaps only to whet your appetite, I'll provide a few excerpts.

The gist of the story is that a young professor of linguistics, Elwin Ransom, is abducted aboard a spaceship by a scientist, named Weston, and his accomplice, named Devine. They intend to transport Ransom to the nearby planet of Malacandra as they believe they have been required to bring a human sacrifice for the creatures of the planet. Weston and Devine are interested in exploiting Malacandra for the preservation of the human race. Malacandra is a terrestrial world where no evil exists until invaded by the humans of Thulcandra [earth] who bring with them a willingness to plunder and murder in order to obtain what they desire. Soon after landing, Ransom escapes his captors and befriends some of the creatures on Malacandra. One day, while hunting, a being called an eldil, an almost invisible spirit-like, angelic creature, tells Ransom that he must go to meet Oyarsa, the eldil who is ruler of the planet. After an arduous and interesting journey, Ransom arrives in Meldilorn, the home of Oyarsa and a long-awaited conversation begins.

In the course of this conversation it is explained that there are Oyéresu (the plural) for each of the planets in our solar system; in the four inner planets, which have organic life (intelligent and non-intelligent), the local Oyarsa is responsible for that life. The ruler of Earth (Thulcandra, "the silent planet"), has turned evil (become "bent") and has been restricted to Thulcandra, after "great war," by the Oyéresu and the authority of Maleldil, the ruler of the universe. Ransom is ashamed at how little he can tell Oyarsa about Earth and how foolish he and other humans seem to Oyarsa. Oyarsa then tells Ransom that he had actually been chosen to come to Malacandra and servants had been sent to fetch him.

While the two are talking, Devine and Weston are brought in guarded by some of the creatures of Malacandra, because they have killed three of a certain race. A long discussion ensues over the actions and motivations of Weston and Devine. Oyarsa, passing judgment, tells Weston and Devine that he would not tolerate the presence of such creatures, but lets them leave the planet immediately, albeit under very unfavorable orbital conditions. Oyarsa offers Ransom the option of staying on Malacandra, but Ransom decides he does not belong there, perhaps because he feels himself unworthy and perhaps because he yearns to be back among the human beings of Earth.

Oyarsa had promised Ransom that the eldila of "deep heaven" would watch over and protect him against any attacks from the other two Thulcandrians, who might seek to kill him as a way of economizing their air and food supplies during the return journey; at times, Ransom is conscious of benevolent presences within the spaceship—the eldila. After a difficult return journey, the space-ship makes it back to Earth, and is shortly "unbodied" according to Oyarsa's will.

Ransom himself half-doubts whether all that happened was true, and he realizes that others will be even less inclined to believe it if he should speak of it. However, the author (Lewis, appearing as a character) who did not previously know of Ransom's adventure, fortuitously writes to Ransom asking whether he has heard of the medieval Latin word "Oyarses" and knows what it meant. This prompts Ransom to let Lewis in on the secret. Ransom then dedicates himself to the mission that Oyarsa gave him before he left Malacandra: stopping Weston from further evil. Ransom and Lewis then collaborate—in the story, not in real life—to compose and publish Out of the Silent Planet under the guise of fiction. They realize that only a few readers will recognize their story as describing "real" events, but since they anticipate that further conflict with Weston or the Bent Oyarsa of Earth will be forthcoming, they also desire simply to familiarize many readers with the ideas contained therein.

What follows are a couple of interesting excerpts from the book...

On the nature of heavenly beings...
"Do tell me, Small One [referring to Ransom], that there are no eldila [spirit-like, angelic creatures] in your world?"
"Not that I know of. But what are eldila, and why can I not see them? Have they no bodies?"
"Of course they have bodies. There are a great many bodies you cannot see. Every animal's eyes see some things but not others. Do you know of many kinds of body in Thulcandra [earth]?"
Ransom explained the terrestrial terminology of solids, liquids, and gases.
"That is not the way to say it," it replied. "Body is movement. If it is at one speed, you smell something; if at another, you hear a sound; if at another, you see a sight; if at another, you neither see nor hear nor smell, nor know the body in any way. But mark this, Small One, that the two ends meet."
"How do you mean?"
"If movement is faster, then that which moves is more nearly in two places at once."
"That is true."
"But if the movement were faster still -- it is difficult, for you do not know many words -- you see that if you made it faster and faster, in the end the moving thing would be in all places at once, Small One."
"I think I see that."
"Well, then, that is the thing at the top of all bodies -- so fast that it is at rest, so truly body that it has ceased being a body at all. But we will not talk of that. Start from where we are, Small One. The swiftest thing that touches our senses is light. We do not truly see light, we only see slower things lit by it, so that for us light is on the edge -- the last thing we know before things become too swift for us. But the body of an eldil is a movement swift as light; you may say its body is made of light, but not of that which is light for the eldil. His "light" is a swifter movement which for us is nothing at all; and what we call light is for him a thing like water, a visible thing, a thing he can touch and bathe in -- even a dark thing when not illuminated by the swifter. And what we call firm things -- flesh and earth -- seem to him thinner, and harder to see, than our light, and more like clouds, and nearly nothing. To us the eldil is a thin, half-real body that can go through walls and rocks: to himself he goes through them because he is solid and firm and they are like cloud. And what is true light to him and fills the heaven, so that he will plunge into the rays of the sun to refresh himself from it, is to us the black nothing in the sky at night. These things are not strange, Small One, though they are beyond our senses. But it is strange that the eldila never visit Thulcandra [earth]."

On the result of no Eldila or governing Oyarsa on Earth, the Silent Planet...
They [some of the creatures of Malacandra] were astonished at what he [Ransom] had to tell them of human history -- of war, slavery, and prostitution. "It is because they have no Oyarsa," said one of them. "It is because every one of them wants to be a little Oyarsa himself," said another. "They cannot help it," said an old one. "There must be rule, yet how can creatures rule themselves? Beasts must be ruled by hnau [rational creatures] and hnau by eldila and eldila by Maleldil. These creatures have no eldila. They are like one trying to lift himself by his own hair -- or one trying to see over a whole country when he is on level with it -- like a female trying to beget young on herself."

On why Earth is known as the Silent Planet throughout the heavens...
"Thulcandra is the world we do not know. It alone is outside heaven, and no message comes from it," said Oyarsa. "It was not always so. Once we knew the Oyarsa of your world -- he was brighter and greater than I -- and then we did not call it Thulcandra. It is the longest of all stories and the bitterest. He became bent. That was before any life came on your world. Those were the Bent Years of which we still speak in the heavens, when he was not yet bound to Thulcandra but free like us. It was in his mind to spoil other worlds besides his own....We did not leave him so at large for long. There was great war, and we drove him back out of the heavens and bound him in the air of his own world as Maleldil taught us. There doubtless he lies to this hour, and we know no more of that planet: it is silent. We think that Maleldil would not give it up utterly to the Bent One, and there are stories among us that He has taken strange counsel and dared terrible things, wrestling with the Bent One in Thulcandra. But of this we know less than you; it is a thing we desire to look into." "We know nothing since the day when the Bent One sank out of heaven into the air of your world, wounded in the very light of his light." "I am allowed to tell you this. The year we are now in -- but heavenly years are not as yours -- has long been prophesied as a year of stirrings and high changes and the siege of Thulcandra may be near its end. Great things are on foot. If Maleldil does not forbid me, I will not hold aloof from them. And now, farewell."

I believe this story to be an autobiographical spiritual experience of or higher understanding gained by C.S. Lewis...camouflaged in a book of science fiction. In chapter 21 the narrator says "I am not allowed to record this conversation [between Ransom and Oyarsa], beyond saying that the voice concluded it with the words: 'You have shown me more wonders than are known in the whole of heaven'." And this is only part I. Happy birthday [in Thulcandra time] C. S. Lewis, wherever it is you now reside upon the endless fields of Deep Heaven.

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