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"The idea of other planets exercised upon me then a peculiar, heady attraction, which was quite different from any other of my literary interests. Most emphatically it was not the romantic spell of Das Ferne. "Joy" (in my technical sense) never darted from Mars or the Moon. ... I may add that my own planetary romances have been not so much the gratification of that fierce curiosity as its exorcism. The exorcism worked by reconciling it with, or subjecting it to, the other, the more elusive, and the genuinely imaginative, impulse."
—C. S. Lewis, Surprised By Joy
Everybody and their dog knows about Narnia, and has probably read it. They also probably know about the likes of Mere Christianity or The Screwtape Letters. But if you ask them whether they realized that CS Lewis wrote science fiction, they'll look at you like you're from another planet. The Space Trilogy is the unofficial name of his series of Planetary Romance and Fantasy novels, mixing space travel with Medieval cosmology and Christian theology.
And... it's C. S. Lewis. Of course it's Christian thematically.
The first, Out of the Silent Planet, is a tribute to early science-fiction of the likes of From The Earth to the Moon. Philologist Elwin Ransom is kidnapped by the (evil) scientists Devine and Weston, and taken in their space-ship to the planet Malacandra (or Mars, as we call it) as a human sacrifice to appease the natives while they mine the place for gold. He escapes, locates and falls in among the civilized natives (the otterlike hrossa) and learns their language and their ways. He is then summoned to see Oyarsa, the ruler of of Malacandra. This being is an eldil -- basically, an angel -- and actually just wants to talk. In the court of Oyarsa, Ransom learns much of the history of eldils and the solar system, and the reason why Thulcandra (the titular Silent Planet, that is, Earth) has heretofore been cut off from the Heavens. Weston and Devine reappear, and their ultimate villainous goals are laid bare and dissected. Oyarsa then sends the three humans back to Earth.
In the second novel, Perelandra, also known as Voyage to Venus, it is revealed that the eldils have kept in contact with Ransom since his trip to the Heavens, and now Ransom has been given a Mission From Maleldil to visit Perelandra (i.e. Venus). He finds the planet to be covered in oceans and floating islands, and its inhabitants living a literally Edenic existence. Ransom makes the acquaintance of the planet's Queen, and discovers that she and the King (who has been missing for the past few days) are the only intelligent inhabitants. The peace is shattered by the arrival of another space-ship, bearing Weston--and with him, an eldil of Thulcandra, bent on corrupting this young world. Ransom realizes that he was sent to Perelandra to prevent this from happening--by words, and if necessary, by force. As a side-note, this was Lewis' personal favorite of everything he wrote.
The third novel, That Hideous Strength, is an genre shift. (It's subtitled "A Modern Fairy-Tale For Grown-Ups" for a reason). In the quiet town of Edgestow, Jane Studdock finds herself haunted by strange dreams of a decapitated man and an undead mystic. Meanwhile, her husband Mark is strong-armed into joining the National Institute of Co-ordinated Experiments, a joint political-(quasi)scientific organization that is surreptitiously taking complete control of the town. The NICE is particularly interested in Bragdon Wood, where Merlin is rumored to be buried--not dead, just resting. With great reluctance, Jane falls in with the oddly inactive resistance led by Elwin Ransom--the only opposition to the NICE's (literally) diabolical plans.
If you get the feeling that this one is a hackjob copy of 1984 or Fahrenheit 451, you actually have it backwards. This book came first: and right about the time of the atomic bomb. George Orwell actually wrote a snazzy review (titled "The Scientists Take Over") and sang the book's praises, with the caveat that he thought it was weakened by the book's supernatural premise, since of course good will beat evil if angels are involved. The book is also riddled with Christian allegory, although less overtly so than Perelandra was. Slightly. Perhaps it may be most generously summed up in the words of Lewis's friend and fellow Anglican apologist, Dorothy L. Sayers: "less good but still full of good stuff." On the other hand, another friend, JRR Tolkien, dubbed it "That Hideous Book".
There is also an unfinished novel titled The Dark Tower (not to be confused with the Stephen King series of the same name) originally intended as a sequel to Out Of The Silent Planet, and abandoned in favor of Perelandra. The plot, in which Ransom was only a secondary character, involved an Alternate Universe rather than space travel. Walter Hooper, the executor of Lewis' literary estate, published the fragment posthumously. The scholar Kathryn Lindskoog challenged the authenticity of The Dark Tower, and accused Hooper of forging it--though this seems to be the minority view among scholars of Lewis.
- Adam and Eve Plot: Perelandra is rather explicitly a rehash of the Garden Of Eden (with Ransom as a Genre Savvy observer).
- Agent Scully: MacPhee, a die-hard atheist scientist, remains implacably skeptical throughout all the supernatural events of That Hideous Strength.
- Alien Geometries: Ironically, on Earth. The N.I.C.E. attempts to break Mark Studdock's mind by placing him in a room whose every proportion is off just enough to be noticeable but not enough to be obvious.
- Alien Non-Interference Clause
- Alien Sky: The skies over Perelandra are opaque, leading to pitch black nights.
- Almost Out of Oxygen: Carbon dioxide poisoning becomes an issue during the return trip in Out of the Silent Planet. The characters move and speak as little as possible in order to reduce their respiration.
- Ascended to A Higher Plane of Existence: Ransom at the end of That Hideous Strength, at least thematically. He will never die, but will instead be transported bodily to Perelandra, where he will live in paradise forever. It's also implied that this happened to Enoch, Moses and Elijah.
- ...and King Arthur
- Author Tract: The novels are as much philosophical exercises as they are stories.
- Out Of The Silent Planet is a fictionalized version of Lewis' essay "Religion and Rocketry", describing how extraterrestrial life could be reconciled with Christian theology. See also the Deconstruction note below.
- Perelandra transplants the Garden of Eden to Venus, and raises the question of why the Forbidden Fruit was forbidden in the first place.
- That Hideous Strength is a fictionalized version of Lewis' The Abolition Of Man, arguing against Philosophical Naturalism masquerading as Scientific Progress.
- Awesome Moment of Crowning: The King and Queen of Perelandra.
- Babies Ever After: What else should happen when Venus gets involved.
- ...and not just with humans --- when the escaped animals that were used for vivisection rendezvous at St. Anne's and proceed to do ... what animals inevitably do when presented with the opportunity
- The Baroness: "Fairy" Hardcastle, head of N.I.C.E. security. It's strongly implied that she's a literal sadist who gets aroused by torturing female prisoners.
- Big Creepy-Crawlies: Ransom briefly encounters giant flies and beetles in the caverns under Perelandra. Subverted, however. Once the Un-man's presence is removed, and the fear it generated is gone, Ransom also ceases to fear the creepy crawlies, and speculates that they may, in fact, be sentient beings.
- Blue and Orange Morality: Merlin, although ultimately on the side of good, doesn't really fit within the modern framework of good and evil. One of the better examples of Deliberate Values Dissonance.
- The Bluebeard: How a newspaper refers to François Alcasan, who murdered his wife.
- Buffy-Speak: In That Hideous Strength, MacPhee accuses women in general of talking this way and somehow still understanding each other.
- Butch Lesbian: "Fairy" Hardcastle. She's definitely butch, but her lesbianism is implied rather than stated outright. Comes across like a more discreet version of the the Girls Behind Bars butch jailer stereotype.
- Call a Rabbit a Smeerp: Maleldil, i.e. Space Jesus.
- The Call Knows Where You Live
- Can Not Tell a Lie: When Ransom tries on Perelandra, it is physically painful for him because the planet's purity abhors it. Weston seems to have no problem with it though.
- Chic and Awe: Implied in Jane Studdock's pending reunion with Mark at the very end.
- More accurately describes her first meeting with the Director (Ransom)
- Closer to Earth: Mark is entirely taken with the Progressive Element and goes in with them almost immediately. Jane has a bad feeling about them.
- Cloudcuckoolander: Again, the tramp.
- Cold Sleep, Cold Future: Merlin's experiance of the modern world.
- The Corrupter: the Un-man again, whose explicit mission is to recreate the Fall of Man with the Perelandrans.
- Crapsack World: Sulva, aka the Moon.
- Cunning Linguist: Ransom.
- Curse of Babel: The undoing of the NICE.
- Darker and Edgier: Perelandra has a considerably darker plot than Out of the Silent Planet, with more at stake. That Hideous Strength is even darker.
- Deconstruction: In Out Of The Silent Planet, Weston's motivation for the colonization of Mars is the survival of the human race, even if this means killing all the natives of Mars. Or killing any humans who stand in his way. The conversation with Oyarsa picks this philosophy to pieces. This aspect was most likely intended by Lewis as a rebuttal to Olaf Stapeldon's novel Last And First Men, which (arguably) condoned the genocide of native Venusians as necessary for humanity's survival.
- Lewis also deconstructs various popular human fears as found in science fiction. For instance, the notion that aliens -- particularly aliens stronger and smarter than us -- must necessarily have natures anti-thetical to and hostile towards human beings. In point of fact, each alien species is more similar to humankind than they are different -- even the Energy Beings, who are the most different and powerful by far, love humans more than humans love each other. If there are legions of fallen eldil who plague humanity, it's simply because they choose not to live in peace with us.
- Deliberate Values Dissonance: Merlin in That Hideous Strength has a very alien mindset compared to the 20th century characters.
- Demonic Possession: The undoing of Weston.
- Detonation Moon: Will be Sulva's ultimate fate.
- The Devil Is a Loser: Or at least a disgusting sociopath. Like in his later novel The Screwtape Letters, Lewis was pretty intent on dissecting the idea of Satan as a suave Magnificent Bastard and tried to portray him in Perelandra the way he thought a truly pure evil being would be like.
Ransom comes to the realization that for demons, intelligence is a trait that they can put on or remove at will--it's like clothes they wear rather than an innate characteristic. And based on the Un-Man's petty behavior whenever he isn't "working", it's clear he would rather be intelligent as little as possible. At one point, Ransom even specifically thinks that he would much rather face a Mephistopheles-type of demon than the thing he has to put up with.
- Lewis also wanted to make the point that, having renounced the source of all good, Satan has to renounce all good things, intelligence being one of them. His philosophical/ontological position is inherently insane, like a man sawing off a tree limb he's sitting on.
- Drives Like Crazy: Hilariously, Dick Devine/Lord Feverstone.
- Eldritch Abomination: Even meeting the good Energy Beings can be unsettling, but the evil ones certainly count.
- The fact is even pointed out that meeting a good Eldil is even worse than meeting a bad one. When faced with evil, one can still hope for the good to save you -- what do you do when a good Eldil is still frightening?
- Energy Beings: The eldils are essentially Christian angels, and some of them (the ones associated with a specific planet) are also the basis for the Olympian pantheon. They are imperceptible energy beings whose forms exist on a radically different wavelength than ours -- for them, gaseous matter doesn't exist, and liquids and solids are gaseous, so the planets of the Solar system are just clouds. To them, light itself is the water through which they swim, and the Sun is their wellspring. "Visiting" a planet means moving into one of those moving clouds and then keeping pace with its orbit to maintain the appearance of standing still, while using some sort of projection to interact with wispy, ephemeral creatures they cannot fully see (ie: us).
- Everything's Worse with Bears: A bear named Mr Bultitude kills the Big Bad, who had kidnapped him from the zoo and used him for vivisection experiments. Hence also:
- Exit, Pursued by a Bear: Mr Bultitude is a more-than-usually literal example.
- Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Played straight with Professor Weston.
- Evil Is Petty: The un-man on Perelandra. Capable of making very eloquent arguments to tempt his subject towards evil; but when he's unable to do anything more profoundly evil, he spends his time torturing small animals and playing childish pranks on Ransom.
- Arguably, Devine as well. In Out of the Silent Planet, while Weston and Devine are both evil, Weston is a deconstruction of the Well-Intentioned Extremist who justifies his evil actions as necessary for the survival of the human race. Devine is only there for the gold; and Oyarsa describes him as a "broken" man whose only motivation is greed. As Lord Feverstone in That Hideous Strength, he's aware of the true nature of the NICE; but isn't interested in the supernatural aspects, his only motivation being personal power.
- Evilutionary Biologist: Professor Weston develops interplanetary travel so humanity and their descendants (whatever they evolve into) could go out into the stars and survive throughout the cosmos. However, Weston doesn't care that this plan may involve wiping out other intelligent life. (In the second book, he abandons this goal in favor of a New Age-y philosophy he dubs "Spiritual Evolution", which has nothing to do with this trope.) The trope is taken further in the third book, where the N.I.C.E. plans to replace all organic life with a machine life.
- Expy: Ransom is largely inspired by Lewis' close friend JRR Tolkien.
- Face Revealing Turn: Invoked. "Perhaps I should see a figure which looked like Ransom standing with its back toward me and when I spoke it would turn round to reveal a face that was not human at all...."
- Fictionary: The Old Solar tongue.
- Forbidden Fruit: In this 'verse, every planet's sapient inhabitants are given a single rule that is not to be broken. Earth's rule was the Trope Namer. Perelandra's denizens are not allowed to sleep on solid ground, and must return to one of the floating islands in the ocean. Lewis' conclusion seems to be that most of Genesis 3 is merely window-dressing. It was the fact of Adam and Eve's disobedience that matters; the form it took (whether eating a literal fruit or sleeping on solid ground) is immaterial.
- A Form You Are Comfortable With: In "Perelandra", two major eldila appear in human form, but it takes them some practice. See "Our Angels Are Different" below.
- Fun with Acronyms: The N.I.C.E. (National Institute of Coordinated Experiments).
- Fridge Horror: There really is a institute with the same acronym in the UK - the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence.
- The Gods Must Be Lazy: In Perelandra, Ransom wonders why he wasn't receiving divine help in light of the direct demonic intervention from the other side. The answer: God works In Mysterious Ways. Ransom himself is the divine help -- Adam and Eve didn't have the benefit of advice from an older race that had failed the Forbidden Fruit test; Weston/the Un-man is Satan in the physical body of a human being -- which imposes certain physical limitations, and which can be killed...
- Good Angel, Bad Angel: Ransom and the demon in Perelandra.
- Good Is Old-Fashioned: The view of Weston and the NICE.
- Good People Have Good Sex: "Venus at St. Annes'", the last chapter of That Hideous Strength.
- Green-Skinned Space Babe: The Queen of Perelandra, literally.
- Implied that, this being Venus, her race's blood is oxygenated by Copper rather than Iron
- Hannibal Lecture: Weston's speech to Oyarsa justifying his murder of the Malacandrans, as well as planned genocide and colonization of the planet. Thoroughly deconstructed, as noted elsewhere, to the point where Oyarsa's response effectively qualifies as an indirect Shut UP, Hannibal.
- Homage: Over in the DC Universe, the Martian word for "Mars" is "Ma'aleca'andra" as an homage to this trilogy.
- Human Aliens: The King and Queen of Perelandra. (Justified: since Maleldil chose the physical form of a human being, all sapient life younger than the human race looks like Earthlings.)
- Humans Are Flawed: Humans are the only intelligent species in the Solar System to be "bent", i.e. have a sin-tainted nature. This doesn't mean that humans are universally puppy-kicking-bad, but in spite of our technological superiority we don't have anything in particular to offer to the other people of the Solar System. They're all quite happy with their lives, and do not lie to, cheat, or murder each other.
- There's more to it than that. Residents of Malacandra have the occasional "bent" individual, but these are few and far between because the planet's Oyarsa - the angelic ruler - is still good. On Earth, not only are the people bent, the Oyarsa (Satan) is as well, so sin is unchecked.
- If Jesus, Then Aliens: Explored in many ways. Both Jesus and aliens appear, but belief in the two is not necessarily linked.
- In with the In Crowd: Mark Studdock's motive for joining the NICE in That Hideous Strength.
- Ironic Name: The N.I.C.E. is not very nice at all.
- Kick the Dog: The Un-Man, in its spare time, tortures small animals For the Evulz.
- The NICE vivisects any animal it gets its hands on.
- King in the Mountain: Merlin, resting under Bragdon Wood in That Hideous Strength.
- Lady Land: The Pfifltriggi are matriarchal.
- Lipstick Lesbian: "Fairy" Hardcastle's inner circle minions are explicitly described as the sort of "fluffy, simpering" hyper-feminine stereotype. Like Miss Hardcastle, their lesbianism is implied rather than stated outright.
- Literary Agent Hypothesis: Used in the epilogue to Out of the Silent Planet and introduction to Perelandra, where it is suggested that the author is a friend of Ransom's, but dropped for the third book.
- Well, sort of dropped. Lewis gives a first-person description of his own fictional visit to Bragdon Wood, thus giving himself a toehold in the story. On the other hand, it's hard to see how Lewis-as-character could have learned about a bear's stream of consciousness or the last thoughts of the villains as their doom overtakes them. (On the third hand, one of the surviving characters IS clairvoyant, so maybe... Nah.)
- Meaningful Name: Ransom, whom Maleldil compares to Himself, as He is "the ransom of the world". An interesting twist: Ransom, being a linguist, knows that his name isn't actually related to the word "ransom" -- but the evolution of his family name seems to be no accident.
- Also, "Elwin" means "elf-friend" in the Anglo-Saxon. Considering how much of JRRT's writings in the Inklings affected the Space Trilogy...
- Multicultural Alien Planet: In Out of the Silent Planet, the inhabitants of Malacandra come in three different species (not counting the energy beings), each with its own language. Furthermore, the sorns (giant feathered humanoids) come in at least two varieties - white (in the mountains) and red (in the deserts), and the hrossa (otter-people) come in at least three races - black, silver, and crested. There might be more, but the viewpoint character wasn't on the planet long enough to tell, as he was vividly aware.
- No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: The duel between Ransom and Weston is horrendously violent, even more so when Ransom gets the upper hand. For a moment I thought I was reading a Matthew Stover novel.
- No Such Thing as Space Jesus: Averted. Hard. This is C.S. Lewis, after all. The whole series is pretty much about Space Jesus.
- Planetville: Averted via Lampshade Hanging in Out Of The Silent Planet: as Ransom leaves Malacandra, he realizes what a tiny portion of the planet he actually saw.
- Older Than They Look: By the third book, Ransom is extremely youthful in appearance despite pushing 50 and sporting a long, luxurious beard. Yet he also gives off an aura of wisdom befitting one much older. The former is from visiting Perelandra, the last truly paradisal world, and the latter is from his experiences making him truly humble - that is, having no illusions about his true nature as a creature of Maleldil.
- Only Known by Their Nickname: Ransom in the first book. This was retconned in the remaining two books to be his actual name.
- Our Angels Are Different: Into Go Mad From the Revelation territory. For instance, when two major eldila are unfamiliar with humans and need to practice appearing to them:
A tornado of sheer monstrosities seemed to be pouring over Ransom. Darting pillars filled with eyes, lightning pulsations of flame, talons and beaks and billowy masses of what suggested snow, volleyed through cubes and heptagons into an infinite black void. "Stop it ... stop it," he yelled, and the scene cleared. He gazed round blinking on the fields of lilies, and presently gave the eldila to understand that this kind of appearance was not suited to human sensations.
- Opposed Mentors: An evil example where the two chief villains disagree on the best way to dehumanize their initiate/captive.
- Peace and Love Incorporated: The N.I.C.E.
- Planet of Hats: Descriptions of the three races of Malacandra tend to embody this trope.
- The Hrossa are warrior-poets and musicians prone to flamboyant action and speech; their humour consisting predominantly of elaborate wordplays. They take great joy in hunting dangerous animals face to face, and composing epic poems; but are prone to overlook simple practicalities. Likely inspired by the style of the Scandanavian Eddas and Sagas.
- They Seroni are reserved and solitary shepherds, whose humour is described as dry and sardonic. They're the philosophers and scientists, more interested in abstract principles than technology.
- The Pfiffltriggi are miners and artists; whose humour is described as "excelling in practical jokes and personal abuse". They are expert craftsmen and architects who delight in technology and the visual arts.
- Planetary Romance: Described by the author as such in the page quote.
- Police State: The college town, as ruled over by The N.I.C.E.
- Psycho Lesbian: Again, Miss "Fairy" Hardcastle, who takes particular joy in torturing female prisoners.
- The Red Planet
- Sarcastic Devotee: MacPhee, the only member of Ransom's Nakama who doesn't share his Christian faith.
- Scary Shiny Glasses: Professor Frost was doing this way before Gendo made it cool. Even in a book, it's still scary.
- Scenery Porn: In Perelandra, especially the mountain towards the end.
- Science Marches On: The canals on Malacandra. Science had already questioned the existence of canals on Mars and Lewis was aware of this, but included the canals anyway.
- Also the oceans of Perelandra, back before it was learned that the surface of Venus was a volcanic wasteland hot enough to melt lead.
- Secret Police: The N.I.C.E.'s own forces. Managed to seize control of a college town with only a handful of people realizing it.
- Seemingly-Profound Fool: The tramp. He gets mistaken for Merlin by the N.I.C.E. and is either too simple or too smart to correct their mistake.
- Shout-Out: Numenor gets mentioned several times in That Hideous Strength, based apparently on some discussions that Lewis had with Tolkien. (Lewis apparently never saw a manuscript, since he invariably spells it "Numinor.")
- Something Completely Different: That Hideous Strength.
- Space Opera
- Squishy Wizard: Merlin considers himself to be this.
- Starfish Aliens: Malacandra has three native species: big intelligent otters, thin tall humanoids, and tapir-headed frogish aliens. The Eldila (angels), are multidimensional energy beings who inhabit space itself.
- Stealth Pun ?: So stealthy I'm not sure it's there. The oblivious figurehead of the villainous N.I.C.E. is Horace Jules, a clear parody of H. G. Wells. Now, not only does his last name recall his contemporary SF author, Jules Verne, but if you pronounce "H. Jules" aloud, it sounds a fair bit like "H. Gee-wells."
- Tactful Translation: Subverted. When Weston tries to justify colonialism before the divine guardian of Malacandra, Ransom is his interpreter; but because the local language has no words for most of Weston's rhetoric, except in basic moral black-and-white, it comes out in total nonsense.
- Tears of Fear: When Merlin realizes that Redemption Equals Death. Also counts as Inelegant Blubbering.
- Trippy Finale Syndrome: the Great Dance vision at the end of Perelandra. It's quite well done.
- Uncanny Valley: Described in-universe.
- Ransom is initially horrified by the appearance of the séroni, because they're very elongated humanoids. The other two species of hnau on Malacandra resemble animals, so Ransom is able to accept them much sooner.
- He decides that thinking of the hrossa as anthropomorphic animals is a lost less unsettling than thinking of them as animalistic men.
- The "UnMan" looks human, but his behavior and mannerisms are just enough off to creep Ransom the hell out.
- Unusual Euphemism: In That Hideous Strength, "bucking" is used as a stand-in for...
- What Could Have Been: The Dark Tower
- What Do You Mean It Wasn't Made on Drugs?: Perelandra can get rather trippy at times...
- What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Subverted. The Old Solar language has a word for sapient creatures of any species: hnau. Humans, Malacandrans, Perelandrans, and Eldila are all hnau, and thus are all people. As an interesting twist, though, Lewis proposes that the human practice of keeping pets is an expression of our desire for companionship with people who are different creatures from us -- the various Malacandrans find each other silly, amusing and refreshing. Humans talk to cats or dogs and treat them as family-members; a Hross goes to hang out with a Pfifltrig, who can actually talk back.
- You No Take Candle: Weston has a poor grasp of Old Solar.
- See also Deconstruction. Weston gives a philosophical speech in English with some very stirring rhetoric; Ransom translates it into Old Solar, but he can only get across the basic ideas, not the rhetoric. The ideas are accurately conveyed, more or less, but stripped of their high-minded vocabulary they sound banal, if not outright barbaric; when Weston says that "Life itself is more valuable than any system of morality", Ransom flails around for an adequate translation before admitting that he cannot think of one.