The Chronicles of Narnia, outside of the Last Battle, never quite sacrifices its plot for religious didacticism. Despite my own atheism, I adore the Narnia series as one of the most important pieces of my childhood. Out of the Silent Planet is, unfortunately, more on par with the Last Battle than with the rest of the Narnia series: Its plot nonexistent next to its dated, shallow, stupid, and hateful didacticism.
Out of the Silent Planet, the first of Lewis’ Space Trilogy, has a lot in common with Dante’s Paradiso. In place of a plot, we get a walking tour of a ‘perfect’ Mars as imagined in 1938 by someone completely ignorant of even 1930s science. Mars is a paradise inhabited by different races, all of which are variants on the noble savage stereotype, living in harmony with nature and each other.
It’s Man, storming out from the Silent Planet — Earth — that throws the noble balance of Mars into disarray. Two scientists — this story absolutely vilifies scientists as murderous, selfish monsters, literally looking to steal technology for the purpose of getting away with murder more easily — kidnap a professor Elwin Ransom, currently on sabbatical and, reportedly, based on Lewis’ close friend, J.R.R. Tolkien, to offer as an ignorant sacrifice to the Martians. They fly to Mars in their private spaceship imagined, again, by 1930s ignorance (i.e., it’s incredibly stupid), only to have Ransom escape their clutches and spend months living in harmony with different Martian species, learning of their simple, perfect, harmonious life and how he can share that wisdom with the rest of humanity.
In this world, the different planets are paradises untouched by Eve’s (woman’s) mistakes; they all look at humanity as cut off, or ‘silent,’ by its own evil, locked in a struggle with the devil to return to its noble roots and rejoin the paradises among the stars.
The walking tour among the different alien species doesn’t form a coherent plot in its brief ~170 pages, but instead provides a stepped series of teachable moments, of different methods of Christian wisdom to influence the reader and, through them, the rest of humanity. None of the characters have identifiable personalities: Ransom is a blank slate open to learning new things — his dialogue can just be replaced by ‘Wow’ and ‘Oh, interesting,’ and you’d never notice a difference — while both scientists are pure, unadulterated evil, and all alien species are perfect, caring, kind noble savages.
It’s dumb as fuck and I hate it.
While this novel isn’t, on the merits of its writing and story, a bottom-of-the-barrel piece of shit, it’s that condescending didacticism that drags the negatives of Lewis’ writing down towards worthlessness. Out of the Silent Planet, and, I presume (based on reviews and summaries), the rest of the Space Trilogy, speak to a niche audience, an audience interested in re-affirming their religious beliefs in place of telling a story worth a damn, of having shitty morals — for Lewis’ Christian morals get downright vile, especially when it comes to the worth of women and minorities — rationalized. If you’re not in this audience, stay the fuck away.
I have no plans of continuing this ‘classic’ series.