"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."
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 C. S. 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.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 a 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, J. R. R. 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.
Agent Scully: MacPhee, a die-hard atheist scientist, remains implacably skeptical throughout all the supernatural events of That Hideous Strength, even though he's on the side of the supernaturalists.
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 Sky: The skies over Perelandra are opaque, leading to pitch black nights.
The Alleged Boss: Jules is nominally the director of N.I.C.E., but he's only a pompous windbag who's clueless about what really goes on there. Wither and Frost are actually in charge.
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.
Ambiguously Gay: "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.
It's likely that Lewis wanted to depict a lesbian, but had no idea what a lesbian actually is; so, like many other writers, he took the cop-out route of putting a macho man into a woman's body and hoping that his readers wouldn't know the difference either.
Alternatively, Lewis wanted to depict lesbians as being as evil as possible. Lewis had particular problems with women who looked or acted like men, as revealed in his other works. At the same time, he was too offended to actually portray sexual activity between two women.
Animal Testing: One of the many activities that goes on at N.I.C.E., usually involving vivisection. Nobody seems to really know why they're doing it.
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. Again, par for the course when reading Lewis.
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.
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.
This is actually a plot point in the story; one of the reasons that the protagonists wish to locate Merlin is because he lived in a time when practicing magic was acceptable. This allows them the luxury of having magic abilities on their side despite the such things normally being forbidden in the modern era as witchcraft. Merlin is basically an ethical loophole.
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.
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.
The Devil Is a Loser: Or at least a disgusting sociopath. As in his earlier 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.
Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: In Perelandra, Ransom has to take out evil incarnate with no other weapons than his fists. And he's a middle-aged professor without much fighting experience. However, it happens that evil is currently incarnate in the body of another middle-aged professor, so it's a fairer fight than Ransom feared.
Drives Like Crazy: Hilariously, Dick Devine/Lord Feverstone. He runs over a chicken, and declares all the animals (and pedestrians) he misses "damned lucky".
Eldritch Abomination: Even meeting the goodEnergy 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 terrifying?
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).
Evil Is Not a Toy: Weston learns this lesson in the hardest way possible. In the time between the first and second book, he consorts with demons while convincing himself that there is no difference between God and Satan, and they are merely two sides of the same all-encompassing spiritual Force. In his usual pompous fashion, he deliberately calls the Force into himself, at which point his will is immediately subsumed by the devils. His last words as himself are utterly terrified.
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.
Oyarsa actually remarks in the first book that if it were up to him he would simply destroy Devine, as any humanity in him died a long time ago. Conversely, he would attempt to cure Weston.
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 improve organic life by mechanizing it to an unprecedented degree, removing all those annoying biological (and psychological) barriers to progress — like free will.
Also, MacPhee is inspired by Lewis' tutor and mentor, William Kirkpatrick, a.k.a. The Great Knock.
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...."
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.
For Science!: Filostrato, one of the N.I.C.E.'s more (relatively) idealistic members.
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...
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.
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.)
Losing Your Head: One of the experiments at N.I.C.E. involves attempting to keep a severed human head alive indefinitely.
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...
Don't forget Frost and Wither, whose names reflect the effects of the N.I.C.E.'s psychological training on their personalities. Frost's mind was made cold, hard, and sharp, like ice. Wither, on the other hand, just sort of "withered" away. There's also Dr. Winter and Devine's title is Lord Feverstone. Pretty much everyone at N.I.C.E. has a name that suggest the failure, absence or corruption of organic life ("Hardcastle" is possibly meant as another one.)
Moral Dissonance: Curiously enough, in-universe. Merlin is appalled by his wakers' hospitality even though he acknowledges that their technological advancements are very comfortable, because they replace servants who would honor him with devices that just sit there. In this and several other ways, he comes off as barbaric, both to the reader and to other characters. Justified, of course, in that Merlin is a superficially-Romanized Celt from hundreds of years prior.
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 Beat Down: 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 Matt Stover novel.
No Biochemical Barriers: Everything seems to be edible on both Malacandra and Perelandra. It may be a subtle implication that Earth having poisonous vegetation is one result of its occupation by evileldila.
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.
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.
Our Mermaids Are Different: Ransom sees mer-people in the Perelandran ocean, and wonders if the green-skinned humanoid inhabitants of the planet might have have evolved from them.
Out of Focus: Ransom in the third installment. After his adventures in the first two books, he graduates from The Hero to the Big Good, and the story focuses on two new characters, Jane and Mark Studdock, and their conflicts with the N.I.C.E.
Opposed Mentors: An evil example where the two chief villains disagree on the best way to dehumanize their initiate/captive.
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.
A [jack]daw that lives in a hermit's cell has learned to chatter book Latin before now. ... A daw may also have Greek on its bill.
The Power of Hate: The Un-man, being possessed by the devil, is pure evil — and Evil is the one and only thing in the universe that actually deserves hate. So Ransom realizes that he is justified in channeling his hate to help him punch out Satan.
Psycho Lesbian: Again, Miss "Fairy" Hardcastle, who takes particular joy in torturing female prisoners.
Reality Is Unrealistic: Invoked by the Pfifltrigg who carves Ransom's portrait. Ransom is alarmed that the final result looks very little like an actual human being, but the artist explains that he left out all but the most basic details on purpose.
"I do not mean it to be too like. Too like, and they will not believe it — the ones who are born after."
Scenery Porn: In Perelandra, especially the mountain towards the end.
Science Is Bad: Some critics accused Lewis of arguing this, but Word of God clarifies that the villains are actually people who use the guise of science to promote inhuman philosophies. Notably, in That Hideous Strength the "real" scientist Hingest joined the N.I.C.E. because he believed it had something to do with science, and resigned and got murdered for it as soon as he found it out it didn't.
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. has their own police forces. They 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: Númenor 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.")
Meta-example: Iron Maiden has a song called "Out of the Silent Planet". Though named after the book, the song was influenced more by the movie Forbidden Planet. Still, both works features a planet with a cosmic horrors causing great destruction ("The Monster from the ID" for Forbidden Planet, and the "Bent One" in the Space Trilogy.).
Social Climber: Mark started doing this while still in school, abandoning his genuine but tragically unpopular friend to be In with the In Crowd, unaware that they are basically working for Satan.
Starfish Aliens: Malacandra has three alien natives, one looking like big intelligent otters, thin tall humanoids, and tapir-headed frogish aliens. The Eldila, though obviously 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."
Time Abyss: Ransom's company gets a good dose of this trope when they feel the presence of the Oyarsa of Saturn.
To Win Without Fighting: St. Anne's plans to win not by force, but relying on the eldil. While MacPhee wants to use human might to defeat the N.I.C.E., Ransom and the others know that isn't an option. They succedeed, with Merlin and the Oyeresu disrupting the Institute's plans.
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 lot less unsettling than thinking of them as animalistic men.
Subverted with the Queen of Perelandra. After he first sees her at a distance, Ransom briefly wonders if she's merely an animal that happens to look humanoid, a thought which disturbs him greatly. He soon finds out she's fully sapient.
The "UnMan" looks human, but his behavior and mannerisms are just enough off to creep Ransom the hell out.
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.
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.