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Literature / Out of the Silent Planet

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The first volume of The Space Trilogy by C. S. Lewis, 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 eldila 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.


This book provides examples of:

  • 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.
  • Ancient Astronauts: There's an inversion in the first book. C. S. Lewis' Author Avatar translates a manuscript by the 12th century Platonist Bernardus Silvestris, describing a voyage through the heavens and mentioning Oyarses, a tutelary spirit assigned to a planet. Said author avatar seeks translation help from Dr. Ransom—who had himself recently voyaged to Mars and spoken with Oyarsa, and thus recognizes Silvetris' account as a true one. As for Oyarsa, he's an Energy Being, an angel, and a god.
  • Angelic Aliens: The sorns of Malacandra are incredibly tall beasts that Ransom comes to appreciate as beings of such intelligence and grace as the legendary titans and angels.'
  • Artistic License:
    • In the introduction to Out of the Silent Planet, Lewis explains he knew that telescopes had shown there were no canals on Mars, but he put them there anyway because they were part of the popular lore about the planet.
    • In-universe, a pfifltriggi makes a portrait of Ransom and his companions that depicts them as stumpy mushroom-shaped creatures. Ransom is started to realize this is their idealized version of what humans look like, as the real version would be hard for Malacandrians to believe.
  • Author Tract: 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. It is also a deconstruction of the colonial ideals often found in sci-fi of the time through the "judgement scene," where Weston has to attempt to justify his worldview to an angel that doesn't speak his language. He needs to resort to the interpretive services of Ransom, who can only convey his speech very simplistically, and who is not necessarily sympathetic to many of his opinions. The obvious point is that, stripped of rhetorical flourish, many of Weston's seemingly high-minded ideals start to sound almost barbaric.
  • Captain Ersatz: Weston and Devine are a darker version of Cavor and Bradford from H. G. Wells' The First Men in the Moon. Lewis himself was a fan of the novel.
  • 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, though Weston's clownish antics earlier poke fun at colonialism generally.
  • Everything's Squishier with Cephalopods: In the first book, Ransom immediately starts thinking of writhing masses of tentacles when it becomes clear he's going to meet some aliens. Turns out none of the aliens are quite so spooky.
  • First Contact: Some time before the first book, human scientists Devine and Weston traveled to Mars and met members of one of its three species, the sorns.
  • First Contact Faux Pas: After some rough time breaking the language barrier, the sorns of Mars ask the men of Earth to come talk to their world's invisible leader, the Oyarsa. They assume the Oyarsa is some type of pagan idol, so they head back to Earth to kidnap a Human Sacrifice to offer it. The Oyarsa is disgusted by how corrupt the human mind is, sends them back to Earth, and "unbodies" the Earth's only spaceship.
  • God: Ransom learns the Martians worship a being called Maleldil in Out of the Silent Planet. There is no dispute that Maleldil is on Mars, although the intellectual sorns have a more abstract understanding of him than the more artistic hrossa. They all agree he is a spirit without bodies or parts (which the sorns attribute to an extreme form of Faster-Than-Light Travel) that created everything in the world and assigned the Oyeresu to watch over the planets. Ransom realizes with time that Maleldil is who on Earth is called Jesus and learns in Perelandra that the people of Venus know He is one with his Father and "the Third One."
  • Greater-Scope Villain: In book one, the Bent One is responsible for cutting off Earth from the rest of the solar system and corrupting them into misers and murderers. He is never directly encountered, but is responsible for the Greed and Pride that motivates Weston to kidnap Ransom and to attack his alien friends.
  • 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!.
  • Heavy Worlder: The Earth-based characters on Malacandra, as identified by the sorns. Ransom himself, after months living among the natives, sees Weston and Devine as they must look to Malacandran eyes for a brief moment towards the end of the novel.
  • Humanoid Aliens: The sorns are bipedal likes humans and otherwise structurally similar to humans, besides the feathers, needle-thinness, and the extra four feet they have on us.
  • Innocent Aliens: The three species of Malacandra live without any Fantastic Racism, false religion, or even murder, thanks to their resident eldil keeping their planet from giving into idolatry. Its said humans were once the same, until Earth's eldil cut off contact with the rest of the Solar System and bent humanity to his envious will.
  • Intelligent Gerbil: The hrossa are quite like sentient seals, only their planet's lighter gravity has made them taller and thinner.
  • It's All About Me: Both Weston and Devine in Out of the Silent Planet have no regard for anyone but themselves, despite Weston's flowery rhetoric about advancing the human race. Oyarsa sends them and Ransom back to Earth, and informs them that their ship will be unmade after their landing, along with anything and anyone left inside. Ransom is asleep when they land, and wakes to find that they left without bothering to wake him. He barely makes it out of the ship before it self-destructs in a flash of light.
  • Lady Land: Ransom mentions in his afterword that the Pfifltriggi are matriarchal.
  • Language Equals Thought: Sin is such an alien concept to the sinless non-Earth aliens that Ransom had considerable difficulty finding proper terms to translate it and related concepts.
  • Low Culture, High Tech: Played with. The Malacandrans have many advanced devices, such as oxygen tanks, that they just don't use very often. In fact, when their world began to die, many of them were tempted to try Weston's scheme to invade Earth and displace the natives to take it for themselves, and Oyarsa confirms that they would have been capable of it if he hadn't stopped them.
  • Mars: The setting of the first book. It was already out of date by the time it came out, scientifically, but it made for a good story and effort was at least made to try justifying some of it.
  • Mistook the Dominant Lifeform: Inverted Trope; the men Devine and Weston believe the sorns are the masters of Malacandra because they're the first species they meet. It turns out they and the three other species all willingly serve the Oyarsa, an invisible being in the service of Maleldil the Young.
  • Mix-and-Match Creatures: Malacandra has fauna that resembles a mix of Earth-like animals, including an amphibious, long-legged, and seal-skinned herbivore with teeth like a beaver.
  • 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 sornsnote  (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.
  • Noble Savage: Subverted. Originally, Weston and Devine consider the native Malacandrans to be primitive tribespeople, and when Ransom discovers their highly-developed cultural achievements, he thinks they fit this trope. But he later learns that they are actually a great deal more advanced than they appear, and simply don't bother doing a number of things they are capable of because they don't see any need to. (For one, their lower gravity makes them a great deal less concerned with the moving of weights than Earth people.)
    • Also deconstructed, just a little. The hrossa, who live a Hunter-gatherer lifestyle, are very friendly to Ransom due to their nobility, but they do him more harm than anyone else by forgetting he can't breathe the thin air up on the high steppe. The sorn astronomer who saves his life bemoans that neither he nor the technically minded pfifltriggi would have made such a mistake. The other two species are just as noble, being sinless, yet far more rational.
  • 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, and discusses the great varieties of beings he never got to see in the afterword.
  • Omnidisciplinary Scientist: Done deliberately with Weston in Out of the Silent Planet. In his essay "Reply to Professor Haldane", Lewis himself notes the weak point that although "Weston, for the sake of the plot, has to be a physicist, his interests seem to be exclusively biological," and he points out that he was intending the story to be more fantastical than hard sci-fi.
  • Once-Green Mars: In Out Of The Silent Planet, It turns out that Malacandra (Mars) was once lushly habitable before being attacked and ravaged by the bent Oyarsa of Earth, and now life there is mostly limited to a few geothermal oases.
  • 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.
    • The seroni (the proper plural of sorn) 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 in technology itself.
    • The pfifltriggi 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, though they prefer complicated things that are fun to make, and the sorns are long-since resigned to the fact that a pfifltrigg won't make something useful if it's too easy and simple.
  • Planet Looters: Weston and Devine travel to Malacandra in the hopes of finding gold and land for humanity to plunder. The knowledge that three intelligent races live on the planet is no object to these men, who only have the fame of the human species and their own wallets in mind.
  • 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."
  • The Right of a Superior Species: Weston, the villain of the first book and an archetypical H. G. Wells character, sincerely believes that humanity's continual industrialization justifies slaughtering the "barbaric" people of Malacandra. When pushed on his logic, he proclaims no killing is unlawful if it means something called "man" (since they may change their body or mind in the name of Progress) survives. The Oyarsa identifies this as classic case of a single duty (love of species) being isolated from all the great laws of goodness until it becomes evil.
  • Sacrificial Lion: Hyoi is the only friend Ransom makes on the alien planet of Malacandra, only to be shot dead to make the malice of man known to the Malacandrans.
  • Schizo Tech: The hrossa use stone and bone tools while the seroni and pfifltriggi are advanced enough to produce things like oxygen masks.
  • Space Elves: The sorns of Mars are exceptionally tall creatures renowned for their intellect and word-craft. They directly serve the spirit Oyarsa, a position which puts them above the more dwarvish pfifltrigg and hrossa.
  • Space Is Cold: Averted. In Out of the Silent Planet, all space travel is in the inner solar system (from Earth to Mars and back), so the sun is relatively near to Weston's spaceship, always visible, and makes things very hot within the ship. When Ransom comments, "I always thought space was dark and cold," he is met with scorn for his naivete. "Forgot about the Sun, did you?"
    • Particularly Averted on the return trip from Malacandra to Earth, where Weston and Devine have to cut inside the orbit of Venus (and possibly even Mercury) to get back to Earth in time. They very nearly cook to death before they get past the Sun and start back outwards.
  • Space Is an Ocean: In the first book, Ransom observes that "space" (an unfitting name) is less of a void and more like an ocean of heavenly, unfiltered starlight that only stops at the planetary islands where mortals live. He quotes John Milton's description of an oceanic flight in Paradise Lost to show that older thinkers were right to see the heavens as skyward seas.
  • Starfish Aliens: Malacandra has three alien natives, one looking like big intelligent otters, thin tall humanoids, and tapir-headed frogish aliens. The Eldila, though angelic, are multidimensional energy beings who inhabit the vacuum of space itself.
  • Take Me to Your Leader: The first thing Weston and Devine tried to do upon meeting Martians was ask to speak to their ruler. When the Martians say they're ruled by an energy being, the humans decide its the ruler is some man-made idol and go back to Earth to get a human sacrifice to offer to it.
  • Tears of Fear: On their way home from Mars, Weston breaks down in fear and despair when he realizes that he's miscalculated and the ship is about to overshoot Earth's orbit.
  • Techno Babble: Weston dismissively explains his spaceship works by "exploiting some of the less observed properties of solar radiation." (Word of God explained this as an obvious Hand Wave, as the mechanics of space travel are not really the point; in the second book Ransom's space travel is accomplished not by science but by angels.)
  • That's No Moon!: It takes time for Ransom to admit that the giant sphere outside his spaceship is not the Moon, but the Earth getting farther and farther from sight.
  • Venus is Wet: Perelandra is an ocean world where the only piece of dry land is a mountain emerging from the depths and all the inhabitants live on enormous rafts of matted plant life.
  • Violence Is the Only Option: Ransom is forced to physically fight with the Un-Man after weeks of debating and arguing have failed. Ransom is initially appalled by the idea and uses it only as a last resort. He also knows he has a very good chance of dying in the attempt.
  • The Watson: In Perelandra, Lewis gets little to say outside of questions about what happened in the first book and what the Martians want the protagonist to do for the rest of the current novel.
  • 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 Pfifltrigg, who can actually talk back.
  • Wham Line: In Out of the Silent Planet:
    "It isn't the Moon. It's the Earth."
  • You No Take Candle: 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, or outright barbaric; when Weston says that "Life itself is more valuable than any system of morality," Ransom admits to Oyarsa that he has literally no idea how to say this in Malacandrian, and flails around for an adequate translation before arriving at the rough equivalency: "It is better to be alive and bent than to be dead."


Example of: