Tal Cohen's Bookshelf: A Collection of Personal Opinions about Books
Out of the Silent Planet / C. S. Lewis
Reviewed by Tal Cohen Friday, 26 February 1999
The first volume of Lewis’s Cosmic Trilogy, the book Out of the Silent Planet takes us to the planet Mars -- and into the meaning of “human”.

The plot looks simplistic at first: a man rushes to the aid of an innocent victim and ends up being kidnapped by a mad scientist (Prof. Weston) and his greedy accomplice. He is then taken, unwilling, to the planet Mars in a space vessel invented and secretly built by the scientist. Once on Mars, the victim, Dr. Ransom, discovers that he is to be given by his kidnappers as a human sacrifice to the native Martians. He manages to escape from his captives, and learns to survive on the red planet.

This plot might make it look like the book would be perfectly at home with many other “adventure” science fiction works written, like it, in the 1930s. However, while most other SF adventures written back then are of no interest today, and few of them are actually remembered (most would be classified today as “pulp” science fiction), Out of the Silent Planet stands out as a sustaining work. The similarities between this book and most of its contemporaries end on the surface level.

C. S. Lewis was, much more than a fiction writer, a Christian thinker. He wrote many non-fiction books dealing with Christianity, and his fiction books really deal with the same subject too. Out of the Silent Planet and its two sequels are no exception. The book is loaded with Christian symbolism and references. But among many other things, I found the book’s most important aspect to be the discussion on the meaning of being hnau -- a conscious, intelligent being (human or otherwise).

In its writing style, Out of the Silent Planet is an easy and enjoyable read. During Ransom’s travels on Mars (called “Malacandra” by its natives), a level of suspense is always kept and the reader would probably find himself interested in the plot. The characters, however, are somewhat lacking. In this book, Lewis seems to create characters that are easily classifiable as “good” or “evil”. Prof. Weston is Lewis’s “stock evil professor”: in his general behavior, in his attempt to use others as Guinea pigs, and even in his loss of sense and dignity in front of higher truths, Weston is remarkably similar to Uncle Andrew from The Magician’s Nephew. Compare, for example, Andrew’s denying behavior on the land of Narnia in front of the talking animals to Weston’s behavior in front of the Oyarsa.

An interesting aspect of the book, from a science fiction point of view, is that our hero, being a linguist, learns the language of the natives. In most other books, old as well as modern, if there is any verbal communications at all it is the aliens that learn our language (invariably English). The alien language is also actually discussed in the book, with a few words being used constantly for lack of English alternatives. A partial explanation is that Dr. Ransom is a philologist, and some people suggest that he was modeled after J. R. R. Tolkien (of Lord of the Rings fame), Lewis’s close friend and a philologist himself.

(Continued in review of Perelandra.)

What do they call this trilogy, anyway?
The trilogy formed by Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength is called by different people “The Cosmic Trilogy”, “The Planets Trilogy”, “The Dr. Ransom Trilogy”, “The Interplanetary Trilogy” and “The Space Trilogy”. There are probably several other names that I’ve missed...

The edition that I have read is a British one-volume print, titled “The Cosmic Trilogy” (published by Pan Books in 1989), which is why I chose to use that name. But I have seen at least one other name (“The Space Trilogy”) used in print.

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Robert Rauch writes:
Can we be serious for a minute?
Out of the Silent Planet is a poor attempt for Lewis keep his Christian beliefs relevant in the modern world - where it seems inevitable that other intelligent life will be eventually discovered.

It is sad to see him cling so desperately to his feeble beliefs and painful to watch him disparage scientific achievement though his misunderstanding of rationality and moral behavior.
[362] Posted on Thursday, 05 February 2009 at 16:44 GMT [Reply to this] [Permalink]

Vince writes in reply to Robert Rauch:
Can we be serious for a minute?
Well, whatever makes you tick. Fact is, Lewis is one of the most accomplished and renowned writers of the 20th century, in the realms of fiction, fantasy, non-fiction, and religion. I don't see what qualifications you have to make a judgment of his relevance and beliefs.
[365] Posted on Monday, 16 February 2009 at 17:26 GMT [Reply to this] [Permalink]

orlo writes in reply to Robert Rauch:
Can we be serious for a minute?
thank you for your input weston
[401] Posted on Sunday, 12 July 2009 at 12:38 GMT [Reply to this] [Permalink]

Tom writes in reply to orlo:
Can we be serious for a minute?
haha. Thanks Weston. C.S. Lewis is on eof the best Christian Authors of all time. We salute him.
[440] Posted on Thursday, 19 November 2009 at 18:35 GMT [Reply to this] [Permalink]

Jamaal writes in reply to orlo:
Can we be serious for a minute?
Lol...witty response.
[456] Posted on Thursday, 10 December 2009 at 19:46 GMT [Reply to this] [Permalink]

q writes in reply to Robert Rauch:
Can we be serious for a minute?
Lewis once was an atheist. he converted to christianity under the guidance of J.R.R. Tolkien. Not everyone leaves God forever; sometimes prodigal sons return. By the way, Christianity explains all the ''scientific acheivement'' as well as the things that science cannot explain. be as cold and cynical as you want, but C.S. Lewis has saved many souls and enlightened many atheists.
[411] Posted on Thursday, 10 September 2009 at 22:22 GMT [Reply to this] [Permalink]

(anonymous) writes in reply to Robert Rauch:
Can we be serious for a minute?
it is not that he isn't writing about Christianity. because he sort of is. look into it more and allow yourself to have an open mind.
[622] Posted on Saturday, 11 September 2010 at 14:47 GMT [Reply to this] [Permalink]

Marissa writes in reply to Robert Rauch:
Can we be serious for a minute?
I might say that Lewis had more understanding of rational thinking and morals than you may ever claim.
[661] Posted on Friday, 07 January 2011 at 22:37 GMT [Reply to this] [Permalink]

(anonymous) writes:
I enjoyed this book.
No matter what the relevance of Lewis' views when interpereted today, it remains that the conflict of ideolegies in the book is a deep subject in its own right, regardless of percieved agendas.

Sometimes, reading a book that has an obvious leaning toward one way of thinking increasingly potent simply for its supposed bias. For me, integrity of writing like this isnt marred by that - true or not.
[379] Posted on Saturday, 18 April 2009 at 9:07 GMT [Reply to this] [Permalink]

Camille J writes:
Would an athiest like this book & the others in the Trilogy?
I am considering reading this trilogy-- I grew up on classic Sci Fi, & have always been intrigued by this set of books because of the cool illustrations on the covers of the set edition published ca. the 1960s. I want to expand my 'read [past tense] bookshelf' of classic Sci Fi's, so am considering reading this set. But, in researching C.S. Lewis, I've learned that he was very religious & that his religious-ness profoundly affected his writing. I've been an atheist since I was 14-- so my question is-- and this is put to other atheists: did you enjoy this set of books? Was the religious-ness of them so obvious & so overbearing that they were irritating to read? Did the books offer other intriguing ideas & concepts that sufficiently offset the religious overtones? (My fave book of all time is 'Men, Martians and Machines' by Eric Frank Russell cuz it's 'Hard Sci Fi' & has many intriguing ideas/concepts.)

Thanks in advance,
[399] Posted on Friday, 03 July 2009 at 3:44 GMT [Reply to this] [Permalink]

Tal Cohen writes in reply to Camille J:
Would an athiest like this book & the others in the Trilogy?
That really depends... Do you enjoy soft-core SF, at all? SF that focuses on philosophical questions, more than science and technology? If so, you might enjoy the first and third books. The second book, Perelandra, you might find tiresome (parts of it read like chapters from Psalms).
[400] Posted on Friday, 03 July 2009 at 5:51 GMT [Reply to this] [Permalink]

Adam writes in reply to Camille J:
Would an athiest like this book & the others in the Trilogy?
You should never let your religious bias prevent you from reading good literature. Whether you agree with the subject matter or philosophies within is irrelevant to the fact that you will, at the very least, be entertained. If you are an atheist then there should be more reason to read CS Lewis, because if your mind is firm in what you believe, then his wisdom will not deter you from your beliefs. However, you may find a perspective that you have not yet thought of, and to give that up would be like a beggar passing up gold.
[407] Posted on Wednesday, 26 August 2009 at 2:30 GMT [Reply to this] [Permalink]

Jeremy writes in reply to Camille J:
Would an athiest like this book & the others in the Trilogy?
Lewis was an atheist at your age too.

As he grew in understanding, he became first a theist and then a Christian.
[570] Posted on Saturday, 06 March 2010 at 18:32 GMT [Reply to this] [Permalink]

(anonymous) writes in reply to Camille J:
Would an athiest like this book & the others in the Trilogy?
I am reading the series for a school project, and while I am a qasi-atheist, I thought that the christian views expressed was just another learning experience, where you can experience how religions function.
[680] Posted on Friday, 15 April 2011 at 3:23 GMT [Reply to this] [Permalink]

(anonymous) writes:

the opinions of other men that deem world wide epidemics such as global cooling, remain opinions. c.s lewis wrote about something constant in his life. he and other very prevelent theologeans still upset the non religious community. because they were talented and thought provoking.
[409] Posted on Saturday, 29 August 2009 at 16:39 GMT [Reply to this] [Permalink]

JM writes:
OOTSP the song
If anyone is thinking about reading the book and the back of the cover didn't give you enough of a 'kick' to get out your reading glasses, I wrote a song loosely based on OOTSP. The song begins as our hero Ransom has been drugged and stowed on a spacecraft to who knows where... http://www.redumbrella.net/freeaudio/RedUmbrella_Cra...
[410] Posted on Saturday, 29 August 2009 at 22:45 GMT [Reply to this] [Permalink]

Sarah writes:
Out of the Silent Planet
I'm reading this for my 8th grade AELA class and I am the only one in my class who is and I find it very enlightening. I can't imagine what the class feels about it because it is an AMAZING book. It is a bit advanced, but I enjoy the point of view from 'heaven' as it is called in the book.
This book is a GREAT read and I would recomend it to ANYONE!
[455] Posted on Thursday, 10 December 2009 at 16:37 GMT [Reply to this] [Permalink]

Stive Claples writes:
opposite effect
Since I was young when I read this and I was not at first expecting a Christian allegory, I think the veil of science fiction had quite the opposite effect from what Lewis intended. When I tried to make sense of this alien world's morality, I did so according to my instincts and not according to what I was taught. And my moral instincts told me that--beginning of Chp 12--the pleasure of sex need not be so maligned as to be avoided beyond its biological usefulness. This is akin to saying we should not eat things that taste better than necessary, or that we, being given the ability to speak, should not do so any more than we must. The same goes for any instinctual behavior.

CS Lewis's reasoning at times sounded good enough to me at a young age, but now approaching it from the other side, ie the non-believing side, it just doesn't hold water. And it's simple why. All his arguments--and indeed the arguments of all apologists I've read--boil down with the assumption that faith is a virtue. Why should faith be a virtue? I can think of areas where it certainly is not a virtue--accounting, Fda product testing, driving a car--but never have I heard a convincing argument for this assumption. All such arguments are basically more or less stringent forms of ''well it's a virtue because if you don't have faith you go to hell.'' And that's just not enough.

So although I found the story and the writing pretty good, I did not like the way it made me feel guilty for being what I am.
[627] Posted on Friday, 22 October 2010 at 4:58 GMT [Reply to this] [Permalink]

Some Guy writes in reply to Stive Claples:
opposite effect
The book is entertaining and thought provoking. Certainly it's allegorical (what in literature, really, isn't?), but it's not a textbook(!) So maybe ''feeling guilty'' is more a comment on your belief system than on the story.
[639] Posted on Wednesday, 15 December 2010 at 10:04 GMT [Reply to this] [Permalink]

NathanSepllman writes in reply to Stive Claples:
opposite effect
Actually, I do not think Lewis to be trying on convincing anyone of gilt (that's the devil's work).
However, there's something I think you should consider about faith. If you read the previous posts, you may notice everyone speaking of different beliefs. As if they actually believed something. You can only through faith believe on the nonexistence of deities for there is no way to prove it true or false.
Either you believe in order or chaos, you may find your self realizing that it is only faith -at the very end-, which sustains it.
IMAO, atheists are too proud to think themselves as a part of an organized system and end up making gods of themselves to fight this.
[645] Posted on Friday, 31 December 2010 at 19:44 GMT [Reply to this] [Permalink]

(anonymous) writes in reply to NathanSepllman:
opposite effect
That was put very well. I had never actually thought about belief systems that way, even though I have been a Christian all of my life.
[660] Posted on Friday, 07 January 2011 at 22:28 GMT [Reply to this] [Permalink]

(anonymous) writes in reply to Stive Claples:
opposite effect
I see where you are coming from, but I think the reason you couldn't ''make sense'' of Malacandra's morals is because human beings are born without goodness, a fact Lewis knew quite well. The main reason Lewis's reasoning seems to you flawed is the fact that you made your decision about his beliefs before you even read the back cover. No amount of reasoning would change your opinion. I say this in the utmost respect; it is, in truth, human nature. For example, if I were to prove the existence of God using pure logic and reason, would you permit His existence? Of course not. It takes God Himself to change your mind.

Also, blind faith is not a virtue in and of itself. Everyone puts their faith in something, whether it be a religion (mind you, Christianity is not a religion), or themselves, or whatever they believe in. We were created to trust and worship something. The question of eternal importance is what. R.C. Sproul proves that Christianity is logical in his book, Defending Your Faith. I challenge you to read more of Lewis or Sproul (I could recommend Mere Christianity) and look at their arguments from a completely abstracted point of view.

Finally, the book, whether or not Lewis intended, does not make you feel guilty for what you are, but rather for not being what you were created to be.
[659] Posted on Friday, 07 January 2011 at 22:25 GMT [Reply to this] [Permalink]

Marissa writes in reply to (anonymous):
sorry, my name's Marissa.
[662] Posted on Friday, 07 January 2011 at 23:40 GMT [Reply to this] [Permalink]

(anonymous) writes:
this is a strange book, but is interesting too.
this is a great book and it has a great story behind it. it is also very strange. the sorns seem to look like avatar. i love it!!!
[683] Posted on Tuesday, 10 May 2011 at 14:44 GMT [Reply to this] [Permalink]

holly writes:
question for anyone who has read the book!
I am writing a paper on Out of the silent planet and Perelandra for my lit. class and my teacher gave us three topics to include; pleasure, obedience, and warfare. it would be helpful if anyone has any thoughts on any of those topics and what you think their significance is in the books? Thanks!
[747] Posted on Monday, 08 April 2013 at 16:52 GMT [Reply to this] [Permalink]

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