ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON REPUBLIBOT ON 9/29/09. WRITTEN AND PUBLISHED ELSEWHERE PRIOR TO THAT.
First published in 1938, Out of the Silent Planet (OSP) is the first of C. S. Lewis’s science fiction trilogy (including Perelandra and That Hideous Strength), often called the Space Trilogy and sometimes the Ransom Trilogy. Lewis’s concept was not to write an apology for Christianity (as he did so well elsewhere), although his purpose was covertly evangelical. He began with his Christianity assumed and then asked the question, "What would a science fiction book be like in a Christian universe?" By “covertly evangelical” I mean that, rather than being didactic, Lewis chose to envision for his twentieth century reader a potential world through a Christian lens. Rather than tell, he was out to show. How is this evangelical, covertly or overtly?
Jack was attempting to remythify the truth of Christianity. Theology in its abstract obscurity may be true but will not seem believable, especially to the modern imagination. Myth, as I am using it (and I think Lewis would) is an imaginative vision of the world’s truths. Jack was going to take the imaginative landscape of science fiction, with which his modern reader would be both familiar and accepting (it would seem believable/credible), and combine it with the cosmology of the medieval Christian imagination and some sound theology in order to build an imaginative vision of a Christian cosmos for twentieth century man, one that might appear credible. The evidence for this conceptual vision for the novel occurs at its end:
It was Dr. Ransom who first saw that our only chance was to publish in the form of fiction what would certainly not be listened to as fact. He even thought . . . that this might have the incidental advantage of reaching a wider public . . . . To my objection that if accepted as fiction it would for that very reason be regarded as false he replied that there would be indications enough in the narrative for the few readers--the very few--who at present were prepared to go further into the matter.
. . . ‘Anyway,’ he continued, ‘what we need for the moment is not so much a body of belief as a body of people familiarized with certain ideas. If we could even effect in one percent of our readers a change-over from the conception of Space to the conception of Heaven, we should have made a beginning.’ (153,4)
It is clear from the context that, though he uses the word “ideas” in the text, Jack means a particular vision of things. This is what he wanted to get across. And that the intention was in part covertly evangelical is evident in a letter of July 1939:
You will be both grieved and amused to learn that out of about sixty reviews, only two showed any knowledge that my idea of the fall of the Bent One was anything but a private invention of my own! But if only there were someone with a richer talent and more leisure, I believe this great ignorance might be a help to the evangelization of England: any amount of theology can now be smuggled into people’s minds under cover of romance without their knowing it. (Letters 322)
In order to explore the cosmology that Lewis created in OSP, a review of the novel’s plot is in order. Dr. Elwin Ransom, a philologist, is on vacation when he is kidnaped by Devine and Weston and taken to Malacandra (Mars). Weston is a famous physicist and creator of their space ship. He and Devine had visited Malacandra before, discovering gold (Devine’s motivation for returning) and an alien species called sorns. It is because they believe that the sorns want a human sacrifice for their god that Devine and Weston have kidnaped Ransom. Upon arrival, Ransom manages to escape from his captors, running away in a panic across the strange Martian landscape.
In his wanderings, Ransom stumbles across another intelligent species, the hrossa (which look like giant seals). From them he learns the Martian language and