Two things about Out of the Silent Planet

1 Perhaps because it is the last one I listened to, though I don’t think so, it is my favorite. I love the temperature of it (always winter there, though sadly no rain or snow), the thermal springs feeding all the waters (genius), the preponderant, high mountains and the closeness to what is awesomely Ancient. I think in this book Lewis must have picked the things he was most fond of.

In the appendices he gives tantalizing glimpses, in a purported letter to him from Ransom, of sharp and clear Malacandrian moments that seem more poignant than most of the events in the book. Ransom talks about the indescribable smell of early morning, of the rising of Jupiter, of the figures in the funeral, of the red Sorns and of silver and crested Hrossa. (That poignancy may be due to their brief, sketched telling.)  There are certainly amazing moments in the story itself: the drugging, the waking on the ship, the landing, the discovery of the first Hross, the petrified forests the Sorn passes, so many things and such reading pleasure. Lewis hints at much more throughout, suggests powerfully, conjures up vast possibilities of imagination. But that’s what he was always good at: that’s his Joy, the sense of something better behind the best things we now experience.

2 He suggests, however; he does not linger very long. He’s workmanlike in this book–as he is in all his writing, but perhaps more rapidly paced in this one. That reminds me of another observation he makes in his faux-correspondence at the end. That stupid skylight always gets me. I’ve read these books between five and ten times, and every time I read about the skylight in the outgoing voyage I make a mental note to remember what it is about the skylight he predicts I will miss on the return. I always miss it, and then I’m dazzled by his pronunciation in the appendix that readers won’t notice what is omitted. He, it think, was showing off there. He knows how stories work, how readers read, what will and will not register. He knows what you have to do to lead the reader along and where the reader cannot or will not follow. I think the moment exists there at the end of the story in order to suggest to us how much more there could be that isn’t part of the tale, to explain in a way its brevity, and to hint that what will follow will be worth finding out. He’s advertising the remaining works, in a way. I could be wrong. I’d love to understand that part better.

Addendum: What is the quality of these works? What is the atmosphere? There is something I go back for every time I read them and I find it principally in Malacandra, which has fewer long conversations. It is a quality I can’t describe, but I find reminds me of polished wood and comfortable, yellow lights. Is it the good, popular writing? Christopher Morley has a blurb on the back of my edition: “A delicious book, full of wisdom and savor.” Wisdom of course, yes. But Savor. Full of savor. Is it the sense of wonders impinging through the sometimes drab veil of the world of the objects of perception? Is it the sense that the world of the objects of perception is only a veil?

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One thought on “Two things about Out of the Silent Planet

  1. “What is the quality of these works?” That is the kind of question I love to see someone of sense and taste work on. The feeling that the world of the objects of perception is only a veil is certainly something that comes through, especially in ‘That Hideous Strength.’ On the other hand, the perceptible world seems quite robust in the earlier books – especially ‘Perelandra,’ near the end. Maybe he is showing how holiness substantiates the perceptible world, while blasphemy wears it thin?

    But that doesn’t answer the question of what the quality is. I like your intuition about “polished wood and comfortable yellow lights.” I think that is something of Lewis himself coming through. He’s so hospitable a scholar (the “good popular writing.”)

    My stab at the “quality” (for ‘Out of the Silent Planet’ at least) is something like “re-orientation.” Everything looks absurd, uncomfortable, and inverted until you find the holiness there, and are at home in an altered world. There’s a feeling of turning, turning, turning, become disoriented, and never really being sent back to one’s former orientation, but rather coming alive to the new, more bracing orientation. The strangeness that somehow declines to be alien. The home that lies forever forward rather than back, that is more fitting and familial than the easy old pseudo-self…

    Maybe this pseudo-self is the thing that is just a veil – not the perceptible things themselves but the perceptible things as we habitually live them and relate to them when we live without holiness and irradiant love.

    Thanks for a thing to work on.

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