'C. S. Lewis Overflow'
Jon Kennedy's latest book
is The Everything Guide to C.S. Lewis and Narnia,
now in stores, from Adams Media, F&W Publications. This series of articles
is thinking inspired by readings in Lewis's work that didn't fit into the book. Click here for a list of
all articles in the C.S. Lewis Overflow series.
the Silent Planet, review notes
Several weeks ago I finished reading
Volume 3 of Lewis's letters, but it will take another month or six weeks or so
to complete writing up the notes on the remaining 400 pages in the volume. But
for my continued reading, I returned to Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra,
volumes one and two of Lewis's "space trilogy" or science fiction novels, all featuring the same central character. I had read all of them about
20 years ago and reread most of the Lewis books in my library as part of my writing
of the Everything Guide to Lewis and Narnia book and as part of my current
project, a study of Lewis's theosis. That reading included the third and largest
of the trilogy novels, That Hideous Strength, but Out of the Silent
Planet and Perelandra had disappeared from my library. So a few weeks
ago I acquired copies of them at a used book store.
In Out of the Silent
Planet, published in 1938, Cambridge University philologist Professor Elwin
Ransom is hiking alone in the English countryside when, refused a room by the
only inn on the evening portion of his tour, he knocks on the door of a farmhouse
that he hopes can offer lodging or at least information on the next likely possibility
of finding some. The house's occupants turn out to be "the world's greatest physicist,"
Westin, and a former schoolmate of Ranson's, Devine. Though Ransom and Devine
were never friends, the latter welcomes him in and offers him a drink. But the
drink is drugged and soon afterward Ransom awakes to find he is being held prisoner
in a space ship manned by his kidnappers. He overhears the information that he
is being taken to Marsknown in the Old Solar language as Malacandrato
serve as a human sacrifice in the hands of one of the planet's rational species
(all three of which are called hnaus by Malacandrans), the sorns or seroni.
escaping his captors once on the red planet, Ranson falls in with another species,
the hrossa, and, using his skills as a philologist, learns their language, which
turns out to be the pure form of "Old Solar." He learns that they have
no sense of good and evil and can understand motives like those of Westin and
Devinewho plan to mine the gold that's plentiful on Mars and use their planet
for human colonization once Earth's resources begin running outas "bent."
Lewis revealed in correspondence that he was inspired to try his hand at
science fiction, after have been greatly impressed by H. G. Wells's First Men
on the Moon and David Lindsay's A Voyage to Arcturus, and by statements
he heard from students at Oxford that humanity's ultimate hope lies in space exploration.
He saw this as the secular hope in competition to the Christian hope in resurrection
and eternal life with God.
Ransom finds eventually that the seroni, though monstrous
looking from human perspective, plan him no harm but have been commanded by their
Oyarsa, the roler of their planet, to bring him one of the visitors from Earth
for the sake of learning about this "silent" planet. Oyarsas are the
Old Solar equivalent of the English "archangels," and (though this is
never laid out in as many words in the novel) are to the other inhabited worlds
what Satan or the Evil One is to Earth, their lords and the rulers of their "air."
But unlike Earth, Malacandra and, as revealed in the second novel, Perelandra,
are not fallen. Their Oyarsas serve Maleldil the Young, or God the Son, and His
Father, the Creator of their worlds and all others. Earth has not been heard from
in the other planets since the time Satan was assigned power over it and was confined
to the space reaching only as far as the Earth's moon.
Lewis overturns the
theme found in many other science fiction works, including Wells's, that an inhabited
Mars would attack the earth when it became depleted, by sending Earthlings to
Mars to conquer it and plunder its riches. Though Mars is closer to extinction
in Lewis's trilogy than Earth, none of its rational species are hostile, having
never been visited by the Fall (the entrance of sin into their world), which is the biblical, Judeo-Christian explanation
for the existence of evil in our world and why bad things happen to innocent people
as well as to evil ones.
Ransom explains the Earth and its inhabitants as best
he can to Malacandra's Oyarsa. Westin and Devine are captured and taken to the
planet's ruler for sentencing after they are charged with the murders of at least
three hnaus or rational personages. The Oyarsa exiles them to return to Earth,
even though they might not make it, and arranges for his eldils (angels of a lower
rank) to accompany it and destroy their spaceship after its occupants leave it on earth. Though
Ransom is given a choice of returning with his captors or staying in Malacandra,
he chooses to return to his people on earth, even though the voyage may not succeed.
from Lewis's nonfiction from years earlier, as well as ones that recur in his
children's fantasy novels over a decade after the appearance of the space trilogy,
are found throughout the science fiction works.
Notes from the Collected
Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume 3
Edited by Walter Hooper, Harper SanFrancisco,
2007, Part 13
Jonal entry 1053 | May
The mission of these extensive notes is set out in the introduction
of Part 1 of the notes for Volume 1, here.
The first letter, to the Editor
of the Times Educational Supplement, published on January 1 and reprinted on p
1120, advocates the acceptance of phonetic spelling or even individuality in allowable
spellings. Surprisingly, as one of the towers of authority in the English language
in his generation, Lewis appears to have been a forerunner of the latter-day advocates
To Chad Walsh,
January 9, p 1122: "Joy is still quite well except for the lassitude and
nausea produced by radio-therapy. Her courage and contentment are, most of the
To Vera Gebbert, January 17, p 1123: "I quite
realise that it wd. be difficult to emulate H.B. Stowe's writing in the kitchen.
But we know what the books were like do we know what the cooking
was like? It may have been horrid."
To Sister Mary Celestine Keirns,
February 1, p 1130: "Memo: Yeats was a Rosicrucian, an Occultist, and (in
intention anyway) a magician. The idea of a pre-cosmic weibliches 'the
world's desire' may have been to him serious." (Lewis met Yeats at
least twice at Oxford when he was a young man and Yeats an aging one.)
footnote on p 1133 notes that Lewis had recommended "The Infallibility of
the Church" by George Salmon to a writer who had asked Lewis about Papal
To Pauline Bannister, a reader who was objecting to the absence
of Susan among the Friends of Narnia who went with Aslan into "real Narnia"
in the end of The Last Battle, February 19, p 1136, after saying he could
not write the book Pauline thought should follow this, "Why not try it yourself?"
Mrs. Robert Manly, Febuary 25, p 1136: "But we must not strictly call them
(morally) evil. Moral evil occurs when Rational Soul, able to control these things,
refuses to do so."
Same, p 1137: "it is actual evil only when
To Bernard Acworth, March 5, p 1137: "Did you know that
your theory of a catastrophic shift in the angle between our axis and the ecliptic
is closely paralleled in Milton? P Lost Bk X or possibly IX. This on his
view is one of the ways in which the change of conditions after the Fall cd. have
"Have you read this book by the Jesuit de Chardin (The
Phenomenon of Man) wh. is being praised to the skies? This is evolution run
mad. He saves 'continuity' by saying that before there was life there was in matter
what he calls 'pre-life.' Can you see any possible use in such language? Before
you switched on the lights in the cellar there was (if you like to call it so)
'pre-light': but the English for that is 'darkness.' Then he goes on to the future
and seems to me to be repeating Bergson (without the eloquence) and Shaw (without
the wit). It ends up of course in something uncomfortably like Pantheism: his
own Jesuits were quite right in forbidding him to publish any more books on the
subject. This prohibition probably explains the succes fou he is having among
our scientists on the same principle whereby Pasternak's (really, v. second
rate) novel owes its world-fame to the condemnation of the Russian government."
Father Peter Milward, SJ, March 7, p 1138: "As an old lecturer may I give
a bit of advice about preaching? The joints (we have finished point A: now for
B or Here the digression ends) cannot be made too clear. Unless you seem to yourself
to be exaggerating them almost absurdly they will escape 9/10 of your hearers.
Also, slow, slow. If you want people to weep by the end, make them laugh in the
beginning. I hope your priesthood will be blessed. I really agree with your maxim
'the greater the author the less he understands his own work.'"
Arthur Greeves, March 12, p 1139: "P.S. Get a cat. They're more suitable
to us old people than dogs, and a cat makes a house into a home."
Mary Willis Shelburne, March 26, p 1141: "Things are not, or not much, worse
with us, but life is very terrible. I sometimes feel I am mad to be taking Joy
to Greece in her present condition, but her heart is set upon it. They give the
condemned man what he likes for his last breakfast, I am told."
Mary Willis Shelburne, April 19, p 1147: "We did get to Greece, and it was
a wonderful success. Joy performed prodigies, climbing to the top of the Acropolis
and getting as far as the Lion gate of Mycenae. She has (no wonder) come back
v. exhausted and full of aches. But I wd. not have had her denied it. The condemned
man is allowed his favourite breakfast even if it is indigestible. She was absolutely
enraptured by what she saw. But pray for us: the sky grows v. dark.
can't begin to describe Greece. Attica is hauntingly beautiful and Rhodes is an
earthly paradise all orange and lemon orchards and wild flowers and vines
and olives, and the mountains of Asia on the horizon. And lovely, cheap wines.
I've eaten squid and octopus!"
To Audrey Sutherland, April 28, p 1148,
he writes about ancient people not having a hope of eternal life, and Christ as
being the creator (not the teacher) of "a glorious after life."
"What pleased me enormously in your letter was the bit about Till We Have
Faces, for I think it far and away my best book but it has, with the critics
and the public, been my one great failure: an absolute 'flop.' No one seems to
have the slightest idea what I'm getting at in it."
To Jocelyn Gibb,
May 9, p 1151: "Greece was wonderful. We badly need a word meaning 'the-exact-opposite-of-a-disappointment.'
Appointment won't do!"
To Cicil Harwood, May 13, p 1152: "Attica,
even more than Athens, overwhelmed us both. But Rhodes is the real earthly paradise.
In its beautiful crusader city we drank Malvoisie vl Malmsey and did not fail
to toast the D. of Clarence."
To Chad Walsh, May 23, p 1154: "I
had some ado to prevent Joy (and myself) from relapsing into Paganism in Attica!
At Daphni it was hard not to pray to Apollo the Healer. But somehow one didn't
feel it wd. have been very wrong wd. have only been addressing Christ sub
specie Apollinis. We witnessed a beautiful Christian village ceremony in Rhodes
and hardly felt a discrepancy. Greek priests impress one very favourably at sight
much more so than most Protestant or R.C. clergy. And the peasants all
To Delmar Banner, May 27, p 1154: "I'm glad you liked the book [The Four Loves]. I quite agree with you about Homosexuals:
to make the thing criminal cures nothing and only creates a blackmailers' paradise.
Anyway, what business is it of the State? But I couldn't well have had a digression
on that [in a chapter of his book]. One is fighting on two fronts: a. For the
persecuted Homo. against snoopers and busybodies. b. For ordinary people against
the widespread freemasonry of the highbrow Homos who dominate so much of the world
of criticism and won't be v. nice to you unless you are in their set."
Patricia Mackey, June 8, p 1157-8, he explains that in Narnia Aslan repreents,
but does not "symbolize," the Son of God, and lays out other representations.
Vera Gebbert, June 8, p 1160: "I have not entirely given up hope that a day
may come when I shall be able to sample your guestroom, but not yet, or in the
foreseeable future." Gebbert had not moved to Maine.
To the Rev. Peter
Bide, the dear friend who conducted his and Joy's marriage and prayed for her
miraculous remission from cancer, a letter of condolence on the priest's wife contracting the same disease, June 14, p 1161: "I know your faith will stand firm."
Patripassianism = modalism, the teaching that God came (or comes) into the world
in three distinct modes, rather than as three distinct persons.
Same, p 1162: "Thanks
for the enclosure. Even now such things give me pleasure: I can still play with
my toys. Don't be ashamed to play with yours if you have any. The less miserable
we succeed in being the more we can do for them.
is a great stand-by! But, drat it, they've put me on a diet."
Henry Willink, June 17, p 1164-65: "The moral problem comes down to the question
'Is it probable that the inclusion of these passages will lead anyone to commit
an immoral act which he would not have committed if we had suppressed them?' Now
of course this question is strictly unanswerable. No one can foresee the odd result
that any words may have on this or that individual. We ourselves in youth have
been both corrupted and edified by books in which our elders could have foreseen
neither edification nor corruption. But to suggest that in a soeity where the
most potent aphrodisiacs are daily put forward by the advertisers, the newspapers,
and the films, any perceptible increment of lechery will be caused by printing
a few, obscure, and widely separated passages in a very long and expensive book,
seems to me unrealistic or even hypocritical.
"A very severe moralist
might argue that it is not enough to be unable to foresee harm; that we ought,
before we act, to be able to foresee with certainty an absence of harm. But this,
as you see, would prove too much. It is really an argument against doing, or not
doing, any action whatsoever. For they all go on having consequences, mostly unforeseeable,
to the world's end.
"I am therefore in favour of printing the whole,
unexpurgated, Pepys." (Pepys diary, the prize possession of Magdalene College,
Cambridge, had never been published unexpurgated.)
To the Rev. Peter Bide,
July 14, p 1169: "Joy died at 10 o'clock last night in the Radcliffe....
like to meet. Perhaps I cd. come up to town some day when you are in town and
take you to lunch at the Athenaeum. For I am oh God that I were not
very free now. One doesn't realise in early life that the price of freedom is
loneliness. To be happy one must be tied. God bless all three of us."
note on p 1172 includes the epitaph on Joy's plaque in the crematorium, the poem,
"Lenten Lands," which the editor reports "he wrote for his wife."
Gracia Fay Bouwman, July 19, p 1169, an explanation of his intentions in The
Problem of Pain.
To Vera Gebbert, August 5, p 1177: "I can't write
more. One of the indirect results of Joy's dath is that I have thousands of things
to do which I didn't do before. And, to make matters worse, my brother is away
on his holidays so I miss his secretarial help. Perhaps being maddeningly busy
is the best thing for me anyway I am. This is one of those things which
make the tragedies of real life so very unlike those of the stage."
Helmut Kuhn, August 16, p 1178: "any Christian work is implicitly a critique
of any age."
To Father Richard Ginder, August 18, p 1178: "It
annoys me when parents who read nothing but the newspapers themselves i.e.
nothing but lies, libels, poppycock, propaganda, and pornography complain
of their children reading the Comics! Upon my soul I think the children's diet
is healthier than their parents'."
Fr. Ginder was the editor Our
Sunday Visitor, a Catholic national weekly newspaper with its offices in Newcastle,
To Arthur Greeves, August 30, p 1182: "Douglas
the younger boy is, as always, an absolute brick, and a very bright spot
in my life."
Same: "I've brought myself down from 13 stone to
just under 11." "Stone," as used here, is the British term for
measuring human weight. One stone = 14 pounds. So Lewis had lost 28 pounds and
was down to 154 pounds.
A note on p 1182 refers to Lewis's writing about
his grieving process in letters after Joy's death in July, and also his undertaking
almost immediately to write A Grief Observed, his journal of the grieving process.
Writes editor Hooper: "he followed the advice he had given Arthur Greeves
many years ago: 'Start writing: ink is the great cure for all human ills.'"
Mrs. Ray Garrett, September 12, p 1183: "We must not bother about thrills
at all. Do the present duty bear the pain enjoy the
present pleasure and leave emotions and 'experiences' to look after themselves.
That's the programme, isn't it?"
To Roger Lancelyn Green, September
15, p 1184: "Oh Hell! What a trial I am to you both! If Warnie really came
home on the 23rd and if he did not come home so drunk as to have to be
put straight into a nursing home I could and wd. with delight come to you
on the 24th. But neither is really at all probable. And of course I can't leave
this house with no grown-up in charge."
To the Rev. Peter Bide, September
20, p 1185: "I have just come in from saying my morning prayers in the wood,
including as always one for 'Peter and Margy and Joy and me,' and found your letter."
The letter told him of "Margy's" death on September 17.
Frederick Joseph Adelmann, SJ, September 21, p 1186: "P.S. How right your
Society was to shut up de Chardin! Can you explain the enormous boosts now being
given to all that Bergsonian-Shavian-pantheistic-biolatrous waffle?"
note on p 1185 reports that Lewis had finished the manuscript for A Grief Observed
by September 21, just over two months after Joy's death.
To Sheldon Vanauken,
September 23, p 1187: "My great recent discovery is that when I mourn Joy
least I feel nearest to her. Passionate sorrow cuts us off from the dead
(there are ballads and folk-tales wh. hint this). Do you think that much of the
traditional ritual of mourning had, unconsciously, that very purpose? For of course
the primitive mind is v. anxious to keep them away.
I can't imagine real Eros coming twice. I still feel married to Joy."
Mary Willis Shelburne, September 24, p 1188, "As to how I take sorrow, the
answer is 'In nearly all the possible ways. Because, as you probably know, it
isn't a state but a process. It keeps on changing like a winding road with
quite a new landscape at each bend. Two curious discoveries I have made. The moments
at which you call most desperately and clamorously to God for help are precisely
those when you seem to get none. And the moments at which I feel nearest to Joy
are precisely those when I mourn her least. Very queer. In both cases a clamorous
need seems to shut one off from the thing needed. No one ever told me this. It
is almost like 'Don't knock and it shall be opened to you.' I must think it over.
youngest stepson is the greatest comfort to me."
To Father Peter Milward
SJ, September 26, p 1189: "First, about the Grail. I think it important
to keep on remembering that a question can be v. interesting without being answerable
and one of my main efforts as a teacher has been to train people to say those
(apparently difficult) words 'We don't know.' We haven't even got anything that
can be quite accurately called 'the Grail legend.' We have a number of
romances which introduce the Grail and are not consistent with one another. No
theory as to the ultimate origin is more than speculation. The desire to make
that origin either Pagan or (less commonly) heretical is clearly widespread, but
I think it springs from psychological causes not from any evidence."
John H. McCallus, September 30, p 1192: "How well Chaucer advised us 'Flee
fro the Presse'!"
In a letter to Jocelyn Gibb, p 1194, he reports having
"removed some Americanisms from the Toast put in for the American
reader." Screwtape Proposes A Toast was originally written for the
Saturday Evening Post.
To Father Quinlan, October 9, p 1195: "Yes
'little Flower' is a dreadful name to inflict on any decent girl, let alone
a saint. What harm we have done ourselves by all this saccharine sentiment! The
worst of all is those feminine angels in 19th. century stained glass: as
if creatures stronger and more ancient than man were consumptive schoolgirls!"
Jocelyn Gibb, October 9, p 1196: "I wd. like the dedication to Tolkien so
placed that it clearly dedicates not this whole book (wh. I never saw) but only
the S. Letters."
A note on p 1201 notes that in medieval usage "clerk"
To Robin Anstey, November 2, p 1206: "S.F.
[science fiction] however bad most of it is is now the chief vehicle
for 'thoughts that wander up and down eternity.' How trivial, by comparison, are
most of the issues presented by our 'serious' novelists!"
A note on
p 1209 reports, in referring to Robert Lee Wolff's The Golden Key: A Study
of the Major Fiction of George MacDonald, 1961: "In 'An Enduring Friendship,'
Remembering C.S. Lewis, p. 217, [Jane] Douglass said: 'This lengthy Freudian
study of MacDonald...is another of those works seeking to destroy the reputation
of an author long dead...Professor Wolff's underlying purpose is to attack Christianity
and his references to C.S. Lewis are extremely disagreeable."
Lee, December 6, p 1213: "Why did I become a writer? Chiefly, I think, because
my clumsiness of fingers prevented me from making things in any other way. See
my Surprised by Joy, chapter 1."
Same, p 1214: "I have,
as usual, dozens of 'plans' for books, but I don't know which, if any, of these
will come off. Very often a book of mine gets written when I'm tidying a drawer
and come across notes for a plan rejected by me years ago, and now suddenly realise
I can do it after all. This, you see, makes predictions rather difficult!" This may have been the process for Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer, but I wonder if it pertained to any other of Lewis's books.
"I enjoy writing fiction more than writing anything else. Wouldn't anyone?"
a letter to Jocelyn Gibb, p 1214, he addresses him (now) as "Jock."
To Roger Lancelyn Green, December 10, p 1215: "Could anyone but an
Englishman have conceived a Latin version of a children's book in such extremely
advanced Latin that only an adult could possibly read it? I like that absurdity."
To Belle and Edward A. Allen, December 10, p 1216: "So you have the
Christmas racket do you? Well, you have all our sympathies, for here it has got
to such a point that by the time the real festival takes place one is often too
jaded to enjoy it. . . . We couldn't agree more with you about the madness of
the atomic bomb, but what can one do? The Labour folk over here claim that 'unilateral
disarmament' is the solution, but this seems to me simply an invitation to the
Russians to go ahead with world conquest."
To Jill Freud, December
22, p 1218: "Warnie and I are such old fogies now that neither of us is clear
as to what a 'commercial' is; are you one of the people who interrupts the programme
to explain that all sensible house-wives use FOAM, DAZ or whatnot?"
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