The Space Trilogy
Out of the Silent Planet|
That Hideous Strength
|Author||Clive Staples Lewis|
|Cover artist||Brian Froud (omnibus)|
|Publisher||The Bodley Head (first and first omnibus)|
1990 (first omnibus)
Print (hardcover & paperback)|
0-370-31439-5 (omnibus, 651 pp)
The Space Trilogy or Cosmic Trilogy[a] is a series of science fiction novels by C. S. Lewis, famous for his later series The Chronicles of Narnia. A philologist named Elwin Ransom is the hero of the first two novels and an important character in the third.
The books in the trilogy are:
- Out of the Silent Planet (1938), set mostly on Mars (Malacandra). In this book, Elwin Ransom voyages to Mars and discovers that Earth is exiled from the rest of the solar system. Far back in Earth's past, it fell to an angelic being known as the Bent Oyarsa, and now, to prevent contamination of the rest of the Solar System ("The Field of Arbol"), it is known as "the silent planet" (Thulcandra).
- Perelandra (1943), set mostly on Venus. Also known as Voyage to Venus. Here Dr Ransom journeys to an unspoiled Venus in which the first humanoids have just emerged.
- That Hideous Strength (1945), set on Earth. A scientific think tank called the N.I.C.E. (The National Institute of Co-ordinated Experiments) is secretly in touch with demonic entities who plan to ravage and lay waste to planet Earth.
- Lewis, C.S. Out of the Silent Planet. London : The Bodley Head, 1938.
- Lewis, C.S. Perelandra: A Novel. London : The Bodley Head, 1943.
- Lewis, C.S. That Hideous Strength: A Modern Fairy-Tale for Grown-ups. London : The Bodley Head, 1945.
- Lewis, C.S. The Dark Tower and Other Stories. Walter Hooper, ed. London: Collins, 1977.
The Dark Tower
An unfinished manuscript published posthumously in 1977, named The Dark Tower by Walter Hooper, its editor, features Elwin Ransom in a less central role as involved with an experiment that allows its participants to view on a special screen their own location in a parallel universe. Its authenticity was impeached by Lewis scholar Kathryn Lindskoog in her scholarly criticism of Walter Hooper, but in 2003 Alastair Fowler established its authenticity when he wrote in the Yale Review that he saw Lewis writing the manuscript that would be subsequently published as The Dark Tower, heard him reading it, and discussed it with him.
Influences and approach
What immediately spurred me to write was Olaf Stapledon's Last and First Men … and an essay in J.B.S. Haldane's Possible Worlds both of wh[ich] seemed to take the idea of such [space] travel seriously and to have the desperately immoral outlook wh[ich] I try to pillory in Weston. I like the whole interplanetary ideas as a mythology and simply wished to conquer for my own (Christian) p[oin]t of view what has always hitherto been used by the opposite side. I think H. G. Wells's First Men in the Moon the best of the sort I have read …
The other main literary influence was David Lindsay's A Voyage to Arcturus (1920): "The real father of my planet books is David Lindsay’s A Voyage to Arcturus, which you also will revel in if you don’t know it. I had grown up on Wells's stories of that kind: it was Lindsay who first gave me the idea that the ‘scientifiction’ appeal could be combined with the ‘supernatural’ appeal."
The books are not especially concerned with technological speculation, and in many ways read like fantasy adventures combined with themes of biblical history and classical mythology. Like most of Lewis's mature writing, they contain much discussion of contemporary rights and wrongs, similar in outlook to Madeleine L'Engle's Kairos series. Many of the names in the trilogy reflect the influence of Lewis's friend J.R.R. Tolkien's Elvish languages.
Ransom appears very similar to Lewis himself: a university professor, expert in languages and medieval literature, unmarried (Lewis did not marry until his fifties), wounded in World War I and with no living relatives except for one sibling. Lewis, however, apparently intended for Ransom to be partially patterned after his friend and fellow Oxford professor J. R. R. Tolkien, since Lewis is presented as novelizing Ransom's reminiscences in the epilogue of Out of the Silent Planet and is a character-narrator in the frame tale for Perelandra. In That Hideous Strength Ransom, with his royal charisma and casual acceptance of the supernatural, appears more like Charles Williams (or some of the heroes in Williams's books).
In Out of the Silent Planet it is suggested that "Ransom" is not the character's real name but merely an alias for a respectable professor whose reputation might suffer from his recounting such a journey to the planet Mars.
In the following books, however, this is unaccountably dropped and it is made clear that Ransom is the character's true name. As befits a philologist, he provides an etymology: the name does not derive from the modern word "ransom" but rather is a contraction of the Old English for "Ranolf's Son". This may be another allusion to Tolkien, a professor of Old English.
Ransom gets much information on cosmology from the Oyarsa (presiding angel) of Malacandra, or Mars. Maleldil, the son of the Old One, ruled the Field of Arbol, or solar system, directly. But then the Bent One (the Oyarsa of Earth) rebelled against Maleldil and all the eldila (much as Morgoth rebelled against Eru and the other Valar in Tolkien's Silmarillion) of Deep Heaven (outer space). In response to this act, the Bent One suffered confinement on Earth where he first inflicted great evil. Thus he made Earth a silent planet, cut off from the Oyéresu of other planets, hence the name 'Thulcandra', the Silent Planet, which is known throughout the Universe. Maleldil tried to reach out to Thulcandra and became a man to save the human race. According to the Green Lady, Tinidril (Mother of Perelandra, or Venus), Thulcandra is favored among all the worlds, because Maleldil came to it to become a man.
In the Field of Arbol, the outer planets are older, the inner planets newer.
Earth will remain a silent planet until the end of the great Siege of Deep Heaven against the Oyarsa of Earth. The siege starts to end (with the Oyéresu of other worlds descending to Earth) at the finale of the Trilogy, That Hideous Strength. But there is still much to happen until the fulfillment of what is predicted in the Book of Revelation, when the Oyéresu put an end to the rule of the Bent Eldil and, on the way, smash the Moon to fragments. This, in turn, will not be "The End of the World", but merely "The Very Beginning" of what is still to come.
The eldila (singular eldil) are super-human extraterrestrials. The human characters in the trilogy encounter them on various planets, but the eldila themselves are native to interplanetary and interstellar space ("Deep Heaven"). They are barely visible as pillars of faint, shifting light.
Certain very powerful eldila, the Oyéresu (singular Oyarsa), control the course of nature on each of the planets of the Solar System (similar to the Valar in The Silmarillion). They (and maybe all the eldila) can manifest in corporeal forms. The title Oyarsa seems to indicate the function of leadership, regardless of the leader's species; when the Perelandran human Tor assumes rule of his world, he styles himself "Tor-Oyarsa-Perelendri" (presumably "Tor, Ruler of Perelandra").
The eldila are science-fictionalized depictions of angels, immortal and holy, with the Oyéresu perhaps being angels of a higher order. (As Lewis implies in Chapter 22 of Out of the Silent Planet, the name Oyarsa was suggested by Oyarses, the name given in Bernard Silvestris's Cosmographia to the governors of the celestial spheres. Bernard's word was almost certainly a corruption—or a deliberate alteration—of Greek οὐσιάρχης [ousiarches, "lords of being"], used with the same meaning in the Hermetic Asclepius.) The eldila resident on—actually, imprisoned in—Earth are "dark eldila", fallen angels or demons. The Oyarsa of Earth, the "Bent One", is Satan. Ransom later meets the Oyéresu of both Mars and Venus, who are described as being masculine (but not actually male) and feminine (but not actually female), respectively. The Oyéresu of other worlds have characteristics like those of the corresponding Classical gods; for instance, the Oyarsa of Jupiter gives a feeling of merriment (joviality).
Hnau is a word in the Old Solar language which refers to "rational animals" such as Humans. In the book, the Old Solar speaker specifies that God is not hnau, and is unsure whether Eldila (immortal angelic beings) can be termed "hnau", deciding that if they are hnau, they are a different kind of hnau than Humans or Martians.
The term was adopted by some other people, including Lewis's friend J. R. R. Tolkien, who used the term in his (unpublished during his lifetime) The Notion Club Papers - distinguishing hnau from beings of pure spirit or spirits able to assume a body (which is not essential to their nature). Similarly, a character in James Blish's science fiction novel A Case of Conscience wonders whether a particular alien is a hnau, which he defines as having "a rational soul".
In recent times the term has been used by some philosophers, for example in Thomas I. White's "Is a Dolphin a Person?", where he asks if Dolphins are persons, and if such, if they can also be reckoned as hnau: that is sentient beings of the same level as humans.
Other uses of the term include the term as used by some Christians: here as with Tolkien's use of the term "hnau" refers to sentient beings possessing independent will, and thus by extension a soul.
Old Solar language
According to the Space Trilogy's cosmology, the speech of all the inhabitants of the Field of Arbol is the Old Solar or Hlab-Eribol-ef-Cordi. Only Earth lost the language, due to the Bent One's influence. Old Solar can be likened to the Elvish languages invented by Lewis's friend, Tolkien. The grammar is little known, except for the plurals of nouns. The plurals of some words (hross, eldil) are simple, only adding a final -a or -i; others (as for Oyarsa, sorn, hnakra), are quite complex broken plurals, adding an internal -é-, and adding or altering a final vowel (usually to -i or -u), and may also include internal metathesis (Oyéresu, séroni, hnéraki).
- Terms used throughout the trilogy
- Eldil, pl. Eldila—an everlasting, rational, "multidimensional energy being" that is not organic; an angel. Some act in the capacity of "Oyarsa" of a planet.
- Field of Arbol—the Solar System
- Glund or Glundandra—Jupiter
- hnau or 'nau—a rational being, capable of speech, intellect, and personhood, and containing a soul.
- handra—a planet or land
- Maleldil— the Christian God, described in Perelandra as having been incarnated as Jesus.
- Neruval—hapax legomenon in Perelandra and, from context, apparently Uranus
- Oyarsa, pl. Oyéresu(Title)—Ruler of a planet, a higher-order angel, perhaps an arch-angel.
- Sulva—The Moon
- Thulcandra—Earth, literally "The Silent Planet"
Parallels and adaptations
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Other written works
The cosmology of all three books—in which the Oyéresu of Mars and Venus somewhat resemble the corresponding gods from classical mythology—derives from Lewis's interest in medieval beliefs. Lewis discusses these in his book The Discarded Image (published much later than the Ransom Trilogy). Lewis was intrigued with the ways medieval authors borrowed concepts from pre-Christian religion and science and attempted to reconcile them with Christianity, and with the lack of a clear distinction between natural and supernatural phenomena in medieval thought. The Space Trilogy also plays on themes in Lewis's essay "Religion and Rocketry", which argues that as long as humanity remains flawed and sinful, our exploration of other planets will tend to do them more harm than good. Furthermore, much of the substance of the argument between Ransom and Weston in Perelandra is found in Lewis's book Miracles. Links between Lewis's Space Trilogy and his other writings are discussed at great length in Michael Ward's Planet Narnia and in Kathryn Lindskoog's C.S. Lewis: Mere Christian.
J.R.R. Tolkien was a friend and sometime mentor to Lewis. In That Hideous Strength, Lewis alludes several times to Tolkien's Atlantean civilization Numinor (spelt Númenor by Tolkien), saying in the foreword “Those who would like to learn further about Numinor and the True West must (alas!) await the publication of much that still exists only in the MSS. of my friend, Professor J. R. R. Tolkien.” Villains in both Tolkien's Lord of the Rings cycle and here are very hostile toward the natural world (specifically in the wanton destruction of trees in Tolkien's and the manipulation of life in Lewis's).
Stephen R. Lawhead's Song of Albion trilogy contains numerous references to and parallels to the Space Trilogy. The main character is an Oxford student whose first name is Lewis. The books combine themes of Christianity and pre-Christian mythology, while the plot involves materialistic endeavors to gain access to forbidden worlds for material gain. There is also a minor villain named Weston.
John C. Wright's War of the Dreaming duology also references the Space Trilogy, with Sulva as a name for the Moon and references to fallen 'planetary angels'.
Arthur C. Clarke's three science fiction novels The Sands of Mars, Earthlight, and Islands in the Sky have been published together as The Space Trilogy (in 2001), but have no connection to the works of Lewis, and are in fact only loosely connected to each other.
Christian horror punk band Blaster the Rocket Man, whose lyrics frequently subsist on monster themes, borrowed heavily from The Space Trilogy in their album The Monster Who Ate Jesus. Their song "Ransom vs. The Unman" is a direct retelling of the struggle between Ransom and the Unman in Perelandra. The very next song, entitled "March of the Macrobes," alludes to the N.I.C.E. Institute's attempts to disembody the heads of those who wish to gain immortality with lines such as, "Leave flesh behind / There's only mind / Or set the brain apart / To elevate the heart / Whatever happened to the individual? (N.I.C.E.) / Where is his soul? (R.A.P.E.)." Lastly, "Tundra Time on Thulcandra" is a tribute to Out of the Silent Planet, with an allusion to the planet Perelandra as well. "Malacandra on my mind / Perelandra all the time / Nevermind it's tundra / It's tundra time."
Becoming the Archetype, a Christian progressive death metal band, produced an album titled Dichotomy which was inspired by The Space Trilogy. The album explores themes that are prevalent in the trilogy: biology versus technology and man versus machine.
The Christian band Massivivid has two songs that contain quotes from That Hideous Strength.
German progressive rock band Eden titled their second album Perelandra.
Hip-hop artist and singer-songwriter Heath McNease has a song titled "Perelandra" on his C.S. Lewis tribute album, The Weight of Glory.
Space Music composer Kevin Braheny, on his album The Way Home, has a track named "Perelandra".
- ISFDB catalogues the "Cosmic Trilogy" series including omnibus editions of the three novels titled The Cosmic Trilogy (UK, 1990) and Space Trilogy (US, 1996).
• Cosmic Trilogy series listing at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database. Select a title to see its linked publication history and general information. Select a particular edition (title) for more data at that level, such as a front cover image or linked contents.
• The series is sometimes called (not titled) the Ransom trilogy after its main character, Elwin Ransom.
- C.S. Lewis, The Dark Tower and Other Stories, Walter Hooper, ed., (London: Collins, 1977), 8.
- Collected Letters, II, 236f.
- The Life and Works of David Lindsay
- "No feet have walked, nor shall, on the ice of Glund; no eye looked up from beneath on the Ring of Lurga, and Iron-plain in Neruval is chaste and empty. Yet it is not for nothing that the gods walked ceaselessly around the Fields of Arbol" - Perelandra, p. 342 of the Pan one-volume edition of "The Cosmic Trilogy"
- Michael Ward, Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis (Oxford University Press, 2008) and Kathryn Lindskoog C.S. Lewis: Mere Christian (Cornerstone Press, March 31, 2007)
- Becoming the Archetype
- Butts, Dennis. "The Abolition of Man?: Horror in the Science Fiction of C.S. Lewis". In Clive Bloom (ed), Creepers: British Horror and Fantasy in the Twentieth Century. London and Boulder CO: Pluto Press, pp. 111–19.
- Downing, David C. Planets in Peril: A Critical Study of CS Lewis's Ransom Trilogy. Amherst: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1992.
- Sammons, Martha C. A Guide Through CS Lewis' Space Trilogy. Westchester, IL: Cornerstone Books, 1980.