Out of the Silent Planet

When C. S. Lewis was a child he designed, with his older brother, a whole world, planned in exceptional detail and reality. Some of that childhood love is evident in 'Out of that Silent Planet' - the first book in his 'Cosmic Trilogy' of adult science fiction (as contrasted with children's fantasy or Christian apologetics).

It does rather dwell on the description of 'Malacandra' (or Mars) to which his hero, Dr Ransom, is kidnapped in a little too great (and suffocating) detail. But its benefit is a realised world, complete with philological side steps, and a great yarn, with serious undertows. For example, Ransom is being 'sacrificed' by his kidnappers for an imagined 'greater' good that dissolves in fact into their different arrogances - of material greed and scientific aggrandisement; and, there is a wonderful aside on the epistemology of angels!

It is the first time I have read it and thought I would like to pay homage to a man who was once neighbour (his old house is within a short walk) and who was friend and teacher of two people who 'taught' (and inspired) me: the monk, writer and pioneer of inter-spiritual dialogue, Fr Bede Griffiths, and the poet, Kathleen Raine.

I have never wholly understood why Lewis has developed such a place in the affections of Christian evangelicals as if he were 'one of them'. He was not: he adhered to a mainstream Anglicanism infused with the light of his learning in (and love of) both myth and Platonism.

In one of his great earthy images of heaven - of people on a bus so distracted that they repeatedly miss their stop - he implies that no distraction (or evil) is great enough finally to prevent any of us finding the mark of our being in the love of God and stepping off into redemption. He hopes for the salvation of all in the end. The hells may be eternal (to quote Blake) but a soul's presence in that eternal state is not.

It was as a supervisor of her PhD on Blake that Kathleen knew and grew to greatly admire and respect Lewis - and for all their differences of temperament and conviction - they were fundamentally on the same side, knowing that this world is a reflection of an eternal one that required certain standards of action and quality of being to be seen and lived. Those standards were objective, demanding and inhered in the good, the true and the beautiful. They were, in different ways, both its defenders against a triumphant materialism (much in evidence in Out of the Silent Planet).


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