Thursday, July 30, 2009

Out of the Silent Planet

When Lewis set out to write the first story in his “Science Fiction” or “Planets” trilogy, he had multiple goals in mind. First of all, he and Tolkien were disappointed with the motivations and results of the current writers of their day; they felt that they could do a better job. They had often discussed the value and use of fiction and myth. So, it was decided that they would both try their hands at a story: Tolkien would tackle time travel and Lewis would try a story in space. At the same time, Lewis was inspired by contemporary fiction. “A Voyage to Arcturus” by David Lindsey (not a page turner by the way) had shown how fiction could effectively teach philosophical ideas. So he set pen to page to write a philosophical story with Christian themes instead of Gnostic ones.

And that is exactly what you get. Lewis, as always, writes in an easy to read style and the story flows quickly; and yet you are bombarded with little glimpses into Lewis’ mind. He was a thinker and reading his fiction you are forced to think. In this case we are exposed to ideas about:

What does it mean to be a spiritual creature?

The dangers of Humanism.

What are the effects of sin on the world?

And also slightly less weighty ideas: about cultural interactions, culture shock, and learning another language.

A particularly fun passage for people with cross-cultural experience comes at the end when Ransom must translate a speech for Weston. It is a bit of a sermon expounding the ideals of humanism, and the resulting translation into a language that lacks the very concepts needed to understand it exposes the weaknesses of Weston's philosophy in a way that is quite comical.

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