C.S. Lewis, a devout Christian for much of his adult life, includes his interpretation of the fundamentals of Christian belief in all his novels. In Out of the Silent Planet, Lewis uses the creative and exciting framework of a science fiction adventure to offer a new way for readers to think of Christianity through his protagonist Dr. Elwin Ransom’s experiences on the new planet Malacandra (Lewis’s name for Mars). Indeed, Lewis sees this fantastic setting as absolutely critical to his goal of influencing his readers to think about and engage with Christian ideas and beliefs, disrupting the “stuffy” lectures and moralistic plays that Lewis assumes most people associate with Christian teaching. Away from the reverence of “stained-glass and Sunday school” that Lewis perceives as obstructing the true potency of Christian thought, Lewis hopes that Out of the Silent Planet can open the imaginations of his readers so that they are better able to accept the amazing truths he himself has found in Christian life.
Towards that goal, much of the religious discussion that Ransom, Lewis’s main character, encounters on Malacandra loosely resembles the basics of the Christian faith. For example, Lewis describes the ruler of Malacandra as an angel-like figure called Oyarsa, and explains that this oyarsa serves more powerful figures who are rough analogues of the Christian figures God the Father and Jesus Christ. Furthermore, Lewis describes the Biblical account of the “fall” of Earth into sin by connecting it to a story in which Earth once had its own oyarsa, who then fought against the higher gods and plunged the humans of Earth into conflict and pain (paralleling the story of Satan’s fall from Heaven and his subsequent temptation of Adam and Eve). While the Christian allusions are incredibly important to the story, Lewis purposefully leaves them vague rather than fully explaining how he sees the Christian universe relating to his imagined planet. These Christian elements are instead used to inform the fantastical elements of Lewis’s science fiction universe, and in the process open the door for readers to look at Christian thought under a new guise that is not already affected by any negative associations they may have with Christianity.
Lewis then gives his readers a path to follow on their journey to accepting Christian thought through the spiritual awakening of Dr. Ransom, an average English professor who comes to believe and advocate for the Malacandrian religion. Over the course of the novel, Ransom finds that he is better able to avoid experiencing pain himself or causing it for others when he follows the orders of Oyarsa, suggesting that all humans can also improve their circumstances by looking for the will of God in their own lives. Significantly, Ransom is not a bad person who must be brought to salvation to save his life. He is a normal man who tries to do the right thing and hopes to overcome the fundamental brokenness of human nature. Through Ransom, readers are shown how a human might seek forgiveness and grace rather than punishment and restriction in their faith. As Ransom learns about the blessings that can come from living according to the Malacandrian worldview, the reader is also given a chance to consider the possible benefits of finding out more about a Christian life. Using Ransom’s path as a representation for all men, Lewis shapes this awakening to suggest that all humans need God without forcing readers to recognize God immediately as the explicitly Christian God.
Christian Imagery and Thought ThemeTracker
Christian Imagery and Thought Quotes in Out of the Silent Planet
He had read of “Space”: at the back of his thinking for years had lurked the dismal fancy of the black, cold vacuity, the utter deadness, which was supposed to separate the worlds. He had not known how much it affected him till now—now that the very name “Space” seemed a blasphemous libel for this empyrean ocean of radiance in which they swam. He could not call it “dead”; he felt life pouring into him from it every moment. How indeed should it be otherwise, since out of this ocean the worlds and all their life had come? ... No: space was the wrong name. Older thinkers had been wiser when they named it simply the heavens—the heavens which declared the glory…
Ever since he had discovered the rationality of the hrossa he had been haunted by a conscientious scruple as to whether it might not be his duty to undertake their religious instruction; now, as a result of his tentative efforts, he found himself being treated as if he were the savage and being given a first sketch of civilized religion—a sort of hrossian equivalent of the shorter catechism.
They were astonished at what he had to tell them of human history—of war, slavery and prostitution.
"It is because they have no Oyarsa," said one of the pupils.
"It is because every one of them wants to be a little Oyarsa himself," said Augray.
"They cannot help it," said the old sorn. "There must be rule, yet how can creatures rule themselves? Beasts must be ruled by hnau and hnau by eldila and eldila by Maleldil.”
“It was not always so. Once we knew the Oyarsa of your world—he was brighter and greater than I—and then we did not call it Thulcandra. It is the longest of all stories and the bitterest. He became bent. That was before any life came on your world. Those were the Bent Years of which we still speak in the heavens, when he was not yet bound to Thulcandra but free like us. It was in his mind to spoil other worlds besides his own.”
Through his knowledge of the creatures and his love for them he began, ever so little, to hear it with their ears. A sense of great masses moving at visionary speeds, of giants dancing, of eternal sorrows eternally consoled, of he knew not what and yet what he had always known, awoke in him with the very first bars of the deep-mouthed dirge, and bowed down his spirit as if the gate of heaven had opened before him.
"Trash! Defeatist trash!" he shouted at Oyarsa in English; then, drawing himself up to his full height, he added in Malacandrian, "You say your Maleldil let all go dead. Other one, Bent One, he fight, jump, live—not all talkee-talkee. Me no care Maleldil. Like Bent One better: me on his side."
He could not feel that they were an island of life journeying through an abyss of death. He felt almost the opposite—that life was waiting outside the little iron egg-shell in which they rode, ready at any moment to break in, and that, if it killed them, it would kill them by excess of its vitality. He hoped passionately that if they were to perish they would perish by the "unbodying" of the space-ship and not by suffocation within it. To be let out, to be free, to dissolve into the ocean of eternal noon, seemed to him at certain moments a consummation even more desirable than their return to Earth.
It was Dr. Ransom who first saw that our only chance was to publish in the form of fiction what would certainly not be listened to as fact… "what we need for the moment is not so much a body of belief as a body of people familiarized with certain ideas. If we could even effect in one per cent of our readers a change-over from the conception of Space to the conception of Heaven, we should have made a beginning."
Like you, I can't help trying to fix their relation to the things that appear in terrestrial tradition—gods, angels, fairies. But we haven't the data. When I attempted to give Oyarsa some idea of our own Christian angelology, he certainly seemed to regard our "angels" as different in some way from himself. But whether he meant that they were a different species, or only that they were some special military caste (since our poor old earth turns out to be a kind of Ypres Salient in the universe), I don't know.