In Out of the Silent Planet, Lewis follows the tradition of the travelogue, a genre of literature that includes books such as Utopia or Gulliver’s Travels in which a traveler goes to an exotic, often fantastic society and learns about their culture. These lessons frequently include both a vision of how a perfect community (known as a utopia, after the “perfect” society in Sir Thomas More’s novel of the same name) would function and, in the process, reveal the shortcomings that the author sees in his own home community. Lewis’s novel specifically takes this concept into the science fiction genre, sending Lewis’s human characters Dr. Ransom, Dr. Weston, and Mr. Devine to Mars (called Malacandra by its sentient inhabitants) and using the alien species there to showcase what Lewis considers a utopia – a society that follows Lewis’s Christian ideals. Throughout the novel, Lewis uses the society of Malacandra to examine the concepts of civilization and utopia, reframing these definitions in order to suggest a form of utopia that human societies could also attain.
First, Lewis considers the notion of civilization as defined by the English characters of the novel, and opposes it with the idea of civilization portrayed on Malacandra. The human character Dr. Weston, a man of science and rational thought on Earth, believes that he knows everything about the ideals of a civilized nation and that English technology, academics, and societal rules are the ultimate example of what a civilization should look like. Yet Lewis shows that Weston’s definition of civilization is simply an excuse for the many evils that Weston commits, hiding a desire to commit genocide against the Malacandrians in the supposedly noble desire to further the success of the human race. Furthermore, the protagonist Dr. Ransom finds out through his time living with the hrossa, one of the Malacandrian species, that Malacandrian society is actually more civilized than Earthly nations despite their lack of the superficial trappings of urban life. The hrossa have achieved complete peace between the three species of Malacandra and are able to live naturally joyful and monogamous lives, seemingly more in line with the supposed goal of civilization - that is, to pull humans away from their more primitive and barbaric instincts. Through these lessons about the hrossa culture, Lewis refocuses the definition of civilization not on the material things and grand competition among human cultures, but on the ability to coexist peacefully with those who are different and work together for the happiness and fulfillment of all.
From this new definition of civilization, Lewis then revisits the idea of utopia. Lewis explains that a Christian utopia is not necessarily a place that is so perfect that nothing bad can ever happen. Instead, Malacandra represents a truly good society that runs smoothly and accepts the place of tragedy and pain in the lives of sentient beings. Lewis ties this vision of utopia back to his Christian faith through the character of Oyarsa and his connection to the Old One. From the information Oyarsa gives about life after death with the Old One in the heavens, the hrossa are able to accept death without dread or fear. More importantly, the element of danger that a shark-like creature called a hnakra introduces to this “perfect” world is another illustration of how a society must avoid the stagnation that comes from absolute, un-changing perfection. The threat of a hnakra reminds the hrossa not to take their idyllic lives for granted, precisely because there is a chance they can end. Lewis shows that humans can also internalize this better way of living, as Ransom sees the value of these lessons while living among the hrossa and works to spread this type of culture to others once he returns to Earth. Dr. Ransom actually contacts a version of C.S. Lewis himself (which Lewis inserts at the end of the novel) and asks the character Lewis to write down his Malacandrian adventures so that other people can read it and shape their lives according to the principles of peace and harmony that Ransom experienced among the hrossa. Thus, Out of the Silent Planet is itself the message to humankind that shares Ransom’s thoughts about utopia in the hopes that human society will become more like the Malacandrian utopia that Ransom so admired.
Civilization and Utopia ThemeTracker
Civilization and Utopia Quotes in Out of the Silent Planet
There was something about the whole scene suspicious enough and disagreeable enough to convince him that he had blundered on something criminal, while on the other hand he had all the deep, irrational conviction of his age and class that such things could never cross the path of an ordinary person except in fiction and could least of all be associated with professors and old school-fellows. Even if they had been ill-treating the boy Ransom did not see much chance of getting him from them by force.
“I consider your philosophy of life raving lunacy. I suppose all that stuff about infinity and eternity means that you think you are justified in doing anything—absolutely anything—here and now, on the off chance that some creatures or other descended from man as we know him may crawl about a few centuries longer in some part of the universe.”
“Yes—anything whatever,” returned the scientist sternly, “and all educated opinion—for I do not call classics and history and such trash education—is entirely on my side.”
Perhaps the hrossa had a mythology—he took it for granted they were on a low cultural level—and the seroni were gods or demons.
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.
On Malacandra, apparently, three distinct species had reached rationality, and none of them had yet exterminated the other two. It concerned him intensely to find out which was the real master.
"Which of the hnau rule?" he asked.
"Oyarsa rules," was the reply.
At last it dawned upon him that it was not they, but his own species, that were the puzzle. That the hrossa should have such instincts was mildly surprising; but how came it that the instincts of the hrossa so closely resembled the unattained ideals of that far-divided species Man whose instincts were so deplorably different? What was the history of Man?
I will tell you a day in my life that has shaped me; such a day as comes only once, like love, or serving Oyarsa in Meldilorn. Then I was young, not much more than a cub, when I went far, far up the handramit to the land where stars shine at midday and even water is cold. A great waterfall I climbed…Because I have stood there alone, Maleldil and I, for even Oyarsa sent me no word, my heart has been higher, my song deeper, all my days. But do you think it would have been so unless I had known that in Balki hneraki dwelled? There I drank life because death was in the pool.
He was one with them. That difficulty which they, accustomed to more than one rational species, had perhaps never felt, was now overcome. They were all hnau. They had stood shoulder to shoulder in the face of an enemy, and the shapes of their heads no longer mattered. And he, even Ransom, had come through it and not been disgraced. He had grown up.
"I like the hrossa," said Ransom a little stiffly. "And I think the way they talk about death is the right way."
"They are right not to fear it, Ren-soom, but they do not seem to look at it reasonably as part of the very nature of our bodies—and therefore often avoidable at times when they would never see how to avoid it.
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.”
He knew before his guide told him that this was Meldilorn. He did not know what he had expected. The old dreams which he had brought from Earth of some more than American complexity of offices or some engineers’ paradise of vast machines had indeed been long laid aside. But he had not looked for anything quite so classic, so virginal, as this bright grove—lying so still, so secret, in its coloured valley, soaring with inimitable grace so many hundred feet into the wintry sunlight.
"It is well that I have heard you," said Oyarsa. "For though your mind is feebler, your will is less bent than I thought. It is not for yourself that you would do all this."
"No," said Weston proudly in Malacandrian. "Me die. Man live."
"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."