Late one autumn afternoon, Lewis sets out from the train station to walk to Ransom’s cottage, reflecting on the remarkable man he’s about to see. Ransom, he knows, has visited Mars. While there, Ransom met not only Mars’ inhabitants, but also creatures called eldila, including the ruler of Mars, the Oyarsa of Malacandra. The eldila are very different from earthly creatures. They don’t breathe, eat, reproduce, or die, and in that sense they resemble “thinking minerals” more than animals. They reside in space, or Deep Heaven.
Here, the author inserts himself into the world of the novel as its narrator. Right away, Lewis emerges as the relatively ordinary character while Ransom, by contrast, is the exciting interplanetary adventurer. A flurry of unfamiliar terms are immediately introduced, too, pulling the reader into a disorienting new world in which Mars—and its creatures—can be encountered.
Lewis has received a wire from Ransom requesting that he come down for a visit to discuss “business.” Lewis finds the eldila troubling; ever since his return from Mars, Ransom seems to be haunted by these beings. As he walks along, Lewis realizes that he feels afraid of the eldila—afraid of meeting one and afraid of being “drawn in” to their business.
Lewis is also more skeptical than his friend Ransom. He holds Ransom’s discovery of the eldila at arm’s length, not ready to trust these alien beings. Their seemingly attractive, irresistible pull makes them unpredictable and therefore a bit threatening.
Part of Lewis’s discomfort with the eldila is that they don’t fit neatly into a single category—they could be classified as both “scientific” (like H. G. Wells’s Martians or Selenites) and “supernatural” (like angels, ghosts, or fairies). Lewis observes that a strict division between these two categories “ease[s] the burden of intolerable strangeness,” but that, in fact, such a division is really artificial.
C. S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy series is, in part, a rebuttal of certain ideas of English science fiction author H. G. Wells. The “Selenites” that the narrator refers to in this passage are inhabitants of the Moon in Wells’s The First Men in the Moon. One of his responses to Wells involves reimagining the creatures of outer space—while such creatures certainly show evidence of advanced scientific knowledge, Lewis suggests that there are supernatural mysteries about the universe that transcend the merely scientific. Drawing a hard line between the scientific and the supernatural, he suggests, actually obscures the sheer strangeness of these creatures—and how much humans don’t understand.
Lewis suddenly realizes that he left his bag on the train. At first, he starts retracing his steps toward the station, but then he comes to his senses; by this time, his bag is miles away, and he’s really just trying to avoid his meeting with Ransom. He thinks about the eldila again. Ransom had explained that Earth has its own eldila, the Tellurian eldils, but they’re generally hostile to people and to the eldils of Deep Heaven. Earth, in fact, is effectively under siege. The hostile eldils’ occupation of earth explains “that fatal bent” of history. Lewis supposes it’s a good thing, in light of this, that the better eldila of Deep Heaven are, according to Ransom, beginning to pay attention to events on Earth.
Lewis fears meeting Ransom and perhaps encountering the eldils himself, sensing he’ll get pulled into something bigger than he’s bargained for. However, according to Ransom, the earth is already part of an interplanetary war, whether people realize it or not. By “that fatal bent” of human history, he refers to human wickedness and wrongdoing—in short, sin. In some way, Earth’s hostile eldils are responsible for ensnaring human beings in sin. This is an offense to the eldils of Deep Heaven.
Briefly, Lewis wonders if Ransom might have been duped—what if something from outer space is trying to invade Earth, and they’re using Ransom as their Trojan Horse? Lewis is struck by a strong urge to turn back and give Ransom an excuse. Then he wonders if he’s having a nervous breakdown.
Though Lewis is evidently Ransom’s trusted confidant, even Lewis struggles to believe what Ransom has told him about his adventures in space. Lewis’s uneasiness appears almost as a form of temptation, urging him to turn back on his commitment to Ransom.
With difficulty, Lewis forces himself onward, believing deep down that he’s moving toward a friend yet feeling like he’s approaching an enemy. His cold, foggy surroundings feel ominous, and he almost screams when a cat darts past, alternately doubting his sanity and the sanity of the rest of the world. He wonders if conventional “sanity” is simply ignoring the truth about the world. Nevertheless, Lewis doesn’t “doubt the reality of that mysterious being whom the eldila call Maleldil and to whom they appear to give a total obedience […]. I knew what Ransom supposed Maleldil to be.”
Here, Lewis struggles with the disconnect between his knowledge of Ransom as trustworthy and his more instinctual feeling that this might not actually be the case. That he continues to press on, though, suggests that when faced with fear, people must sometimes go against what they feel and instead rely on their reason. That’s particularly difficult when, as here, fear makes someone feel that their reason is under direct attack. This passage also introduces Maleldil, who appears to be a god figure.
Lewis finally reaches Ransom’s cottage, but he sees no sign of Ransom. Feeling a heavy reluctance and an almost tangible sense of resistance, he fights his way to the door. On the knocker he finds a note from Ransom, explaining that he had been called up to Cambridge and won’t return until the late train. Lewis again feels the urge to flee but recoils from the thought of retracing his journey, and despite his fears, he doesn’t want to let his friend down. He enters the unlocked cottage.
Lewis is victorious over the fear that’s dogged him during his entire journey, even when Ransom isn’t there to welcome him. Ultimately, his triumph comes down to his desire to support his friend—suggesting that, sometimes, overcoming fear is not simply a matter of rationality but of acting on the basis of time-tested loyalties despite one’s misgivings.
Inside, Lewis promptly trips over something. Unable to keep a match lit, he gropes his way around the smooth, cold object, unable to determine what it is. Then he thinks he hears Ransom’s voice, but it doesn’t exactly sound human; it sounds more like a musical instrument, or somehow like light itself, and the sound thrills Lewis. He also sees a faint pillar of light, whose color he is unable to describe. Lewis is certain he is seeing the Oyarsa of Malacandra, the ruler of Mars.
Lewis’s fearful sense of the unknown persists, as his senses are disoriented by the intrusion of completely alien sights and sounds. Eldils, it seems, don’t operate according to human expectations. He also encounters his biggest fear, meeting an actual eldil.
Lewis’s earlier fears about the eldils and about Ransom fade, but he’s still uneasy. He senses that the creature in the cottage is “good,” yet somehow its “goodness” unnerves him. He feels helpless in its presence and suddenly realizes that he’s been “drawn in,” as he feared—yet, now that the struggle is over, he feels relief. Just then, Ransom appears in the door and speaks with the pillar of light in a strange language. Lewis feels a flash of jealousy and resentment at this, but he just greets Ransom, saying, “Thank God you’ve come.”
Later, on the planet Perelandra, Ransom will encounter a deeper kind of goodness than any he knew on Earth. Here, Lewis gets a hint of such an unsettling goodness—a goodness that’s confrontational and irresistible all at the same time. Without even consciously deciding to, he finds that he’s yielded to that goodness. Ransom’s friendliness with the eldil makes Lewis envious, which is the novel’s first suggestion that wickedness lingers in human beings.