The Space Trilogy: A Review
It may seem strange that I am writing a review of The Space Trilogy, by C. S. Lewis. It's a review of a trilogy instead of just one book. It's fiction (scientifiction, even!) instead of heavy propositional theology. What does this have to do with the Reformation Theology blog? It will probably take me the whole review to be able to answer that one (if I can).
I grew up loving to read science fiction and fantasy like The Chronicles of Narnia. I read them over and over again, even though I wasn't a Christian and had no idea about the great symbolism involved. But I hadn't read The Space Trilogy. There may have been one time I tried, but it was beyond me. It's definitely for adults with good vocabularies, preferably with some knowledge of latin, the classics, and ancient mythologies. And for those who know the Gospel well.
It may be difficult for me to boil down the content of the whole trilogy in a review and keep it of readable length, but here goes!
The first book, Out of the Silent Planet, introduces the hero of the trilogy, Dr. Ransom. He is naped by evildoers Weston and Devine, and taken to another planet ("Malacandra," or Mars). Once there, Ransom escapes his captors, meets the various good inhabitants of the planet, and is eventually brought before the Oyarsa (head "eldil," or angel) who has been set in charge over the planet by Maleldil the Young (God, the Son), who dwells with the Old One (God, the Father). Ransom finds out that there is healthy communication between angels of different planets, except for his own planet, Thulcandra (the Silent Planet, or Earth). Long ago the chief angel of Earth went bad, and all communication was cut off, until Maleldil became a man and went down there (things which angels long to look into). Ransom's captors do some bad stuff, and they all get booted off the planet by the Oyarsa to protect his people.
The second book, Perelandra, sees Ransom taken by the Oyarsa of Malacandra to Perelandra (Venus), where he is an active participant in the establishment of a sinless race of humanity. Shortly after he meets the Woman, who had been separated from the Man, he sees Weston (the main bad guy from the first story) come to the planet in his spaceship. They meet up, Weston begins long conversations with the lady, trying to get her to do something that Maleldil had forbidden. Ransom soon realizes that Weston has been fully possessed by the evil angel of Earth. His job is to stop the temptation of the Woman, and conquer the devil-Weston (which is only possible, mind you, since Maleldil came to Earth as a man). When words fail, there's a big brawl, and when he has finally won, Ransom finds he has sustained an incurable wound on his heel from where the devil-Weston bit him. Ransom then recovers, meets the angels of Mars and Venus, and the First Couple. Happy ending, mission accomplished, and he returns to Earth.
The third book, That Hideous Strength, shifts the main focus from the perpetually-wounded Ransom (who is still a major character), to a young married couple in England who get caught up in a conspiracy and counter-conspiracy that will decide the fate of England. Mark, a man-fearing professor, falls in with the wrong crowd in his efforts to please. The N.I.C.E. (National Institute of Co-ordinated Experiments) is a secretive group of inner circles within circles, and Mark feels tempted to climb his way further up and further in. But he grows increasingly uncomfortable as he discovers more of their plans, which include setting up their own local government, doing away with "the little guy," and eventually sterilizing the planet of all useless organic life (like you and me). Mark's wife, Jane, falls in with the right crowd, Ransom and friends, as they try to figure out what's going on and what to do about it. LONG story short, the good angels from other planets come and help the small band of good guys, and in the process Mark and Jane both become Christians (independent of one another, as they hardly see each other throughout the book), and it's implied that they live happily ever after. Oh yeah, and Ransom gets to go back to Venus and be healed and stuff.
Each of the books can stand on its own as a work of literature, especially Perelandra (everybody's favorite). The content is brilliantâ€”if there really were life on other planets, AND Christianity is true, then my money's on Lewis' vision. The improbable aside, he weaves together majestically the more mysterious parts of the Gospel and mythologies to come up with an interplanetary version of Christ's redemption.
My favorite part about these books, though, is Lewis' ability to describe. He makes transparent what real people would think in situations like these. As you read about Mark's ongoing capitulation to the N.I.C.E., you can't help but feel frustrated, but also that you'd do the same thing in his place. And when you see the light slowly begin to break in on him, and see him wrestle against going back to the old Mark, even when he doesn't really know what the new Mark is, you're amazed at the clarity with which Lewis paints his characters, and you're drawn to worship God who has worked the same work in your life that you see beginning in Mark's.
In Perelandra, as Ransom witnesses the temptation of the Woman by Weston, you see some strong arguments come from the devil's mouth that surely have footholds in today's culture. And then you see the "sinless" response of the Woman, and the struggle that Ransom has, as a sinner, to respond without condemning himself further. This interaction, and all of the rest throughout the trilogy, are masterfully wrought by Lewis, and inspired me to honesty and humility and dependence on God in ways that no heavy theology text has been able to do. Lewis knew well what fiction is for, and he uses it supremely to capture the affections of his readers, to instill desires for greater virtues, and to give us a grander, more sweeping vision of the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
I heartily recommend these (and any other) books by Lewis, as long as you promise not to take fiction for non-fiction, and to read with your mind engaged (because in any book there's some discerning sifting to be done).