After Till We Have Faces, I’ve been feeling… C.S.Lewis-y.
Poor Ransom! Caught up in an interstellar mission without training or consent! Is a philologist or linguist even an acceptable person for the job?
Apparently, he is.
What happens when a philologist is taken captive by a mad physicists and an old, forgotten nemesis to Malacandra? Well, he would escape at his first opportunity, but then gets hopelessly lost in an alien planet filled with alien ecosystems and, well, aliens. Fear drives him mad and desperation to risk gulping the strangely warm river. He wanders and stumbles upon an alien—something that looks like an oversized bear-duck-penguin. He then hears with his philologically trained ears something akin to language. The thing is intelligent and, perhaps, not just rational but compassionate. He braves a first contact. The alien gestures an offering of drink—later he would learn that it is customary to share drink upon first meeting. And for the next months, he would live with Hyoi and among the Hrossa. He would learn the language and way of life. He would communicate and connect with aliens.
Ransom’s journey through Malacandra is a literary treat with theological depth. Simple conversations between Ransom and Hyoi are thick with insight. Ransom is baffled by the Hrossa restrained sexuality: why not savor its pleasures continually? Hyoi equally baffled responds: why can’t I savor the memory of the pleasure? Why think that memory is something less than the moment of pleasure? Why can’t pleasure be extended to memory?
When Ransom tried to explain something akin to sin or evil, which there was no word for in Hrossa language, Hyoi responded with “bent.” A “bent” hnau, or sentient being, is the closest thing to a sinful or evil human. Just let that simple word choice sink in. Something that is bent is not aright with oneself and others—there’s dissonance and harmony interrupted. But something bent can be set aright. I wonder, however, why Lewis did not use “broken” instead of “bent.” Maybe to still create distance between Malacandra and our world.
The only negative thing about Out of the Silent Planet is that it is woefully short, something that J.R.R. Tolkien said—unsurprisingly. The Malacandran world is textured with diverse life. The Hrossa are known for poetry and song but also seafaring ways. The Sorns, creatures with long faces and long limbs, are known for philosophy but also for cold cave-homes. The Pfifltriggi, small dwarf-like beings, are known for mining and craftsmanship but also being easily bored. Most of the book focus on Ransom’s interactions with the Hrossa, so the others are only given broad strokes.
Fun fact: Ransom is J.R.R. Tolkien—also professor of linguistics—in the Space Trilogy, just like how he is the Uncle in Narnia.