Out of the Silent Planet is the first of three books that tell the story of Elwin Ransom. In the second book, Perelandra (1943), Ransom is transported to Venus, where he prevents the king and queen of that world from falling to temptation. In the third book, That Hideous Strength (1945), the focus shifts to Earth, where a team of scientists threaten England. In Out of the Silent Planet, C. S. Lewis writes a fairly straightforward narrative. What gives the book its unusual power is its mythic quality. The complexity of the Martian cultures, the sensitivity of the description, and the themes of courage, friendship, and charity all combine to create a cosmic vision that is moving, poetic, and uniquely beautiful.
Lewis intends his space trilogy to be a criticism of typical space operas and an answer to the scientific materialism of writers such as H. G. Wells, Olaf Stapledon, and J. B. S. Haldane. Lewis mocks science-fiction conventions—such as aliens that are insects or bug-eyed monsters, the need for page after page of pseudoscientific explanation, and constant conflict and adventure. Lewis addresses each of these conventions by contrasting Ransom’s expectations with the reality he finds on Malacandra. Ransom expects cold, dark space; instead, as he travels he is flooded with light, “totally immersed in a bath of pure ethereal colour and of unrelenting though unwounding brightness.” Ransom expects Martians to be...
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Downing, David C. Planets in Peril: A Critical Study of C. S. Lewis’s Ransom Trilogy. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1992. The only book-length study of the space trilogy. Exceptionally insightful, helpful, and complete. Begins with a discussion of Lewis’ life, showing how Lewis’ values and Christian faith influenced these books.
Gibson, Evan K. C. S. Lewis: Spinner of Tales: A Guide to His Fiction. Washington, D.C.: Christian University Press, 1980. Out of the Silent Planet receives a rather brief chapter; a good introduction to Lewis’ fiction.
Howard, Thomas. C. S. Lewis: Man of Letters: A Reading of His Fiction. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1987. Contains a lengthy chapter about Out of the Silent Planet. A highly personal and energetic discussion.
Manlove, Colin N. C. S. Lewis: His Literary Achievement. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1987. Analyzes each of Lewis’ novels, with careful attention to the underlying themes of each.
Walsh, Chad. The Literary Legacy of C. S. Lewis. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1979. Evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of Lewis’ works, concluding that Lewis’ best work is his fiction. Praises Lewis’ ability to combine great literary skill with a distinctly Christian worldview.