Saturday, March 19, 2011

Out of the Silent Planet

This post is part of the C.S. Lewis book club hosted at the Quiet Quill - stop by there to read other discussions on this book. Next month we'll be discussing the sequel, Perelandra.

Given that Out of the Silent Planet came out in the 1930's, I think it is a spectacular SF book. No one does descriptions like C.S. Lewis to make you feel as if you are actually there, on another planet; a masterful blend of up-close details and broad-scale views. His spaceship and description of space travel are fascinating, too.

Here's a quote that embodies Lewis' way of turning your pre-conceived, earth-bound views inside out - we conceive space as darkness and void but Lewis painted as them as brilliance and life:
He wondered how he ever could have thought of planets, even of the Earth, as islands of life and reality floating in a deadly void. Now, with a certainty which never after deserted him, he saw the planets - the 'earths' he called them in his thought - as mere holes or gaps in the living heaven - excluded and rejected wastes of heavy matter and murky air, formed not by addition to, but subtraction from, the surrounding brightness.

And yet, he thought, beyond the solar system the brightness ends. Is that the real void, the real death? Unless... he groped for the idea... unless visible light is also a hole or gap, a mere diminuation of something else. Something that is to bright unchanging heaven as heaven is to the dark, heavy earths.... Things do not always happen as a man would expect. The moment of his arrival in an unknown world found Ransom wholly absorbed in a philosophical speculation.
Let me pick out the crux of that last paragraph:

unless visible light is also a hole or gap, a mere diminuation of something else

Shivers up my spine! I think he's hinting about God.

The planet Malacandra has three very distinct intelligent species that live in peace under one all-powerful (but not tyrannical) ruler, a Christian allegory for the Kingdom of God. There's a little bit of subtle satire that pops up here and there in the book. For instance, here's Ransom trying to describe the alien culture before he really understands it - he's actually describing human culture:
It would be a strange but not an inconceivable world; herosim and poetry at the bottom, cold scientific intellect above it, and overtopping all some dark superstition which scientific intellect, helpless against the revenge of the emotional depths it had ignored, had neither will nor power to remove.
The height of satire is at the end of the book, the famous conversation where Ransom (who is a philologist, a studier of languages) acts as translator between the other two humans and the ruler of Malacandra. (Check out Wikipedia's article about the book for great discussion of that conversation).

The satire had me smiling, as well as other conversations between Ransom and the aliens where they are trying to figure each other out - both sides are respectful, but delightfully perplexed.

Here's a scene where one of the natives is trying to describe the eldil, a fleeting being that is allegorical to angels, to Ransom:
Ransom tried to give the sorn some idea of the terrestrial terminology of solids, liquids and gases. It listened with great attention.

"That is not the way to say it," it replied. "Body is movement. If it is at one speed, you smell somehting; if at another, you hear a sound; if at another you see a sight; if at another, you neither see nor hear nor smell, nor know the body in any way. But mark this, Small One, that the two ends meet."

"How do you mean?"

"If movement is faster, then that which moves is more nearly in two places at once.... But if the movement were faster still - it is difficult, for you do not know many words - you see that if you made it faster and faster, in the end the moving thng would be in all places at once, Small One.

"...The swiftest thing that touches our sense is light. We do not truly see light, we only see slower things lit by it, so that for us light is on the edge - the last thing we know before things become too swift for us. But the body of an eldil is a movement swift as light; you may say its body is made of light, but not that which is light for the eldil. His "light" is a swfter movement which for us is nothing at all; and what we call light is for him a thing like water, a visible thing, a thing he can touch and bathe in - even a dark thing when not illumined by the swifter. And what we call firm things - flesh and earth - seem to him thinner, and harder to see, than our light, and more like clouds, and nearly nothing.

"To us the eldil is a thin, half-real body that can go through walls and rocks: to himself he goes through them because he is solid and firm and they are like cloud. And what is true light to him and fills the heaven, so that he will plunge into the rays of the sun to refresh himself from it, is to us the black nothing in the sky at night. These things are not strange, Small One, though they are beyond our senses."
I was particularly fascinated about how the alien ruler, Oyarsa, calls the human visitors from earth "bent" - the closest word the aliens have for selfish or greedy (Ransom's companions have kidnapped him to make an "offering" to pacify the aliens; they have come not to study the planet but to exploit it for gold).

Here's a conversation between Ransom and Oyarsa that tells of an epic galatic (and spiritual war) that isn't hard to place with its Biblical equivalent. (Here  is also where the term "the silent planet" comes from).
"Thulcandra [Earth] is the world we do not know. It alone is outside heaven, and no message comes from it."

Ransom was silent, but Oyarsa answered his unspoken questions.

"It was not always so. Once we knew the Oyarsa of your world - he was brighter and greater than I - and then we did not call it Thulcandra [their name for Earth]. It is the longest of all stories and the bitterest. He became bent. That was before any life came on your world. Those were the Bent Years of whcih we still speak in the heavens, when he was not yet bound to Thulcandra but free like us. It was in his mind to spoil other worlds besides his own. He smote your moon with his left hand and with his right he brought the cold death on my haranda [planet surface] before its time; if by my arm Maleldil [God] had not opened the handramits [deep canyons] and let out the hot springs, my world would have been unpeopled. We did not leave him so at large for long. There was a great war, and we drove him back out of the heavens and bound him in the air of his own world as Maleldil taught us. There doubtless he lies to this hour, and we know no more of that planet: it is silent. We think that Maleldil would not give up utterly to the Bent One [Satan] in Thulcandra. But of this we know less than you; it is a thing we desire to look into."

"I see now that the Lord of the silent world has bent you. There are laws that all hnau [humans and aliens] know, of pity and staight dealing and shame and the like, and one of these is the love of kindred. He has taught you to break all of them expect this one, which is not one of the greaest laws; this one he has bent till it becomes folly and has set it up, thus bent, to be a little blind Oyarsa [god] in your brain.... He has left you this one because a bent hnau can do more evil than a broken one. "
I kept expecting to find the allegorical reference to Christ, but I couldn't, which leaves me excited to see if the allegory of Christ's sacrifical death is covered in the next two books in the trilogy.

I don't think Oyarsa is a picture of Christ. The closest I could come to placing him was a ruling angel (eldil), though are several places, such as above, where it's infered that he's a god.

The ending where Ransom leaves the planet to return to earth - watching Malacandra grow smaller and the change of perspective - is just one of many vivid images/scenes that I'll remember for a long time

This is as far as my commentary goes; but I'm sticking a few more quotes in here at the end because I want to remember them.
"There must be rule, yet how can creatures rule themselves? Beasts must be ruled by hnau and hnau by eldila and eldia by Maleldil. These creatures have no eldila. They are like one trying to lift himself by his own hair--or one trying to see over a whole country when he is on a level with it--like a female trying to beget young on herself."
"But one thing we let behind us on the harandra: fear. And with fear, murder and rebellion. The weakest of my people does not fear death. It is the Bent One, the lord of your world, who wastes your lives and befouls them with flying from what you know will overtake you in the end [death]. If you were subjects of Maledil you would have peace."
 ... the stars, thick as daisies on an uncut lawn, reigned perpetually with no cloud, no moon, no sunrise to dispute their sway. There were planets of unbelievable majesty, and constellations undreamed of: there were celestial sapphires, rubies, emeralds and pin-pricks of burning gold; far out on the left of the picture hung a comet, tiny and remote: and between all and behind all, far more emphatic and palpable than it showed on Earth, the undimensioned, enigmatic blackness.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

1000 gifts: marching on

It's March, which makes the marching on through winter blues a little easier. We'll still have a lot of wintery weather here in Laramie through April, but the days are longer, and there will be more warmer days to count on. Meanwhile the Lord helps me see little gifts almost every day, blessings that I'm thanking him for:

212. Lego creations.
Blaze and Dreamer got creative with legos and created these "tractor cars" - Dreamer says hers can fly. I took the picture to send to their Grandma and Grandpa - Grandpa B. has a whole collection of toy tractors.

213. Praying on your knees.
My mom told me recently that she's been on her knees praying for my dad. His health is poor (Parkinson's) and he's depressed and hard to get along with. Seeing him slowly deteriorate has been hard on both of us, especially on her. But she's seeking God more.

214. Foster parents.
My friend Heather and her family are in the foster-parent program. Incredibly, a newborn baby was abandoned at the hospital. She and her husband had less than a day to decide about taking the baby, about living with the uncertainty of how long they'd get to keep him - or maybe even adopt him (they already have four kids). What an emotional roller coaster! But she told me that they both felt the Lord was calling them to do this. I cannot think of a better family for an abandoned baby to find love in. 

215. Listening for God's voice.
I have been trying to listen to God more, to hear his voice and direction as I read the Bible. I asked him what verse to memorize next for Beth Moore's scripture memory challenge, and he directed me to Isaiah 30:15 - it's so neat when you know, really clearly, that you've just got an answer to a question. "This is what the sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: 'In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.'"

216. Christian role-models.
I had to travel up to Casper to teach again, three days this time - too long! - but Nicole's parents, who live in Casper, invited me over for lunch, and that was a really nice refresher. I adore Nicole's mom. She is one of my examples of a great Christian woman.

217. Being content with what I have.
The second night in Casper I was sick of the hotel room so I went to the mall and browsed around. It was fun looking through all the cool electronic "toys" at Best Buy - the iPad, the laptops, netbooks, tablets, smart phones and high def TVs. But the really cool part? Not being tempted by any of them. Being able to say "I don't need any of these, my life is just fine with what I have." (not that I wouldn't turn down an iPad or an iTouch if someone offered me one!)

218. A friend checking up on me.
Also one of the nights I was gone, I got a Facebook message from Gretchen, a new friend at church who knows I'm struggling with depression and hadn't seen me at church that Sunday (it's easy to miss people, our church is getting that big) so she just wanted to check up on me. It was heartening to know that I was in her prayers and thoughts.

219. When something breaks so you can "hear" an important message.
On my drive back from Casper to Laramie (3 hours), my CD got stuck in the CD player, and then I couldn't find any good radio station to listen to. KLOVE is my station of choice, but it wasn't coming up, and the only other Christian station was playing really old-fashioned music (I like a couple songs, but I can't listen to choir songs for 3 hours). But then a preacher came on, a guy called Darrin Patrick, and gave this amazing message about experiencing God's will - it was so good I was riveted, and afraid that I'd lose the station (in the big empty spaces between towns in Wyoming, it's easy to lose cell coverage and radio signals). But the message played clear as a bell all the way through - only after it was over did the station finally fuzz out. So then I pressed the play button on the CD player and the CD started playing again, no problem. Almost makes you wonder if God had a little hand in that "coincidence"? Like he wanted me to hear that message. It was so good that when I got home I looked up Darrin Patrick on the internet and downloaded the message I'd heard and several others of his too. You can download his messages at

220. Homemade gifts.
When I got home my four girls were thrilled to see me. Blaze had made me a beaded bracelet with a clever beaded flower on it that she'd brainstormed herself. Dreamer was not to be outdone and made me bracelet too. The twins were all excited to show me their "bed." Starlet grabbed my hand and pulled me to my own bedroom - where I discovered that B. had put down a mattress next to our bed, so that between the two mattresses all four of them could sleep with him while I was gone. Of course they wanted to continue the sleeping arrangements, but they've learned momma is not quite as soft-hearted as daddy in that respect.

221. Writing progress
My work on my novel has been progressing - it's not been easy (the further I get along in the story, the harder it is to keep all the plot threads going) but I'm up to almost 75,000 words - I fell just a couple thousand short of my goal for March 1st, but I'm still really happy about my progress. One weekend I wrote 4200 words and the next I added another 4000. Being productive with my writing is a big mental "yay!" and a great defense against the blues. I was hoping to have the book finished by 75,000 words, it's going to be more like 85 or 90k at this point, but still - the end is in sight!

222. Old story, new twist
Also, speaking of my novel, I had a couple interesting ideas that I think will really help the plot of the book - make it more of "high concept" plot which many agents/editors are looking for these days. "High concept" is hard to define, but it's like putting a twist on a familiar situation. For instance, poor boy rubs a lamp and discovers a genie - we are all familiar with that story. But you add a new twist or dimension to it by asking a "what if" question. What if instead of a genie in the lamp, the boy (or the girl, in my case) finds two geniis in the lamp - two geniis that work at cross-purposes to fulfill the girl's wishes. Now my story doesn't actually have a lamp in it (I've made up something called a livingstone). No geniis in it either, but different magical beings. The situation is similar enough that audiences will relate to it - be reminded of Aladdin and his genii - but also be intrigued by a new twist on an old idea.

Well, that's the theory, at any rate.

223. Sharing ideas
N.L. is also working hard at her novel, and we are hoping to exchange them soon - in the meantime it's been fun bouncing ideas off each other, sharing my new ideas with her and hearing the new things she's coming up with for her story. She usually pops by the house at least once a week, and her visits always cheer my heart.

224. Truly seeing light
N.L. also never fails to find great quotes to send me via Facebook: we think this one is from C.S. Lewis' space trilogy, but not sure. It's still a beautiful image, and one that makes you wonder: "We do not truly see light, we only see slower things lit by it, so that for us light is on the edge—the last thing we know before things become too swift for us."

225. Twitter.
Yes, as if I don't waste enough time already online, blogging, looking up factoids on Wikipedia, checking Facebook and email, now I am twittering. It happened when I mentioned my March 1st writing goal on my writing blog, and another writer said, "I'm trying to reach my March 1st goal too. Let's twitter each other goals every week." So I started tweeting #writegoal and #weekendchallenge - and then picked up another writer looking for writing motivation along the way too. It's been such a help! (and not time-consuming. Well, not as bad as blogger and Facebook, at any rate).

226. Early is not always best.
"The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese." This isn't exactly a quote, but I saw this funny saying on an office door in the building where I work, and it was cute enough that it changed my perspective from another ho-hum day to a happy day.

227. Pooters.
The other night when I was checking email on my computer, Serious comes up to me and asks "are you working on your pooter?" I love her word for computer.

228. Favorite hymns.
A wonderful morning of worship and communion today at church. One of those days where I felt God was so close enough I could reach up my hand and touch the train of his robe. We sang two of my favorite hymns, "It Is Well With my Soul" and "The Love of God." Just have to share these wonderful lyrics from "The Love of God."

When hoary time shall pass away,

And earthly thrones and kingdoms fall,
When men who here refuse to pray,
On rocks and hills and mountains call,
God’s love so sure, shall still endure,
All measureless and strong;
Redeeming grace to Adam’s race—

Oh, love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure—
The saints’ and angels’ song.

Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.