The Silent Planet


Out of the Silent Planet was Lewis’s first attempt to use the tool of a novel to try to convey to an audience something of his ‘almost-felt, wholly imagined’ transition from the ordinary world to one centred upon the divine. By using the contemporary device of a space journey, in the popularly accepted sub-genre of science fiction, Lewis thought he could pretend to take readers outside the orbit of the Moon and show them, ‘first-hand’, what it might be like. By making this use of a science fiction novel an explicit piece of apparatus in the story itself, ‘concocted’ by a ‘real’ Ransom and Lewis the author as a means of warning readers about the ‘truth’, we see how this was positioned for Lewis himself: it was a serious matter. He would try any literary mechanism to try to bring about some kind of realisation in an audience that what he was talking about was ‘true’ in an objective sense. Soon, he would use children’s literature to attempt the same thing, but for now, he had two sequels to write.

Before we can appreciate the second in the trilogy, though, it would help to clarify exactly what Lewis felt he was moving from, and towards. What exactly was happening culturally around Lewis that urged him to make his Dantean argument so passionately?

There are four basic genres in fiction - Epic, Tragedy, Irony and Comedy - and each of these is paralleled in cultural terms. In other words, it is possible in examining any piece of literature, to spot certain shapes, sequences and traits which identify what sort of story it is; and it is possible to see the same kind of shapes, sequences and traits in societies over periods of time in terms of cultural trends, motifs or expectations.

‘Genre’ as a word can be misleading: category, classification, categorisation, grouping, set, type, sort, or kind could probably also be used successfully. But what we are talking about is fairly simple and falls into four broad sets:

• The set of expectations involving a somewhat-sane protagonist who moves through a relatively ordered world to confront and ultimately triumph over an antagonist. Most stories fall into this grouping.

• The set of expectations involving a more and more insane protagonist, gradually ruined by his or her character flaws, who moves through a relatively ordered world but who, due to a growing internal imbalance, fails to triumph. This is the set of stories called ‘Tragedies’. Shakespeare’s Tragedies are the obvious examples.