Out of the Silent Planet Summary

C. S. Lewis

Out of the Silent Planet

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Out of the Silent Planet Summary

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Caught in a storm during a walk in the English countryside, Elwin Ransom seeks shelter at The Rise, a nearby house where, he is told, a professor lives. Ransom hopes the professor will allow him to stay the night out of collegiate feeling – Ransom is a researcher in philology at the University of Cambridge. When Ransom reaches the grounds of The Rise, he sees a young man being forced by two other men into a domed structure. Ransom makes his presence known, and the assailants unhand the young man. One of the assailants is Devine, an old schoolmate (though not a friend) of Ransom’s. The other man is Weston, a great physicist, Devine says.

After explaining away the incident with the young man, Devine invites Ransom inside the house. Ransom accepts some whiskey from Devine, and passes out – the drink has been drugged. Regaining consciousness, Ransom finds himself in a dark room with a skylight filled with stars. Weston enters the room and tells him they are in a spaceship on course for the planet Malacandra, which is inhabited by creatures intelligent enough to have their own language. Ransom overhears Weston and Devine, who is also on board, discussing a plan to offer him, possibly as a sacrifice, to creatures called sorn once the spaceship arrives at Malacandra.

After the spaceship has landed, the three men set up camp by a lake. During a break for lunch, they notice several sorn on the opposite bank. The creatures, “stalky, flexible-looking distortions of earthly bipeds,” terrify Ransom. Just after seeing the sorn, a beast in the water attacks the men, and Ransom uses the ensuing confusion to escape. Alone in the wilderness of Malacandra, Ransom notes the differences between this world and his own: there is a “perpendicular theme [to] beast and plant and earth” – everything is elongated. Eventually, Ransom comes across a hross, a creature with the rationality of a human. The hross, whose name is Hyoi, leads Ransom to his village, where he is welcomed by the hrossa (the plural of hross).

Ransom stays with the hrossa for several months, learning their language and culture, of which song is an important part. Malacandra, the hrossa tell him, is home to three rational species: the hrossa, the pfifltriggi, and the séroni (the plural of sorn). The pfifltriggi are skilled craftsmen, especially in “sun’s blood,” or gold, which seems to be abundant in Malacandra. Ransom realises that this abundance of gold is what has drawn Devine to the planet. The sorn are said by the hrossa to have scientific (and possibly philosophical) knowledge. According to the hrossa, none of the three species has mastery over the others. Instead, they are all ruled by an entity called Oyarsa, who has “no death and no young.” However, Oyarsa did not make Malacandra – the world was created by a godlike entity called Maleldil.

Ransom accompanies the hrossa on a hunt for the beast that attacked the humans. On the way, Ransom, Hyoi, and Whin, another hross, are visited by an eldil, a type of spirit familiar to the hrossa. The eldil tells them that bad men are coming after Ransom; if they find him when he is not in the presence of Oyarsa, evil will come to pass. Ransom convinces Hyoi and Whin that they should continue with the hunt before he sets out for Meldilorn, Oyarsa’s seat. Hyoi kills the beast, but is himself killed by a rifle shot, apparently from Weston or Devine – although neither shows himself. Whin instructs Ransom to cross the mountains and seek the tower of Augray, who will help him get to Oyarsa. After a strenuous journey, Ransom reaches Augray’s tower, only to find that Augray is a sorn.

Far from being terrifying, Augray is kindly and hospitable, offering Ransom food and shelter. Augray answers Ransom’s questions about Oyarsa, explaining that Oyarsa is “the greatest of eldila [the plural of eldil],” who was made ruler of Malacandra when the planet was created. The next day, Augray and Ransom begin the journey to Meldilorn, with the sorn carrying the human on his back. They stop off to visit an important sorn scientist, who tells Ransom that other worlds have their own Oyarsas, that the different Oyarsas talk to each other, and that Maleldil rules them all. At Meldilorn, Ransom is left to his own devices as he waits for his audience with Oyarsa. On studying a stone carved with a representation of the solar system, Ransom realises that Malacandra is Mars.

Finally, Ransom is called into Oyarsa’s presence. The entity explains that in capturing Ransom, Devine and Weston were technically acting on his orders, but in a way he cannot condone. The humans mistakenly assumed that Oyarsa demanded a sacrifice from their kind; in fact, he wanted only to learn from a human about humankind’s purpose on Malacandra, and the state of Earth. In Malacandra, Earth is known as Thulcandra, “the silent planet,” as it has been isolated from the heavenly community since a wicked and rebellious Oyarsa was imprisoned there by Maleldil following a great war.

Devine and Weston are brought before Oyarsa by a procession of hrossa carrying three biers. On the biers are the corpses of the hrossa killed by Weston and Devine. Asked to explain his actions, Weston makes an overblown speech justifying his wish to see man colonise planet after planet to ensure the continuity of the human race. Translating, Ransom puts this far more succinctly, exposing the emptiness of Weston’s rhetoric. Oyarsa points out that Weston is loyal only to “the seed” of man, and not to man’s body, which is subject to change, or man’s mind, the rationality of which can be seen in other species. Weston is unable to give a clear reason why the seed of man should be promoted at the expense of other races.

Oyarsa orders Weston and Devine to leave the planet. He is unable to exact any further punishment, as his authority does not extend to inhabitants of other worlds. As a safeguard against their returning, Oyarsa ensures that the spaceship will disintegrate after ninety days of travel. Ransom is allowed to stay on Malacandra, but decides to return to Earth on the spaceship, promising Oyarsa that he will try to prevent Weston and Devine from doing further evil. On their journey home, Ransom is watched over by eldila.

In the last chapter of Out of the Silent Planet, the narrator reveals that he is the only person whom Ransom has told about his adventure in Malacandra. With Ransom’s co-operation, the narrator has written an account of that adventure, as both consider it important to make the public aware of the cosmic struggle in which Ransom has found himself. It was Ransom’s idea that the story should be presented as fiction, the narrator says, as few readers would accept it as fact.

Out of the Silent Planet is the first of C. S. Lewis’s science fiction trilogy, succeeded by Perelandra and That Hideous Strength. There are clear parallels between the story of the rebellious Oyarsa and Satan’s fall (and Malacandra looks very much like a prelapsarian Earth). However, as with the Chronicles of Narnia, Out of the Silent Planet is not simply Bible-as-fantasy. Other important themes in the text include the illogic and brutality of colonialism, man’s unwillingness to see himself as a part of nature, and his (and by extension, science fiction’s) tendency to see other worlds as wastelands and their inhabitants as monsters.