Lewis’s Cosmic Trilogy: Out of the Silent Planet and the Angelic

David Russell Mosley

St Monica’s Day 2014
The Edge of Elfland
Mapperley Park, Nottingham

Dear Friends and Family,

A few weeks ago I finished, for about the fourth or fifth time, reading C. S. Lewis’s Cosmic Trilogy. These unsung science-fiction novels from the creator of Narnia have captured my maturing imagination. These novels discuss themes of sin, perfection, incarnation, cosmology, evolution, marriage, gender, and more. If you haven’t read them, I hope you will after reading my panegyric of them.

The first thing that needs to be discussed is what to call these books as a set. Individually they are titled, Out of the Silent Planet (OSP), Perelandra: A Voyage to Venus (P), and That Hideous Strength: A Modern Fairy-Tale for Grown-Ups (THS). The two most common titles for the series are The Space Trilogy and The Ransom Trilogy. The first title is inappropriate because only the first two novels take us into space (before alighting us on Mars and Venus respectively). The second title is certainly more appropriate for each book tells us something about the Oxbridge-esque professor of philology Elwin Ransom. I’ll return to Ransom in a moment. While I find Ransom Trilogy a better collective title than Space Trilogy, I think Cosmic Trilogy a much better title.

Ransom appears in all three novels, but can only properly be called the primary protagonist of the first two novels. He is certainly a prominent figure in the final novel, but the protagonists are primarily the divided married couple Mark Studdock and Jane Studdock neé Tudor. However, each novel, whether in space/distant planets or our own as THS does, there is an undeniably cosmic theme in each novel. What Lewis is primarily presenting to us in The Cosmic Trilogy is the notion of a Cosmic (that is a created, ordered, and oriented toward a given end universe).

In OSP we are introduced to Elwin Ransom, an academic out on a walking holiday (something only possible when both homes and pubs were open to hikers, and the land was free to be walked upon), who stumbles on an old Cambridge enemy and his new partner (Richard Devine), a physicist of some renown (Dr Weston). Ransom, whose forename means elf-friend, is then drugged and shanghaied. The evil duo take him aboard their space ship in order to take him to be sacrificed, or so they assume, to the god of Malacandra, the natives’ name for Mars. As Ransom awakes on the spaceship, he is given an impression that space is the wrong name for the beauty in which the planets and stars swim. It is alive, not dead. Throughout Ransom’s adventures on Malacandra he introduced not simply to native inhabitants of Malacandra, but also creatures who can be said to be there and not there, creatures called eldila. On Mars, Ransom is introduced to two kinds of eldila (all of which have only a vague appearance to his human eyes, something akin more to light itself than anything else). The first kind are messengers, they bring announcements and summonses. The other kind of eldil Ransom meets has only one member on Malacandra. It is the chief, not simply of the other Martian eldila, but of the planets inhabitants, rational and irrational. What’s more this eldil, also called Oyarsa, governs the very movement of the planet itself. This goes back to the pagan notion of the planets being the gods to a certain extent, and the Christian notion that the planets have souls. In a thomistic/aristotelian kind of way, the oyarsa of Malacandra is the moving force and will behind the planet. However, unlike our souls, the oyarsa is not bound to the planet in the way our souls are knit into our bodies.

Lewis’s harkening back to this medieval understanding of the cosmos, is what draws me into these books more than anything else. The universe is alive; the spirits and other ethereal creatures that the Scriptures and the Tradition have told us are there are made present in Lewis’s depiction of the universe. What Lewis gives us is a universe that takes seriously the reality of angels (he does much more than this as well in his depiction of rational terrestrial, or in this case, Martian, who are impacted by what has happened on Earth). I will do some follow-up posts on this trilogy, focusing on the other two books. There are many intriguing features of Lewis’s Cosmic Trilogy. What I have focused on and will focus on in the follow up posts, however, is the cosmic and angelic.

If you have any questions or points you wish raise, please do. I will respond either individually or with a new letter.

Sincerely yours,

Moving Countries, Cancer, Thesis Updates, and New Letters

David Russell Mosley

22 August 2014
On the Edge of Elfland
Mapperley Park, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

First, let me say, sorry for the silence. I’ve posted a few times on our Caring Bridge site, but not much has been happening there either. Since my last letter (my vision of angels) here, we have said goodbye to Lauren’s mother; shipped all our belongings to America; moved in with a couple from our church (who are now on vacation); and generally just tried to stay afloat.

Edwyn is doing really well. We still don’t know what the second round of chemotherapy has done for him, but we’ll hopefully find out soon.

Because of the events of the last few months, not only have I not blogged, but I haven’t done any work on my thesis (other than importing all into Scrivener). My thesis was originally meant to be submitted by the end of next month. Thankfully, given that I’ve spent two months without working on it, I have a six month extension. This means I have until the end of March to submit it. On that front, I am and will be looking for people who might interest in reading my thesis. My eyes are far too accustomed to it to see some of the mistakes (or most of them). Therefore, if you’re interested in copyediting, reading it to comment on the content/argument, or for the fun of it, let me know (elflandletters@gmail.com).

In the midst of cancer and moving out of our house in Beeston, we are now preparing to move back to the United States by the end of the month. I am incredibly sad about moving. I can’t wait to see our friends and family, and have them meet our boys. Still, I love living here and really don’t want to stop. I’ll do a post in the near future about moving.

Which leads me to the final point of this letter: upcoming topics.

Matt Moser over at Christ and University has done a post on The Setting of Learning where he discusses the importance of place in education. I want to extend some of those ideas to worship as well.

I also want to write some letters on things I’ll miss about England. Once we get back, I’ll probably do some about the transition, and things I like about living in the USA.

I’ve recently finished a re-read of Lewis’s Cosmic Trilogy, and so I will be writing a few letters about that.

I’m sure more will occasion themselves as life is lived and we move. Also, I can probably guarantee that I won’t get to all of the above either. Still, I’ll do my best.

Thanks for putting up with my ramblings. I’ll write again soon.