C.S. Lewis’ other great fantastical series was for adult science fiction fans, rather than young fantasy lovers. It originated in an ongoing discussion Lewis had with his great friend (and purported converter) J.R.R. Tolkien, wherein they lamented the sorry state of the pulp novel. The Space Trilogy is Lewis’ attempt to redeem pulp science fiction. It stands out as one of the few attempts to bring a traditional Christian worldview into the science fiction paradigm.
The books do not follow the traditional path of a trilogy: the first book, Out of the Silent Planet, introduces the protagonist of the first two novels, Dr. Elwin Ransom, a linguist and scholar perhaps based on Tolkien or Lewis himself, and the idea that is the antagonist of all three novels: scientism, defined as the exact opposite of a faith-based worldview, the reliance on false science that is always closely undergirded by devil-worship. Scientism in the modern era springs from the denial of God. From it, as we know, arose the evolutionist “creation myth,” the Big Bang, the dehumanizing evolutionist gospels of man rising from animal, and even an evolutionist eschaton, wherein man perishes for consuming too many of Earth’s resources.
The adherents of this view, whether demoniacs or simply misled, are the antagonists of the Space Trilogy.
Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra are not, perhaps, great novels. They are enjoyable and thought-provoking, but best of all, they provide a suitable foundation for That Hideous Strength, which is in my opinion the best book in the series.
Out of the Silent Planet portrays a tired old planet (Malacandra) that nonetheless resists the malevolent energy of the “Bent One” who rules Earth. It is the weakest book in the series because there is very little tension and only one moment of dramatic action. Lewis, unsatisfied, tried again. Perelandra, portrays a fresh and young planet and some of the tensest philosophical discussions I’ve ever seen in fiction. Basically, Perelandra is a SF retelling of the Fall of Man, except a redeemed man, Ransom, is present to act as advocate for the young Eve of Venus (Perelandra). In this book, Ransom realizes what must be done, and physically fights Weston, the Satan-possessed ambassador of the forces of evil, the new Serpent. This fight is the turning point of the series: not until words are abandoned in favor of fists is the true argument portrayed effectively.
The last book is much different. It takes place entirely in a ten-square-mile diameter around the humble university town of Edgestow, in the West Midlands, where the University of Edgestow is proud to become the host of the N.I.C.E. (National Institute of Coordinated Experiments), the Orwellian organization of scientists with universe-conquering aims. The “Bent One,” repulsed on Malacandra and Perelandra, makes a serious sally against the believing rebels in his own territory of Earth.
The protagonists are Mark and Jane Studdock, a young modern, secular married couple who take very different paths. Mark becomes entangled in the N.I.C.E. as it takes over the town of Edgestow and quickly becomes more demonic. Jane discovers that she is a “seer,” and falls in with the right crowd, none other than Dr. Ransom (known, interestingly, as the Pendragon) and his associates.
The twist in the book comes when Merlin is brought back to life. Which side do Merlin and his magic fall into? Read the book and see.
That Hideous Strength is still relevant, and it still hits hard. Today as much as in Lewis’ time, scientism is alive and well. Lewis took that train of thought to its antitheist conclusions. It may seem radical, but it’s all too true: all truth is God’s, and all falsity belongs to His enemies. Anyone who clings to falsity will find himself consorting with the Father of Lies. There is a line that most atheists don’t cross: the line between natural antitheism and supernatural antitheism. Lewis shows that it is a faint line indeed.
The Space Trilogy is rewarding for almost everyone. Guys can profit especially from the portrayals of Mark Studdock and Ransom in the 3rd book, where the frightening weaknesses of a “modern” marriage are highlighted and Ransom shows Jane, and through her, Mark, the right course of a marriage.
Traveling into Lewis’ fantasy universes is almost always a good step toward better understanding our own fantastical universe and the greatest science fiction author in history: He who created authors, science, and fiction.