For years I’d heard about C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy and had considered it with apprehension. I am not a great reader of science fiction, but I had difficulty anticipating how Lewis’s work might compare with Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game series, books that I had greatly enjoyed. My apprehension, as I discovered this summer, was ill founded. Not only do Lewis’s books – Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength – exemplify the best of the science fiction genre, in my opinion they are some of Lewis’s most profound books, period.
The series follows a professor of linguistics, Dr. Ransom, who is aptly named for the Christ-like role he plays in the stories. When we first meet him in Silent Planet, Ransom is being kidnapped by ambitious scientists, who take him to Mars aboard their space ship. His kidnappers have established contact with the Martians, whom they believe require a human sacrifice to their gods in exchange for gold that the men desire. When Ransom escapes, he discovers that the Martians are not interested in killing him nor anyone, being an intelligent race that has never suffered the Fall.
As Ransom learns about these creatures, his eyes are opened to the reality of a cosmic warfare of apocalyptic scale. Though he initially sees the Martians as simple, he comes to realize that humans are the true savages. Earth has fallen silent in the midst of the music of the spheres, and all the heavenly hosts are preparing for cosmic battle against its dark ruler.
While these books are truly science fiction – they imagine a technologically advanced society and the moral challenges faced by such advances – they are also, in a sense, medieval. By localizing angelic beings in space and within particular planets, Lewis draws upon medieval theology, notably Dante’s Paradiso, which itself drew upon Classical Greek philosophers such as Plato. And by blatantly linking the technologic with the demonic in That Hideous Strength, Lewis attempts to remove the veil from our modern eyes that allows us to only see the material rather that the full reality of the world around us.
With a gripping narrative, profound theology, and important questions regarding technology and modern life, C. S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy is a must-read. And while some aspects may seem silly, now more than 50 years after these books were written, the questions regarding how Christians ought to use technology and how we ought to engage with a technology-crazed society are more relevant than ever.
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