Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Initial Thoughts on C. S. Lewis's 'Space Trilogy'

I'm presently reading C.S. Lewis's 'Space Trilogy', admittedly out of a sense of duty more than anything else. I got through Out of the Silent Planet and into the first few chapters of Perelandra during a week's retreat in Fiji whilst staying in a bure (traditional Fijian hut) on the side of jungle forested hill overlooking a lagoon and the south Pacific. Being cheap paperbacks, they were light enough to throw in the bag along with a collection of Lewis's essays and some other "paperback theology" without having to worry about excess baggage charges. With no TV, radio or reliable internet connection and a low pressure system bringing frequent showers - atypical for Fiji at that time of year - I got quite a bit of reading done!

I had previously gotten a third of the way through That Hideous Strength but gave up. Fiction is not my forte these days. I read quite a few of the modern classics in my twenties and enjoyed them greatly but as I've gotten older fiction, particularly fiction with metaphysical pretensions which, I've found, are rarely fulfilled, has come to seem an indulgence. Besides which, I've never particularly enjoyed science fiction. Thankfully, then, I found that in Out of the Silent Planet Lewis is a good enough writer to keep me engaged, even if I found it hard to suspend disbelief in the extended passages where he describes the landscape and inhabitants of Malacandra and consequently had to skip ahead looking for the next plot development.

Granted, Lewis wrote his trilogy before the 'space age' had begun, but with the knowledge even our very limited exploration of space has afforded us, Lewis's imagined Martian landscapes seem  outlandish (I note the informed speculation of scientists these days is that if any planets support advanced life forms they must be very like earth and their inhabitants consequently very much like us!). Reading the 'Space Trilogy' reminds of me of watching Dr Who; as a child I was enthralled with it (television, in black and white in those days, only began c. 3PM in the afternoon and consisted of BBC children's programs until Dr Who came on before the news) - but by the time I became a teenager it just seemed...well, silly.

Of course, Lewis's aspirations in his 'Space Trilogy' aim much higher than Dr Who, or indeed most science fiction. He writes not merely to entertain but with the purpose of setting forth a sort of Christian apologia to science fiction readers.That is certainly an admirable aim, but whether Lewis succeeds or not is the question. I suspect the genre of the science fiction novel cannot bear too much serious theological allegory. But I'm hoping Lewis  will prove that wrong by the time I finish the series,..       

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