Some tasks are more pleasant and gratifying than others, to be sure. One of the tasks that I enjoy is developing courses for adult education at my church. And when I can develop a new one on a C. S. Lewis topic, I do it with relish.
That’s definitely the case with the latest course. After developing and teaching “The Screwtape Letters,” “Mere Christianity,” “The Chronicles of Narnia,” and “C. S. Lewis on Life, Death, and Eternity,” I now have the privilege to work on his Ransom Trilogy: Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength.
I have to admit that, of the three, I previously considered Out of the Silent Planet as the weakest, albeit “weak” by comparison with the other two. One’s opinion of a book can change, though, especially when one spends a significant amount of time studying the background and themes. Add to that an author’s superb style in writing, and appreciation can grow. That’s what has happened as I’ve now completed development of the trilogy’s first book. The Silent Planet is silent no longer.
What I once thought of as a nice story and a first attempt at science fiction/fantasy, I now consider a masterful response to a modern trend that concerned Lewis. In this book, he wasn’t just telling a fine story with memorable characters; he was, in fact, and in an entertaining way, warning readers about a worldview that was arrogant, callous, and ultimately destructive of our very humanity.
While the idea of writing such a book was the result of a commitment Lewis made with J.R.R. Tolkien, the fascination with science fiction and fantasy had been with him since childhood. In his autobiography, Surprised by Joy, he explained,
The mature Lewis was then able to channel that “ravenous” interest into something productive:
Lewis’s conversion to Christian faith allowed him to chart a different course than the typical science fiction writer. He could tame what for many is practically an obsession by letting his faith direct his “genuinely imaginative impulse.” Other writers of this genre lacked the Christian worldview; some actively substituted what Lewis believed was a destructive ideology. In a letter to his friend, Sister Penelope, a member of an Anglican religious order, Lewis revealed the impetus behind the book:
An ideology that looked forward to colonizing other planets and conferring a type of godhood on the human race in general was a chilling prospect to Lewis. It was a false religion and a rival to Christian truth, leading many astray spiritually. He hoped, through a good story, to communicate truth in a more subtle and appealing manner. He was somewhat disappointed, though, that many missed one of his subtle hints at truth:
Yet he was undeterred in his desire to accomplish the goal.
Typically, he played down his own talent and hoped someone else would come along to aid in the quest. Yet, from our perspective decades later, we see in Lewis an effective communicator of truth via imaginative fiction. The theology contained in his works has been “smuggled into people’s minds” and has borne much fruit.
I’ve now begun the development of Perelandra and fully expect my appreciation for the second book of the trilogy to deepen in much the same way as Out of the Silent Planet has. The course is scheduled for September-December. I’m going to have a busy summer—but a delightful one as well.