One Dark Shadow Over Thulcandra

Earworms: Armageddon and Marionette Messiah from Super Robot Wars: Original Generation — Divine Wars.
Current Reads: none, taking a break
Watching: out for Code Geass 23
Breakfast: Honey golden Spam and whole wheat toast
Lunch: Luk Yuen’s taro puffs and beef brisket noodles
Dinner: none yet, probably pizza.

I finished C.S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength the day before, bringing to an end my experience of the Cosmic Trilogy. It was a struggle to read—but in the end I would like to think of the Cosmic Trilogy as more of a test of perseverance and one’s faith in the author’s ability to deliver.

This post may contain spoilers about the books, so I’m breaking it here.
The first book, Out of the Silent Planet, chronicled Dr. Elwin Ransom’s (unintentional) journey to Mars, which in Old Solar speech is called Malacandra.

The book was mysterious and thought-provoking, highlighting how terrifying things are when we are not used to them. It made one think about how little humanity understands the Universe, and although it wasn’t action-packed like modern science fiction, it was very thorough in its treatment of alien culture and humanity’s tendency to see everything that it does not understand as hostile and even evil.

C.S. Lewis’s “space” is not mere empty void—he calls it “the heavens” and sees it as full of life and matter—and life beyond matter. Going to and fro about his planets are the eldila (angels), who guide the inhabitants of the planets and teach them the ways of Maleldil, ruler of the universe. Malacandra is governed by the Oyarsa (Archon/Archangel) who is also called Malacandra, and although he is invisible here, he takes visible form in the next book. In the first book, we learn that Earth is called Thulcandra, the Silent Planet, because of the rebellion of its Oyarsa—Thulcandra’s Black Archon stretched out his power to Malacandra in ages past and killed many of its inhabitants. Because of this, Maleldil sealed off Earth from the heavens and the rest of the Solar System (called the Field of Arbol in Old Solar), and took many different approaches to dealing with the Black Archon’s movements on the planet. Eventually, Oyarsa Malacandra sends Ransom home to Earth.

Perelandra (aka Voyage to Venus) is the second book, and as the title suggests, it narrates Ransom’s mission to Venus (Perelandra). Ransom is summoned by Malacandra to Venus in order to combat the evil of the Black Archon as he tries to spread his power through a human vessel. Although most of the book is just about Ransom debating with the bad guy, the way Lewis paints the landscape is just fantastic. I enjoyed it a lot, although at times I just could not figure out how the story would end. (I loved the ending, though.)

That Hideous Strength is the longest of the three books by far—it’s about double the length of the first and 50% longer than the second. Ransom is moved out of the spotlight in favor of Jane and Mark Studdock, a young married couple who are caught up in the struggle between the Black Archon and his brethren. The National Institute for Coordinated Experiments (NICE) recruits Mark as a spin doctor who will eventually be evaluated for admission into the innermost circle. Jane, on the other hand, receives disturbing visions that lead her into St. Anne’s—a small organization led by Ransom. Ransom’s organization is a sort of “resistance movement” against the iron grip of the NICE.

In the end, it is revealed that the NICE inner circle worships the demon-possessed severed head of a criminal (kept “alive” through scientific means), calling it Ouroborindra. All of them get wiped out (they actually kill each other and themselves) while five Archons (Viritrilbia, Perelandra, Malacandra, Glund and Lurga) scour the demon-infested town from the face of the Earth.  It ends with Mark and Jane being reconciled and with Ransom being taken back to Perelandra (though this happens “off-stage”).

The last book deals a lot with concepts of what the ideal human society is, how science is used, and how what is new is not always what is good. It was a very difficult read—especially the beginning, where a lot of the dialogue was spoken by old professors. It was convoluted, but I think my brain power went up after getting through that part.  It’s only when the NICE starts executing its insidious plans that the story heats up and ends after a very action-packed climax.

All in all, the Cosmic Trilogy is a very interesting read. It challenges our understanding of the universe and our own concepts of morality (remember that C.S. Lewis is a Christian author and is very explicit in his symbolism) while maintaining the label of science fiction. It’s an example of soft science fiction, dealing more with the human question and almost completely ignoring the geekspeak and technobabble that is a staple of practically all modern science fiction.  Sure, it lacks the kind of action that Star Wars and its contemporaries have spoiled us with, but if you really want a different experience, I would recommend the trilogy.

Reading Ease: 5/10 (Rather difficult to read, requires some background knowledge of C.S. Lewis for you to truly understand what he means)

Imagery :10/10 (C.S. Lewis is very, very skilled with putting things into words. You will not be disappointed here.

Plot: 8/10 (Rather plodding at first, but the pace quickens rapidly. Lewis also knows how to keep a reader hungry for more—he jumps from scene to scene with chapter cliffhangers.)

Overall: 9.5/10 (This isn’t an average, it’s what I think of the book in general. It isn’t something EVERYONE can or will like, but if you’re serious in your appreciation of literature, you will at the very least appreciate it as a good book.)

Fighting That Hideous Strength in Maleldil’s name,

Your Black Lion

~ by J. R. R. Flores on March 31, 2007.

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