I only had three chapters to read last week in Out of the Silent Planet. I should have listened closer or reread it in the print edition because the discussion covered things that hadn’t occurred to me. But that’s the fun of taking a class like this. Digging deeper and looking at the story from different perspectives.
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Read: Chapter 16-18
Date: January 29, 2020
Announcements about regional Moots and MythMoot (four day annual event). This week we announced Verlyn Flieger will be joining MythMoot. New Book Arthurian Voices (book release party) and wrote a play called “The Bargain” inspired by Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (14th century poem). Corey might be the Green Knight.
New registration page (pretty bare bones right now). A custom system written for Signum University. Shifting away from an expensive third-party software. Don’t be alarmed.
Corey recaps and sums up from last week. Let’s see what happens when Ransom starts to encounter the other species.
Slide 1 “The Eldila”
We’re not told what Hyoi’s wife Hleri wishes to be told. My only guess . . . sounds like . . . my first thought is that she’s pregnant and going to bear a child? I don’t know. The only guess I have. Apart from that, the only context of a husband-wife relationship could be related to child-bearing. We have zero data what it could possibly be.
To me the most interesting thing is not what but that statement “I have a message for Hleri but you will not be able to take it.” An indicative statement in the future tense. First time you read this, the sentence has no obvious meaning. But in retrospective, it’s prophecy. Because Hyoi is about to die. Given that the Eldila makes this prediction, which is accurate, . . . is this a thing that happens? Do the hrossa consult the eldila about the future? Is that a thing? Parallel situations in the Biblical tradition. Hannah and Sarah, etc.
We don’t know if the hrossa remarry. We know they mate for life (no divorce). But in the case of an accidental death? The timing seems to me . . . does open up a melancholy seeking.
There is a kind of nonchalance about Hyoi’s consultation with the eldila. No ritual or ceremony. Normal, even casual.
The Eldila . . . notice a few other things about this conversation. The Eldila begins by chiding. Not a warning. This is ‘you guys are doing something wrong.’ We have a repeated command. Not just a decree. This is not the administration of the degree.
It was known he (Ransom) was supposed to go see Oyarsa. He’d been actively avoiding. Only at the end does it become an imperative. “Let the Man go to Oyarsa.” Before that it’s more of a lecturing tone. Hyoi should have sent Ransom sooner. Why hasn’t Ransom been sent yet? Because they are all focused on the hunt.
Jennifer had a great observation: he speaks as if he is a great distance away; creates uncertainty. We’re learning now that the eldil are sort of in charge. They deliver strongly worded suggestions, serving as something like the moral conscience.
Is it significant that the eldil does not speak directly to Ransom, just about him? Because he doesn’t have authority over Ransom because he’s from a different planet? The role of the eldil is as messenger. <lost audio> Assuming Hyoi is correct about that, the eldil is sent with a message not to Ransom, but the Hyoi.
On the one hand, in the society of the hrossa, we are getting a glimpse of an unfallen society. Ransom is assuming the Fall. The implication is they are fundamentally different; they don’t experience temptation the way we do. But there is disobedience by delaying. Follows classic sin pattern – your own desires over obedience and what they know to be right. From this it would seem we can conclude that Malacandra is in some kind of intermediary state.
If that’s the case, then we have to conclude that the hnau of Malacandra are not unfallen. They can sin and do sin. We see it here. And yet, they are clearly not a corrupt society. The kind of fundamental competition between races that Ransom assumes would happen in a fallen society. They are far less morally corrupt than humankind. Their language doesn’t have a word for evil or bad. That’s why they have to use the word “bent,” which is the closest they can get to the concept of evil.
This small disobedience does cost Hyoi his life. There are consequences. The species has fallen but the Oyarsa has not. “Ought” is a teaching word. The eldil is instructing.
Malacandra itself is an unfallen world in the sense that its fundamental order has not been disordered. If the human species has a fundamental tendency to competition, then the natural order in Malacandra is not like that under the uncorrupted rule of Oyarsa. Hnau on Malacandra still have free will. Very clear here.
We can debate this for awhile.
Slide 2 “Hnakrapunti”
Hyoi is seconds away from death. Would Hyoi be sorry? Would he think the death he was about to die a punishment for his disobedience? Would have be ashamed? Now he is glorying in the hunt. He has seized his desire and in that moment, the mortal blow comes. At the pinnacle of his vain glorious ideal, he is struck down. Corey doesn’t think that is the point, nor that Hyoi would think that. Another way to look at it as a tragedy. Much of his life is before him. That is a good poem; a great song. Corey cannot imagine he would mourn that overmuch. Even the irony and tragedy. Irony and pathos. Hunter became hunted. He gets his wish, his life is complete. Good story, sad but good. Would he be the first murder victim in Malacandrian history? It’s possible. Again, that’s worthy of song. This is wonderful material for song. I’m not trying to belittle grief; I’m trying to understand the perspective of the hrossa. We’ve been told they don’t fear death.
Even to think about his death as a punishment . . . I’m not sure that has occurred to the hrossa.
Slide 3 “The Bentness of Hmana”
Immediately we get Ransom’s perspective of death. The association between the body of his friend Hyoi and a dead animal hunted and eaten for food in the woods. When the rational mind is no longer present, the body looks like an animal, no longer a person. We can see all of the assumptions Ransom makes. His guilt . . . forgive, shame, fault . . . all the things he wants to confess. Ransom feels Hyoi’s death is his responsibility.
Hman hnakrapunt . . . how do you take that? How do you understand Hyoi’s response
It seems unlikely to me as well that either Hyoi in dying or Quinn afterwards would even following . . . would the hrossa even understand Ransom’s guilt. Ransom has to explain to Quinn. Murder is not a concept to the hrossa.
He’s assuring him he is a person of honor. It is a response of grace. Ransom calls himself half hnau, but Hyoi counters he is now one of the great among the hrossa.
Slide 4 “Going to Oyarsa”
We see him following back to struggling with his old ideas. The old prejudices and assumptions about the world and the universe. What lies beneath this attractive society? Ransom is able to push it down. Ransom now has a kind of faith.
Sidebar – has Ransom read ER Burroughs? Assuredly.
When he was fully in the grip of these fears which he brings from his world and imports them into Malacandra. When he’s in the grip of those, he knows nothing. Ransom has no data, only his ignorance. His imagination supplies him with material – Burroughy and Lovecraftian. That genre of stuff. Not knowing what to expect, that’s immediately where his imagination goes.
But now Ransom has data and experience. If he is going to maintain his intellectual integrity, he has to reconcile the fears and imaginings with the knowledge that he now has. At the end of the day, he can’t do it. He doesn’t believe that is really possible. His hearing the voice of an eldil is an important data point. He can’t imagine this is just some dark superstition.
Superhuman in power and subhuman in cruelty . . . if you look around, it looks like the humans are setting the standard for cruelty. Once again we see Ransom’s . . . these thoughts and temptations are associated with his biases from his own world. He’s already been reoriented. He is fortified against them now because they no longer form the basis of his assumptions. He now knows better. Framework and premises.
The society of the hross is an example of . . . an archaeologist looking at a hrossa village, there would be nothing to suggest a sophisticated intelligence. Robust poetic tradition.
Slide 5: “Conversation with a Sorn”
We see how logical the sorn are. The readiness to explain their reasoning. Very methodical. Not into small talk. Sorn analyzes Ransom and explains his analysis.
The hrossa often think poetically; the sorn logically, rationally. It has oxygen in a tube.
Another interesting combination. The first impression of the sorn is that it is . . . based on its physical surroundings, you would think it’s even more crude than the hrossa. Lives in a cave. An advanced scientific intelligence to bottle oxygen. Why live so simply? in a cave with an open fire? no couch, door, etc.
Sorn is compassionate, not all knowing.
Slide 6: “The Thorny Political Question”
Any classics scholars? Lewis alludes to one. Not Aristotle’s cave, but rather the Cyclops. The fact that he’s a cheesemaker, he’s a shepherd as well. Seeing the shadow of the sorn, and then the sorn himself. Could reference Plato’s cave. Behind all the horrible misgivings about the sorn, now he is encountering the real thing, like the person in Plato’s analogy turning from the shadow/dark to the light.
Sorns and hrossa – genially lack of respect for the other.
Ransom is still not able to satisfy his understanding; to prove his theories about who is actually in charge. Notice what underlies his questions. Implying the sorns know more, and they should be rulers. Ransom finds it hard to understand. But we seem to have the solution to the question, the explanation to why it is that way. Oyaras rules them. Is not a sorn, but is the greatest eldila everywhere.
We’ve talked some about the social ideas that were becoming increasingly dominant in English society in the 1930s. Eugenics. This was still at the point historically when there was a confident belief that our understanding of science was going to increase and grow, our master of science . . . progress increases, those who have the keys to the scientific mastery of nature, were going to obviously rule. Politics wouldn’t matter. Those who could control everything in the world, that power would come from science. What has happened since – we realized the more we know, the less we actually know. Another assumption Ransom is bringing with him from Earth. Our society is very different from what popular English society was imagining in the 30s.
All disease, climate, all of these things, we would have the keys to control. Psychology to program people. These are part of that same culture that believes in eugenics. Genetically craft the next step of our evolution. To learn more, The Abolition of Man is the book to read where Lewis addresses it. And the next two books in the Space Trilogy.
Peace maintained by Oyarsa. An absolute hierarchy of all the hnau and the eldila above them.
Slide 7: “The Final Inversion”
Ransom is not as smart as the sorn is. He’s just not getting it. The final inversion of Ransom’s perspective. Space (heavens) is light (not dark and void) and the Earths are the shadows. The eldila are the real inhabitants of the solar system. The hnau and humans who are tiny, limited, slow-moving and practically invisible specks to the eldila.
How familiar with Einstein was Lewis?
If Ransom can wrap his mind around this . . . this is going to be very important later.
Slide 8: “Differences of Perspective”
Corey’s favorite glimpse into hross culture. Notice Ransom’s stiffness and defensiveness. The hrossa have too much Northern courage for the sorns. There are two ways of understanding and they both bring something useful to the table. There’s value in the seronic perspective, but Ransom is right, there is value in not fearing death. But they do not seem to look at it reasonably. Very different perspectives, but both are good and valuable.
Coming along side Ransom, we gain a perspective not shared by either of these species – we can see the value of both. They are both different in good ways; the world would be poorer without either one of them. Lives are both greatly enriched.
Slide 9: “Sorn and Pfifltrigg”
They are the makers (pfifltriggi). They want to make art most, things with of no use. But, Augrey clearly doesn’t value it. Doesn’t understand poetry or visual art. The sorn think, the pfifltriggi make it, the hrossa compose a poem.
We see the complimentary sides of the hnau society. All three races complement each other.
Slide 10: “The Scrutiny of the Seroni”
Setting Ransom straight. Earth is doing it wrong. All of the species should be subordinate to the Eldila. Desire for dominance, to become the masters, is not just an evil idea. It is a bent idea. A twisted idea. There should be rule and mastery. But not mastery of one group of hnau over another. We see a positive influence bent and twisted. A better way of conceiving what evil is.
Science needs poetry to convey their concepts.
We learn later that everyone is using the language of the hrossa.
Will stop here. Will start with Meldilorn next time and the final meeting with Oyarsa.
Corey’s favorite part of the book when Ransom translates from English into hrossa. May be an extra long session. Next week is our final discussion.
For this week, I only need to read the final chapter, number ninteen, and the postscript. But Corey has already promised I will be up even later than normal.