Review: Out of the Silent Planet, C.S. Lewis; or, I am never going to read the other books in this series ever

That’s right, NEVER. It’s not because I hated Out of the Silent Planet (I didn’t). It’s because I think if I read them, I would be in a huge fight with C.S. Lewis, and I hate to be in a fight with C.S. Lewis. I’d rather focus on his agreeablest qualities, viz.:

  1. I love how crazy in love he was with his wife. That is touching. If you can read A Grief Observed without crying you are just not human.
  2. I love how crazy in love he was with God. That is also touching. I love that he’s able to speak about God with pure sincerity and not a hint of ironic edge. It’s not that I don’t love an ironic edge — I do, truly. But I love it that C.S. Lewis doesn’t need this as a shield. I love it that he can speak with such naked, vulnerably honesty about how God makes him feel. And especially because he was, you know, this British male academic in the early to mid-twentieth century; his life would not, I expect, tend to teach the value of emotional sincerity.
  3. I love how crazy in love he was with stories. He was an exceptionally generous reader who could write persuasively and affectionately about a wide range of different books, and I love that about him. Case in point, the sweet paragraph that appears at the beginning of Out of the Silent Planet:

Certain slighting references to earlier stories of this type which will be found in the following pages have been put there for purely dramatic purposes. The author would be sorry if any reader supposed he was too stupid to have enjoyed Mr. H. G. Wells’s fantasies or too ungrateful to acknowledge his debt to them.

C. S. L.

Oh C. S. Lewis. I am awfully fond of you sometimes.

The problem with C. S. Lewis is that he’ll say something like this and make me feel fond of him, and I’ll read his book all the way through, and maybe it’s not exactly my thing? Because maybe it goes on and on describing the new planet and not a lot happens storywise? But C. S. Lewis has won my heart with this sweet tribute to H. G. Wells, so I’ll be trying to see the good in this book. I’ll like the writing because I do love the way this guy writes, and I’ll think the new planet is weird in interesting ways, and all in all I’ll be feeling very amiably towards C. S. Lewis. But the problem is that as soon as I’ve been lulled into this affectionate way of feeling, C. S. Lewis will often be like, “You know who sucks, though? LADIES,” and then we’re in a fight again.

Why couldn’t he have met his wife like much much sooner? I think it would have made him a nicer person for a longer number of years.

Out of the Silent Planet doesn’t really have any ladies, so I didn’t have to deal with any of that sort of thing in this book, but when I got through with it and went to pick up Perelandra, I remembered that Perelandra was the name the aliens in this book had given to the planet we call Venus. And Venus was, you know, a lady. The lady goddess of ladies and their lady parts.

So I checked with Mumsy:

me: OH REAL QUICK
me: is Perelandra super sexist?
Mumsy: OMG
me: oh, maybe I’d better skip it
Mumsy: SO SEXIST. I cringe at the thought
me: oh dear.
Mumsy: Please do skip it. you will never love CS any more if you read it.

and decided to give it a miss. Forever.

17 thoughts on “Review: Out of the Silent Planet, C.S. Lewis; or, I am never going to read the other books in this series ever

  1. No no no no no.

    Ok, I read these in high school when I was über-Christian, so it’s entirely possible I missed sexism, but Perelandra = amazing. A-mazing. And I loved the woman in it. Out of This Silent Planet I don’t remember too well, but PERELANDRA.

    It’s basically Adam and Eve, but on an aaaalien planet. And I remember the Green Lady or whatever she was called as being *awesome*. I’m rather bummed you’ve decided not to read it. I guess I should look at it again as a fully-fledged, less pentecostally-brainwashed adult, though. But Perelandra, along with Screwtape and The Great Divorce (obvs + Narnia) made me love Lewis to tiny pieces.

  2. It’s sad to find out that books I loved in my childhood and adolescence don’t measure up to the standards of today. I think I will not re-read these, at least not until I hit my second childhood.

  3. Aw, I really like these books, but I totally understand why you wouldn’t want to read them. They do have some very old-fashioned ideas in them. Perelandra I don’t remember as being particularly sexist, but it wouldn’t surprise me, especially since it’s an Adam and Eve story (and it’s my least favorite of the three so I honestly don’t remember it as well). In That Hideous Strength, one of the main characters is a woman (well, a few are, actually), and she’s very much a modern woman (for the time, if nothing else) in that she wants her own career, and she takes it very badly when Ransom says she can’t join his uber-secret-save-the-world society unless her husband gives her his permission.

    Anyway. As you say, I’m completely enchanted by his writing, so I guess my mind just sort of glosses over any unpleasantness and accepts it as part of the story and part of the time in which they were written. I can’t always do that, but I do try.

  4. Your bit about being in a fight with Lewis reminds me of Sarah Rees Brennan bit about Anthony Trollope you might enjoy:

    ‘ANTHONY: Feminists are ladies who has gone CRAZY.
    SARAH: OH ANTHONY WHY.
    ANTHONY: No, no, wait, I’m not done. Do you know why they went crazy?
    SARAH: Anthony, why are you hurting me. Anthony, I ONLY WANT TO LOVE YOU.
    ANTHONY: Because nobody has MARRIED them. LOL!
    SARAH: *weeps*
    ANTHONY: Oh little lady you know what you need.
    SARAH: THE VOTE.
    ANTHONY: Wrong answer. Right answer? A MAN.’ (full essay:
    http://sarahtales.livejournal.com/151335.html)

    • But what about Lily Dale? She doesn’t get married, Trollope is very firm about it, and it’s very clear that he thinks she’s right. She has a very nice, attractive friend who’s in love with her, and everyone she knows wants her to marry him, but she holds out because she knows she doesn’t love him enough to marry him. Also, the Barsetshire books are just packed with smart, educated, strong women, some of whom get married and some of whom don’t. I haven’t read many of his non-Barsetshire books, so I probably just don’t know the books that essay is referring to, but I’ve always thought of Trollope’s ability to write female characters as one of his major strengths.

    • As far as sexism goes, this is absolutely true, the third one is far and away the worst. It’s also full of spectacularly wonderful stuff (And so is Perelandra — That Hideous Strength is my least favorite, it’s BORING and the other two are far more interesting and fun.) I am with anna. I love him always, sexist or not. And maybe even more so, because unlike a lot of people, he was able to change his mind about things like that. Like Abraham Lincoln! We can’t hate him for wanting to preserve the union at the expense of slaves at first, because he changed his mind and wrote the effing Emancipation Proclamation! Flip-floppers for the win, as long as they flip-flop toward truth and justice.

  5. Sometimes I think I am a less good feminist than you and mumsy. Because the third one is my favorite (mostly because things actually happen in it, not because I love it lots and lots, which I don’t). And because I see all the horrible sexist things C.S. Lewis says and it has absolutely no effect on the fact that I love him always. I’m like, yep that was sexist. But I love you also.

  6. For once I have no opinion, except to say that I am generally in favor of C.S. Lewis and against sexism. However, I do know that life is too short to read books you have doubts about, unless it is absolutely necessary.

  7. I’m like Alice in that I read these (a couple of times) before I was particularly alert to sexism, and I mostly remember that they were old-fashioned in some respects, one of which may have been their view of women. I also remember that there’s lots about them that I liked, especially in the second and third book.

    I also just feel like Lewis was a complicated person, with complicated views that changed over time. As long as the disagreeable views he might have held at a particular point in time aren’t the whole backbone of the story and shoved in my face, I don’t much mind.

  8. I am actually a bit pleased you said it because now I have a good reason to not feel guilty for never having made it through the series! I think I wouldn’t like it much, anyways.

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