Wednesday, December 23, 2015

C.S. Lewis... IN SPACE!

Growing up I drank, ate, and breathed the Narnia Chronicles ever since my dad read them to me as a kid.  I reread the series every year, despite the fact that I could probably recite it to you from The Magician's Nephew to The Last Battle without blinking an eye.  Last summer I enjoyed The Screwtape Letters and Mere Christianity just as much, but for different reasons.  At this point, I'm sure you can imagine how high my expectations were for the space trilogy.

So, did I enjoy the series?  Yes and no.

I have to be honest, if there were a race between the plot of any of the three books and a tortoise-sloth-snail hybrid, the hybrid would be wearing the gold metal right now.  Fifty pages in, I found myself still wondering when we were going to get to exploding spaceships, battling aliens, and death-defying stunts.  For the main character Ransom, not much... happens.  Instead there are long descriptions of Malacandra and Perelandra (Mars and Venus respectively), which are fascinating to read in contrast to the Silent Planet (Earth).  Ransom's interactions with the inhabitants in the first two books open up a philosophical conversation about spiritual conditions in the different planets that I thought was delicious food for thought.  Sometimes I felt like I was looking into an alternate universe of what Earth could have been, yet at the same time I could clearly see how the events on Earth influenced the rest of the planets.

Despite their status as fiction, I came out of the first two books feeling like I had read a combination that was 80% Lewis' theoretical Christian nonfiction (such as in Mere Christianity) and 20% Lewis' imaginative Christian fantasy (such as in Narnia Chronicles).  It threw me off to have this experience, which wasn't necessarily bad, but it was different from the thrilling action and character interaction that I had expected.  One element from the Narnia Chronicles that Lewis heightened, however, blew my mind in the best possible way.

In a few of the Narnia books, Lewis briefly inserts himself as someone who actually talks to the characters about their story.  The first example that comes to mind is this moment from Voyage of the Dawn Treader:

And suddenly there came a breeze from the east, tossing the top of the wave into foamy shapes and ruffling the smooth water all round them... It brought both a smell and a sound, a musical sound. Edmund and Eustace would never talk about it afterwards. Lucy could only say, "It would break your heart." "Why," said I, "was it so sad?" "Sad! No," said Lucy.

In the first two installments of the space trilogy, Lewis becomes a character/first-person narrator who has whole dialogues with Ransom.  I had thought it could be a random unnamed narrator, but Ransom actually calls him "Lewis."  LEWIS!  C.S. Lewis is writing about himself as if the events have occurred in his real life in his real time period.  It's meta on so many levels, and I missed seeing it in the trilogy's final installment.  Speaking of which...

Lewis makes a disclaimer in the preface that although That Hideous Strength concludes the trilogy, it can be read on its own.  That fact is true, so true that for most of its duration I wondered if it belonged in the trilogy at all.  We start off with a fresh batch of new characters going about their business in, as Lewis admits, "hum-drum scenes" in the first half.  No one at any point (spoiler!) goes into space, which makes me question whether it fits into the science fiction genre.  There are fantastical elements, but I had a more magical/Narnia vibe from them rather than the scientific/alien.  Maybe I just don't know what science fiction is supposed to be.  All in all, this last book is so different from the other two that it might actually have deserved its own review if I wasn't so busy binge watching all the shows I've wanted to see when school was happening.

I appreciated various aspects in the three books as a Christian thinker and as someone who likes reading Lewis' writing.  However, if given the choice between this series and the Narnia series, well, you've got to go with the classics.  Am I right?

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