Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Reading Lewis's Space Trilogy

 . . . and by "reading" Lewis's Space Trilogy, I mean I sure as heck tried to read his Space trilogy. I got through  1 1/2 of the books. You see, I'd made the conscious decision a few months back to work my way through the Inklings besides Tolkien. My Charles Williams project didn't go very well (except maybe for War in Heaven), so I was hoping to redeem myself with my Lewis project. I've actually read the Narnia series twice. I remember enjoying it during my first stint in grad school, back in 2007 or thereabouts, although I don't recall quite picking up on all the religious elements. They darn well punched me in the face during my second go-around, though. I re-read the series last winter break, and Lewis's didacticism and brazen certainly just got to me. But I get it -- I'm not the target audience.

Well, it was more of the same with his Space trilogy.

I did get through this one in its entirely, and it had some definite selling points. There's the Robinson Crusoe theme of Elwin Ransom being on the planet trying to survive. He meets some strange species, and so on, and so forth. Rather typical sf stuff, actually, but his final confrontation with Weston -- where he tries to "translate" grandiose notions of human space travel into the language of Malacandra -- is a minor comic masterpiece. I also tried to cut Lewis some slack on basic Mars conditions, since he was just using the known science at the time, but the dating certainly doesn't help. Still, the familiarity of the Crusoe theme means that OSP just wasn't that captivating -- although kudos for trying.

Oh gawd. First couple of chapters are intriguing, but the book goes downhill from there. Endless pages of description about anything are never good, and using them to describe an alleged paradise like Perelandra just exasperated me. Worse, the narrative action of the book centers on Ransom trying to refute a Devil-Weston through argumentation. According to wikipedia (which actually finished the book), apparently there's some chasing Weston around the planet stuff and whatnot towards the end, but reading straight-up theology would be more interesting than this thinly-disguised lighter fair. I mean, I appreciated some of  the arguments and questions Lewis tried to tackle, and he certainly made a noble effort in trying to make this sort of thing narratively interesting, but it's a bit like seeing Plato's dialogues performed as actual dramas -- it just doesn't work.

Final opinion on Perelandra: this sums it up.

Anyway, John Rateliff has some interesting comments on the Space Trilogy over on his blog, mostly about the proper reading order (in his view), so I'll link that here. Ironically, he posted that just when I was beginning my Lewis experiment, and it basically convinced me not to even bother trying That Hideous Strength.

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