Friday, October 25, 2019

From Things To Come into The Space Trilogy-Part One

I'm going back farther now into the past, into spring when, in a week when I was sick, I read The Space Trilogy by C.S. Lewis. Things To Come (1936) was still fresh in my mind when I read these books. That freshness may have influenced my thoughts on Out of the Silent Planet (1938), Perelandra (1943), and That Hideous Strength (1945). I shouldn't spend too much time on this, but I'm sure I will. There is a lot in The Space Trilogy and it's hard to move past some of these things without commenting on them and applying them to issues current in this blog and in our world of today.

Ransom is the protagonist in The Space Trilogy, yet much of the narrative turns on the actions of its villains (as is so often the case in our popular culture). In Out of the Silent Planet, the villain is Weston. When he explains himself in Chapter 20, he reminds me of Raymond Massey's character Cabal in Things to Come, which was released in 1936, just two years before this book was published. The premise is that Earth, called Thulcandra, the Silent Planet of the title, has been quarantined from all others because of the influence of its "bent" Oyarsa, or planetary leader. Weston himself is referred to as "bent," meaning, I think, fallen in his nature and given to pride and other sins (as we all are). Not satisfied with confinement to Earth, Weston seeks, as Cabal does, to conquer the universe. Speaking to the Oyarsa of Malacandra (Mars), he says:
"To you I may seem a vulgar robber, but I bear on my shoulders the destiny of the human race. Your tribal life [. . .] has nothing to compare with our civilization--with our science, medicine and law, our armies, our architecture, our commerce, and our transport system which is rapidly annihilating space and time. Our right to supersede you is the right of the higher over the lower. Life [. . . .] has ruthlessly broken down all obstacles and liquidated all failures and to-day in her highest form--civilized man--and in me as his representative, she presses forward to that interplanetary leap which will, perhaps, place her for ever beyond the reach of death. [. . .] It is in her right [. . .] that I am prepared without flinching to plant the flag of man on the soil on Malacandra: to march on, step by step, superseding, where necessary, the lower forms of life that we find, claiming planet after planet, system after system, till our posterity--whatever strange form and yet unguessed mentality they have assumed--dwell in the universe wherever that universe is habitable."
The comparison between Weston and Cabal is imperfect. I don't want to overstate it. But it looks as though Weston is, like Cabal, a Darwinist, thus more or less a materialist, also a believer in the March of Progress and a subscriber to Scientism. I think you could fairly interpret Weston as a seeker after transcendence within a purely material universe, one that exists solely within Time and Space. To him there is likely no hereafter. Like too many real-world people today and of his own day, he appears to be a seeker after an immanentized eschaton. Like Cabal, too, he is a collectivist rather than an individualist. Cabal says: "Rest enough for the individual man, too much and too soon and we call it death, but for man, no rest and no ending." Weston, speaking in pidgin Malacandrian, echoes and simplifies Cabal's thought: "Me die. Man live."

Weston expresses a more complex idea--or his creator, C.S. Lewis, expresses it--through an exchange between Weston and the Oyarsa, summarized by the Oyarsa:
"Strange!" said Oyarsa. "You do not love any one of your race [. . . .] You do not love the mind of your race, nor the body. Any kind of creature will please you if only it is begotten by your kind as they are now. It seems to me [. . .] that what you really love is no completed creature but the very seed itself: for that is all that is left."
I'm not sure what Lewis was getting at here unless it is that Weston, and by extension all of us, is not satisfied with the "completed creature" made by God but wants instead to make of himself/humanity something new, created by himself/itself through technology, or maybe by a corrupted Nature. Call his desire a kind of transhumanism. In any case, Weston, like so many of his fellow travelers in the real world of today, claims to love humanity but no single member of humanity, nor does he love the human body. We have seen and continue to see that lovelessness--actually an outright loathing--of the human body, i.e., the "completed creature" made by God, in our real world, too, in ancient and medieval Gnostic beliefs and in modern-day iterations of Gnosticism such as socialism, generic kinds of leftism and utopianism, the entirety of transgenderism, and a politicized and scientified (or pseudo-scientified) brand of homosexuality. Within Lewis' Space Trilogy, that loathing or disregard of the body rears its head again in That Hideous Strength. Anyway, some of the philosophy or metaphysics of these three books is a little beyond me: I'm happy to hear other interpretations and opinions.

To be continued . . . 

Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis, the Avon edition of 1949 with a cover illustration by an unknown artist.

Avon reprinted Lewis' novel in 1956 with new cover art by Everett Raymond Kinstler. 

The version most readers know is probably the Macmillan edition of 1965. The cover artist was Bernard Symancyk, who I find is missing from the Internet. So . . .

Bernard Edward Symancyk was born on November 4, 1917, in Westfield, Massachusetts, to Konstanty and Marion Symancyk. He lived in Massachusetts and New York in the 1930s and '40s. By the time he enlisted in the U.S. Army on June 15, 1942, he had received two years of college education and was working as a commercial artist. Symancyk served in the army until October 11, 1945. Previously, in 1943, he had married Dorothy Margaret Curry.

I don't know much about Symancyk's career as an artist, but in the 1940s, he was a practitioner of an art movement called Perceptionism. In the 1960s, he created stylized or conceptualized scientific and technological-type illustrations. His covers for the Space Trilogy are his only genre works listed in the Internet Speculative Fiction Database. Symancyk died on July 13, 1987, and is buried at Calverton National Cemetery, Calverton, New York.

Original text copyright 2019 Terence E. Hanley

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