Posted by: Mark | May 22, 2018

At the Out of Silent Mountains of Madness Planet

I finished C.S. Lewis’s Out of the Silent Planet after reading H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness. I don’t know if Lewis had ever heard of Lovecraft but there are odd parallels between the books.

Both are examples of anti-science fiction. The narrator of Mountains writes his story as an attempt to discourage Antarctic exploration as Silent Planet is against space (explicitly trying to change the very concept of “space” to “heaven”).

The difference is that in Lovecraft’s case, in the real world, I doubt if it mattered to him. The objections were part of the narrative. Lewis, however, was an academic in the humanities attacking what is now referred to as STEM.

Today politicians sneer at humanities and emphasize the need to teach engineering and elevator repair. That seems short-sided and ignorant when I hear it from governors in the region. It sounds alien when Lewis makes the argument in reverse. I wonder in the 1940s, if “space” as “heaven” seemed a viable philosophy. Today, the sentence “My cell phone sent out a signal that bounced off a satellite in heaven” sounds like an excerpt from Handmaid Tale fan fiction

Another odd similarity is that the human protagonists learn alien history by looking at alien sculptures. I guess it’s possible that aliens might make artwork like that but how much could a human understand from a cold reading?

If I saw a sculptures depicting Washington crossing the Delaware and didn’t know the background, what would I make of it? Lewis does this sparingly and has an alien speaker help with the explanation, but Lovecraft builds a history from the birth of life on Earth to the Mesozoic Era to relatively modern times with just statues.

Lovecraft, as usual, doesn’t have much use for dialogue. Lewis is far more merciful on the reader. Dialogue made Silent Planet a much quicker read.

Lovecraft’s aliens, although they’d been slumming on Earth for millions of years actually seemed alien. The Old Ones are so weird that it’s hard to be scared of them. Lewis’s three species of Martians are more conventual. In fairness, that’s because humans and all the Martians were created in the image of God.

That message couldn’t be more different. Lovecraft’s universe presents humans as unimportant lumps of carbon that will be swept away at the leisure of greater beings. Lewis doesn’t present Christianity as transparently as in Narnia but it’s not much of a stretch.

All in all, although I would have to rate Lewis as a better writer, I’d much rather read more Lovecraft. I’ll probably do that next but I have no plans for Lewis’s sequels.

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Responses

  1. Oh thank God you’re not reading Perelandra.

    • Sorry about the delay in answering but I would need a very long life to try.


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