(Warning: Spoilers Ahead!)
Out of the Silent Planet was written by C.S Lewis in 1943. Most of the story takes place on the planet Malacandra. The protagonist, Dr. Ransom, is a complex character who commits both dishonorable and good deeds. He is led into a trap by Weston and Devine, who he believes are scientists. They kidnap him and take him in a spaceship to a planet that the inhabitants call Malacandra.
They were invited by a being called Oyarsa, and planned to desert Ransom there. But, the doctor evaded his captors and made it into the wilderness where he risks both his life and his chance of escaping back to Earth. Fortunately, Ransom will discover that most of the creatures are friendly on this planet.
The first group of natives he meets call themselves the hrossa. One of his first friends is later shot by his former captors, who wish to show their power. The hrossa suggest he go to Oyarsa, who lives in a valley. In order to make the journey, he must first cross steep mountains. As the cold nips at him from the altitude, he comes across a cave. In this cave, he finds a sorn named Augray, another inhabitant of this strange planet, who he finds to be friendly. This creature helps him to find Oyarsa’s valley.
Finally, when he meets Oyarsa, he finds that his captors had already been taken captive for the death of the hross. Weston and Devine confess and are forgiven for their crime, and Oyarsa frees Ransom. Their space ship only holds enough provisions for ninety days. If their spaceship does not make it to Earth by then, they would die. Under great stress, they barely make it in 88 days. After they return home, Ransom becomes extremely sick. When he recovers, he wonders if any of this was real.
My favorite character is the protagonist, Dr. Ransom. It was amazing to see how much his character changed from when he was kidnapped to the trial scene with Oyarsa. C.S Lewis does an extremely excellent job of describing him. In most physical respects, he is rather average, although he has notably high stamina. An example of the latter is the trip he made when he was searching for Oyarsa. As C.S Lewis put it, it would usually be impossible for some one “with his age and build” to stand up to the extreme conditions he faced.
C.S Lewis writes many beautifully descriptive passages throughout the book. Here is an excerpt of Ransom’s impressions when they landed on the planet:
A mass of something purple, so huge that he took it for a heather-covered mountain, was his first impression: on the other side, beyond the larger water, there was something of the same kind. But there, he could see over the top of it. Beyond were strange upright shapes of whitish green: too jagged and irregular for buildings, too thin and steep for mountains. Beyond and above these again was the rose-coloured cloud-like mass. It might really be a cloud, but it was very solid-looking and did not seem to have moved since he first set eyes on it from the manhole. It looked like the top of a gigantic red cauliflower – or like a huge bowl of red soapsuds – and it was exquisitely beautiful in tint and shape.
I liked how descriptive C.S Lewis is in painting the scenery in my mind. The characters were realistic and believable, as well. This book was full of mystery and suspense which were well-balanced with the rich character development. The natives learned to trust Ransom, and to be wary about Weston and Devine. Ransom himself changes dramatically through the story. At the beginning, he had been dishonorable, but when his life was on the line, his values changed. The following passage talks about his encounter with a hross:
Then something happened which completely altered his state of mind. The creature…opened its mouth and began to make noises. This in itself was not remarkable; but a lifetime of linguistic study assured Ransom almost at once that these were articulate noises. The creature was talking. It had a language.
If you are not yourself a philologist, I am afraid you must take on trust the prodigious emotional consequences of this realization in Ransom’s mind. A new world he had already seen – but a new, and extra-terrestrial, a non-human language was a different matter…In the fraction of a second which it took Ransom to decide that the creature was really talking, and while he still knew that he might be facing instant death, his imagination had leaped over every fear and hope and probability of his situation to follow the dazzling project of making a Malacandrian grammar.
Readers will be delighted to know that this is only the first book of a three part series called the Space Trilogy. The two books that follow this are Perelandra and That Hideous Strength. For further reading, C.S Lewis has also written almost 30 other books that may be of interest.
Photo credit: Amazon.com, Fair Use
by Phoenix Desertsong
The World State Society of Brave New World
The World State society presented in Brave New World is radically different from our own. However, it is fascinating to see some striking similarities and, at the same time, to see how certain things in our present culture have been totally done away with in the World State. Art, as we know it, no longer exists. However, the consumption of goods and services is at an all-time high, because people are conditioned to always want the new! The World State also greatly encourages, and actually insists, on the instant gratification of desires. Supposedly, the World State has also rid the world of religion, and yet ironically their high praise of Henry Ford is in itself a religion.
The Lack of Art, As We Know It
The first striking difference in Brave New World from our own society was the lack of art, or at least, art as we know it. In our society, we for the most part place a pretty high value on our art. While not everyone goes to museums, everyone appreciates some form of art – whether it is theater, movies, or music. As a culture, we generally value self-expression through artistic media. In Brave New World’s World State, such expression is not only discouraged, but it is in fact prohibited.
Art in Brave New World has been reduced to three things. First are the sensual “feelies,” a rather base concept for entertainment. They are basically composed of cheap, corny movies where you can feel people kiss and all that junk. The second is synthetic music, which in itself doesn’t sound bad, but it has no soul or human touch to it. It would seem the only real music is at their meetings to revere Ford, the Solidarity Services, which I’ll talk about later. Thirdly, there are the scent taps, which actually sound pretty fascinating. They’re somewhat like Glade air fresheners. However, nature itself is fairly ignored in Brave New World.
Many would agree that expression through art is an extremely important aspect of our society. Taking away art takes away a big part of the individual. Our society is certainly correct on art and how necessary it is. Some people may not like particular forms of art, which may itself cause dissent, and some art may be radical in nature, but artistic expression is a natural part of being human.
If we lose the ability to express ourselves, then we cut off the better, more fascinating parts of ourselves. Our ability to express what is wonderful about us would be so limited. It would come to the point where we’d become little more than animals feeling and touching each other living in a freshly scented world with the Sounds of Nature music selections playing in the background. Unfortunately, that’s what the majority of people in Brave New World have become. Most folks would rather have a little wider range of expression than that. Taking away artistic outlets from people denies human beings of an important right – to share their own perspectives on the Universe.
Consumption of Goods and Services
However, as different as the two societies are on art, it is safe to say that the World State and America are quite similar in their ideas of the consumption of goods and services. In both societies, novelty is a must. We in America are constantly bombarded to buy new things. We are convinced that our old things are outdated and therefore useless and should be thrown away. It is much the same in Brave New World; however, the major difference there is that the people have no choice. They’re hypnopaedically conditioned to consume what the State expects of them to consume, both in goods and services.
In America, we still have choices. We can choose to be thrifty. We can choose to be economical. We can choose to ignore aggressive advertising that tries their hardest to make us purchase on a whim. In Brave New World, such choices don’t exist. You have what you have what you are offered and you consume it. There are no choices to do otherwise. Having choices of what and what not to consume are tremendously important.
It can be disgusting how many needless things we consume, and how many still useful things that we throw away. But, at least we still have free will in what we acquire and what we do with it. We aren’t forced to replace everything when newer versions come out. They say in Brave New World, “The more stitches, the less riches.” It would seem to be a better philosophy, however, to use what you have until it completely outlives its usefulness. As much as Americans both consume and waste, ours is still preferable this to the World State’s system.
Self-Indulgence and Gratification
Pleasure and self-indulgence is a topic which can be debated over forever. America is crazy about it. The concept of instant gratification has been bred into so many of us, a lot of it almost by accident. Today, so many of us are truly spoiled by all the sources of pleasure and entertainment available at our fingertips. We are overwhelmed by all the things with which we can quickly amuse ourselves. It may not be a good thing that both our society and Brave New World’s are very similar in this regard. Of course, our societies are far from identical in this respect. Brave New World has it much worse. In our culture, we at least realize that there is a time for work and a time for play. Instantly gratifying a desire truly is, as Bernard Marx puts it in Brave New World, “infantile.”
Delaying gratification is something we Americans can at least well understand. As much as we may want a pleasure at a particular time, waiting for it usually makes the pleasure far more enjoyable. Always getting gratification dulls the entire feeling of pleasure after awhile. Pretty soon, the only source of pleasure in Brave New World is “soma,” the miracle drug. It gives you an instant holiday. Oh, how many of us would love such sudden instant holidays! But if we could take holidays whenever the hell we wanted, after a while, we’d take them for granted.
We take so many of our pleasures for granted in America as it is, but at least the majority of us don’t baby ourselves and become slaves to our pleasures. Unfortunately some do. A society with infant-minded people all with terrible cases of the “gimme gimmes” is a frightening thought. In effect, however, that is what the World State has done, and they keep giving the babies more candy.
The Role of Religion
Last, but not least, the role that religion plays in Brave New World must be examined. Not only are Americans so entrenched in religion, but the entire world is as well. Brave New World has supposedly done away with it; it has done away with God. But as is made so apparent through out the novel, the World State simply has put Henry Ford in God’s place. Instead of using God’s name in vain, they use Ford’s. The meetings in which they praise Ford, the Solidarity Services, are very little different from modern day church services. They seem to believe in the coming of the Ford, which seems very strange. If all is so perfect, what would the coming of Ford be for?
Human beings seem to have an inherent need for divine deliverance and salvation. These meetings for Ford are simply cleverly disguised church services. It’s often been said that religion turns your brain off. People don’t even realize what they’re doing. They’re worshiping Ford as their God. They’re made to worship his machine, the assembly line. They have in a sense created a “new” God. People in general seem to have an inherent need to worship something. Brave New World ’s deity has become Henry Ford and his assembly line. They are made to worship the Greater Being, the very social machine itself. Ford, unwittingly, was the forefather of this mechanized society.
True Humanity Cannot Exist in the World State
Brave New World ’s World State can basically be boiled down to an advanced form of Communism. Not only are people told what to do, but they’re conditioned to like it. Not only are they conditioned to like it, but they’re physically built to like it. It is an impressive, ingenious social machine. But just like in any machine, where’s the heart? They’ve all become servile to the machine and they worship it. At least we’re still autonomous beings, and at least we have freedoms – overwhelming as the bevy of choices such freedoms provide. You cannot live in Brave New World and be a true human being. The human mind has a need to grow. It can’t be kept idle and at an infantile stage of development, even for happiness’ sake.
Perpetual happiness isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. The sharp edges of life are what make the moments of joy and happiness all that more special. Brave New World denies the individual the very right to be imperfect. Our imperfections are what make us what we are, human beings. We must all accept one another’s imperfections and learn to live with them. You can’t just throw all the unfortunate parts under the rug; without them, you’re not really alive. Honestly, is it not better to be unhappy and be your own self rather than be just another cog in a well-oiled machine that is little more than an everyday amusement park? Someday, you know the fun and games just have to come to an end.
by Phoenix Desertsong
The hero of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is Mr. Marlow, as he overcame the “heart of darkness.” What exactly does that mean? Sharing a perspective on everyday heroes may shed some light on this subject.
Everyday heroes are people who can make your day memorable. It could be through making you feel good about yourself or doing something to humor you. Or, in the most common example, performing a selfless act of kindness. An everyday hero is someone who daily defeats the “heart of darkness” within each of us. They do this by remaining positive and setting a fine example for the rest of us to remain positive ourselves.
Mr. Kurtz, the supposed antagonist of this tale, gave in to the “heart of darkness” that is the wild Congo of the time. It began physically, then mentally. From these infirmities, he was never able to recover. Kurtz does not seem to exhibit the qualities that allowed Marlow to succeed in the end. Yes, Kurtz had grand intelligence, many big ideas, and originally very good intentions. But, he lacked the integrity to keep his brilliant mind from being invaded by darkness.
Integrity is such an important part of a person. That integrity allowed Marlow to outlast Kurtz. Like so many other unrestrained brilliant minds, Kurtz became swallowed up by his darker side. He then performed numerous atrocities. Kurtz became quite self-centered, as he became almost sort of a god to native tribes, using that position to his advantage. Only in the end does Kurtz truly realize how corrupted he has become. He dies cursing the atrocities he committed, now unable to do anything about them.
Marlow's Optimism and Constitution
Marlow never gave in, though at numerous times he could have. Part of this was Marlow’s strong constitution. Then again, he wasn’t exposed to the jungle as long as many of those in the story had been. Indeed, Marlow felt the emotional strain, but rather than being attracted to evil, he was outright revolted by what he was witnessing. He had no intention of joining this terrible invasion nor the obvious exploitation of both the land and its native people.
Fortunately for Marlow, he was able to stick to his tasks, not letting his own disgust with the situation idle him. Marlow becomes the hero of this story because he’s able to retain a positive attitude throughout the journey. In his epic case, he remains positive mostly for his own sanity.
From how Marlow tells the beginning of the story, it’s not difficult to gather that he started this journey as a young man with an optimistic viewpoint on life. Being a hero depends so much on retaining positivity. He was able to keep a connection with his civilized self and was able to hold what was good and just in him together, an integrity that Kurtz apparently lacked. In a more literal sense, Marlow is a hero by simply “winning” in the end by not being consumed by the primitive wilderness. It’s the depths of the Congo itself that become the true villain of the novel.
The trip down the Congo River begins like your typical adventure story. But, through Mr. Marlow’s narrative, we learn this journey affected him deeply. Both physically and metaphorically, he lives his way through a nightmare. He journeys into a primordial land where basic instinct thrives.
Only by remaining single-mindedly focused on his tasks at hand is Marlow able to retain his composure and faculties. This includes repairing the boat, captaining it, and proceeding on his mission to retrieve Mr. Kurtz. At times, he’s under considerable strain which may have broken many lesser men.
Marlow saw Kurtz, one who people once considered a great man, reduced to a sick shadow of a man, broken both in body and mind. All around him, people were so very corrupted. But, Marlow’s integrity prevented him from giving in to the corruption around him.
A Matter of Integrity
Sometimes, we can find it hard enough to stay cool in civilized society in our own life. If we were to be far removed from what we know as civilization and put in a world of lawlessness and chaos, the “dark side” within each of us would be extremely difficult to resist. It takes tremendous integrity to remain focused in such an alien world where it’s so easy to give in to your darker side and lose all civilized manners forever.
Marlow’s great integrity keeps him together in his case. Still, even with all his integrity, he’s forever a changed man from the epic journey. Such hardships must be overcome for one to be remembered as a hero. Marlow truly overcomes some great calls of instinct to which many other human beings would fall victim.
As great as Mr. Kurtz was, he could never be a hero because he succumbed to evil. In Marlow, Conrad created a wonderful hero and a man of great character. Indeed, his story itself is a fairly memorable one. If we can put ourselves in Marlow’s shoes, we can learn a little bit more about ourselves.
Like Marlow said himself of the journey, “It seemed somehow to throw a kind of light on everything about me – and into my thoughts. It was sombre enough, too – and pitiful – not extraordinary in any way – not very clear either.” Even though he found it impossible to put his exact thoughts into words, the story itself is an epic hero story.
A hero, through all of their hardships, comes to better understand people and human nature itself. It’s through hero stories that we learn so many things. It can also be through such stories that one generation passes on their values. Through Marlow’s example, we can see how staying focused on your tasks and remaining true to yourself can get you through all sorts of difficulties. This can even be true when faced with horrors as monumental as those of Marlow’s experience in the Congo.
But, even the most “good” of mankind are attracted to power. Marlow found that he liked Kurtz quite a bit, even as corrupted as he’d allowed himself to become. Kurtz became very selfish, and with all the power he had gained, with no one to stop him, who could blame him? Marlow and Kurtz certainly are quite contrasts in character. It’s interesting to note that Kurtz had come to the Congo with quite a bit of positivity himself, but he just could not hang onto it in the way Marlow is able to in the end. Kurtz becomes the pathetic figure and Marlow ultimately is the hero.
Marlow as The Everyday Hero
Marlow’s story is one that needs to be read delicately to fully appreciate today. While Conrad’s language is effective, it can prove dense and verbose in many spots. If you read closely enough, however, tidbits of wisdom can stand out to you. Within his impressive narrative are little insights into everyday existence, quotable and truthful.
Heart of Darkness is a fine work that can make you ponder about the darker aspects of human nature. It’s hard not to appreciate the book in its subject matter. There’s such a fascinating wealth of insights contained within its pages. It’s also a great example of not having to love a book to get something valuable out of it.
In the simplest terms, Marlow is the expression of an everyday hero. There’s nothing tremendously special about him, other than his incredible gift of expression. He’s just living day to day, getting whatever he possibly can out of each moment, sticking to his tasks and remaining true to his conscience. He does not have to agree with what’s going on to do his job; sometimes, that is just how it has to be.
After many journeys, Marlow becomes a great storyteller, doing his best to relate the complete essence of a tremendous experience; one Marlow refers to as almost being a “dream-sensation.” Marlow really is just a fellow human being with a heck of a story to tell, and it is well worth listening to, because from it, there is so much to learn.