There are a lot of people who are either on one side of the spectrum or the other when it comes to this book, with not a lot of middle ground to spare. Some people love it because they love both science fiction and C.S. Lewis. Some people despise it because they feel his apologetics in this book are a tad lacking (especially compared to his non-fiction apologetics like Mere Christianity or The Problem of Pain) or that his prose and character development are a bit flat. I actually agree with both sides, and find it very difficult to say I do or do not like this book.
While I am not completely one way or the other when it comes to this book, I have actually read the entire trilogy, and compared to the other two (Perelandra and That Hideous Strength), this one is at the bottom of the list in clarity, elegance, function, and in just plain storytelling. Lewis’ description is eloquent, and the introduction of other races is mildly interesting, but I felt as if I were reading an essay, or perhaps an article form of a rough draft idea for a sci-fi novel instead of that tying together of story and philosophy and theology that I so enjoy about everything else Lewis has written.
In this first volume of the trilogy, Ransom makes his way from Earth to Mars (or Malacandra) as a sort of crash-test dummy after he is captured on a walk by an old academic rival (Weston). They both end up on Malacandra together and we get to experience the consequences of men who choose to exploit and conquer versus those who choose to learn and love. We learn about Oyarsa (a Christ-like figure who, according to this trilogy, is in all worlds, but in different forms), and we learn that Oyarsa has a plan for Ransom’s future, even after he returns to Earth (or what the Malacandrans call Thulcandra) – enter the second book, Perelandra, which will be discussed in a future post.
The story stands on its own, which is very important in a series or a trilogy, but when all three books are read, the encompassing story arc tells us of our past, our present (or Lewis’ present, anyway – the second World War was on while he wrote most of these) and our future, not only here in the corporeal realm, or even in our own atmosphere, but in the spiritual realms and in all other realms as well. As a book, I give this volume 3 stars out of 5, but I have a much higher opinion of the trilogy as a whole. I would recommend familiarizing oneself with the Bible or some sort of basic level of Christian theology and end-of-days prophecy (especially closer to the end of the trilogy) as you read this, so you can really grasp the full extent of the allegory here, but the books as a set are also worth the read. Perhaps start with borrowing these from the library before you spend money on them, though. They’re not for everyone, though for those who enjoy them, they are certainly worth every penny and more.
Have you read anything by C.S. Lewis? What did you think of it? Happy reading, and be wary of trespassing on mad scientist academic rivals! (The consequences could be out of this world! 😉 )