Book Review: Out of the Silent Planet

Recently, I read Out of the Silent Planet, which is the last book of C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy that I hadn’t read (though it’s actually the first book). It’s a good book, and I recommend it (primarily for its worldbuilding), but this is going to be one of my reviews wherein I talk relatively little about the book itself.

A lot of people I have known feel somehow betrayed by C.S. Lewis, mostly because of the role of Christian allegory in the Chronicles of Narnia. You’re reading along in a perfectly nice fantasy adventure series, and then one day — maybe years after reading the books — you find out, holy crap! Aslan was Jesus! (I’m sorry if that was a spoiler for anyone. Rosebud was a sled, too.)

I’m not sure if it works the same way in other countries, but I think Christian children’s fiction has really shot itself in the foot in the United States. So many extremely earnest people work so hard to make sure that kids get their regular dose of Jesus that Christian allegory has become the green vegetable of kids’ narrative. Finding out there was spinach in the chocolate cake is … well, disappointing. As if the Establishment put one over on you, the bastards. Hiding Jesus in a fairy tale; it just ain’t right.

I begin to think that this is unfair to Lewis. Reading the Space Trilogy, I realize that Lewis doesn’t write allegory at all. Rather, he writes fantastic stories in settings which include our own world, a world which for him is framed by the existence of the divine. Aslan and Maleldil don’t symbolize Christ; they *are* Christ. And yet, on some level, it doesn’t matter. The books aren’t parables; the stories are meaningful on their own terms. Perelandra isn’t Eden; neither is Narnia. They’re just places which went through similar histories after arising from similar origins.

It’s interesting, in passing, to contrast many modern comic books which rely heavily on Christian mythology, but in which God is a vague and distant presence and Jesus barely figures at all. It’s sort of the Apocalypse Now of the War in Heaven: angels and demons beating the crap out of each other with minimal supervision. It always seemed like sort of a dodge to me to tap the geekish glory of angelological hierarchy while avoiding the cosmology of which that hierarchy is a part. I would totally buy a comic about superheroes in the intertestamental period. (Yeah, I’d probably be the only one, but still, an apostle superteam would so totally kick ass.)

Originally published on LiveJournal