The final book of the space trilogy by C. S. was for me the most absorbing. I found That Hideous Strength to be a true page turner. It describes a cosmic battle between diabolical sterility (symbolized by the moon and championed by a secretive organization) and the blessed messiness of life (championed by a group of inspired refugees in an old English house with a resident bear named Mr. Bultitude).
The conflict is waged in an English university town which serves as a microscosm for the world. The characters and the plot take the reader through feelings of apprehension, fear, introspection, relief, and elation.
Some masterfully timed humor precedes a satisfyingly climactic resolution. As any good fantasy should be, this is a very human story, and its impact is enhanced by supernatural elements. Featuring sinister entities known to certain characters only as Macrobes, the Oyeresu from multiple worlds, a resurrected Merlin, and a nearly perfected Elwin Ransom, this is a story unlike any I have ever read. So slow down, dig in, and enjoy the ride.
Perelandra is the second book in the Space Trilogy by C. S. Lewis. Originally, this was my least favorite in the series, but my appreciation for this work has grown since then.
When I first read this story, I didn’t enjoy the planetary landscape as much as that of Malacandra (Mars), but the author’s description of Perelandra (Venus) was more appealing on my second reading years later. The key was that I had to stop thinking like a scientist and, instead, simply enjoy the fantasy. The entire planet is portrayed as a maritime Garden of Eden, complete with floating islands, dragons, fanciful aquatic beasts, and a newly created Adam and Eve.
Eldil and and an Oyarsa are also involved in the affairs of this planet, but the main plot element is a temptation saga in which Dr. Elwin Ransom and Dr. Weston engage in debate as the agents of God and Satan (the Bent One). Some reviewers have expressed the same criticism I initially had: that the dialogue was tedious and slowed the development of the story. Nothing could be further from the truth. By the time I read these passages again, I was more familiar with the writings of Plato and John Milton, and I could recognize these exchanges as a brilliant adaptation from Platonic dialogues and Paradise Lost. Rather than a weak link in the chain, this book stands on its own strength.
I found Out of the Silent Planet by C. S. Lewis to be an intriguing mix of Greco Roman mythology, Christianity, and science fiction. The pacing is slower than what contemporary readers have been conditioned to expect, but this is an example where I believe patience will be rewarded. The prosaic style for me was reminiscent of science fiction classics from the nineteenth through the mid-twentieth centuries.
Early on, the story introduces three characters. Dr. Weston and Dick Devine are of the villainous sort and apparently exemplify what the author saw as wrong (or “bent”) in the way of modern ethics. Dr. Elwin Ransom is the focal point, and he begins a transformation which reaches its culmination by the third story of the space trilogy.
The descriptions of the landscape and inhabitants of Mars are clearly inaccurate, but they work for the kind of story this is: a fantasy. What are hrossa, pfifltriggs, sorn, and hnakra? Read the book to find out. It’s a pretty good ride.
What grabbed my attention the most were the spiritual beings of Mars. C. S. Lewis invents a new nomenclature for them as well as some abstract philosophy on their properties and on the nature of space and motion. If you have not yet read this book, would you like to know the identities of and meanings behind Oyarsa and eldil? Good. I’m not going to tell you. I wouldn’t want to destroy the pleasure of gradual discovery during a journey on Mars.
This week, I turn to what I consider a more complete synthesis of mythology and science fiction: the space trilogy by C. S. Lewis. I believe that some of the modern day criticisms of this series (which are relatively few and minor) have arisen from unfamiliarity with the literary works which Lewis apparently used as sources for some of his ideas. Familiarity with Platonic and medieval concepts of the universe goes a long way in helping with the understanding and appreciation of the three books in question. The author also works in some influences from Arthurian legend. Then, of course, there is the author’s Christian perspective, so at least a nodding acquaintance with theology is helpful.
Stylistically, the series is a good example of science fiction from the first half of the twentieth century. As such, it is outdated and inaccurate in light of the extensive data produced by various NASA missions, but this is alright. I mean, it’s science fiction, right? More accurately, these are fantasies disguised as science fiction. They were written at a time when historical limitations in knowledge and technology left more room in the solar system for the exercise of the imagination.
And the author’s imagination was prolific as well as being informed by his scholarship and understanding of classical works of literature. He was the product of a school of thought so aptly described by Dorothy Sayers in her essay entitled The Lost Tools of Learning. This shows in the quality of his thoughts and the effectiveness of his written expression. Overall, I found this trilogy a refreshing and unique blend of Greek philosophy, Christian theology, Arthurian legend, and science fiction.
The three books of the trilogy are (in order) Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength. In the next few weeks, I will briefly examine each of these stories.
I would like to propose the following contest for the best cinematic villain in the scifi/fantasy genre: DARTH VADER vs. LOKI.
They’re both from space, and they both have mad combat skills. From there, however, they diverge, sort of.
Their weapons are impressive but different. Darth Vader has that classic light saber while Loki has (well, temporarily) a wicked-looking sceptre fitted with the Mind Stone in disguise.
Darth Vader has that telekinetic thing going with The Force, but Loki can use illusion of mythical dimensions. This more or less leaves us with something on the order of an unstoppable force aimed at an untouchable target.
Both characters have appealing nuance, a mixture of the honorable and the deplorable. In terms of origins, Loki, with his ambitions and father issues, has the better-written back story. His is also a more complete character study, but Darth Vader has the more iconic image (not to mention his voice and the sound of his breathing). His story arc is also complete while Loki’s is still unfolding.
And the winner is…
The Walt Disney Company, which now owns the rights to both the Star Wars and the Marvel franchises. A number of military, political, and socio-economic implications can be drawn from this and applied to real life, but I will leave that to the imagination of my readers.
I feel no particular need to repeat everything that so many have already said about Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I enjoyed this movie. No, I REALLY enjoyed this movie. The special effects are right, and adequate fan service is paid. Oh, yeah – the spaceships are still cool and more “realistic” than ever. Chewbacca (still played by Peter Mayhew), C-3PO (still played by Anthony Daniels), and R2D2 (for whom Kenny Baker is still involved, this time serving as a consultant) are their lovable, familiar selves. Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) are poignantly compelling in their maturity.
But as I mentioned in last week’s post, I want to concentrate on two themes:
the origin of evil
Much could be said in regard to these themes, but I’ll concentrate on two new characters:
Kylo Ren – Oh, he’s evil, but he’s also a temperamental adolescent or post-adolescent who’s not yet fully on his game. The main question I have relates to the first theme. We know that he became evil, but we don’t know why given that his parents were essentially good.
More specifically how did he (as played by Adam Driver) get to the depraved state in which he could do what he did near the end of the movie? Even Darth Vader had turned out alright in the end, for crying out loud (which a middle-aged fellow sitting near me in the theater nearly did).
Rey – This character (played by Daisy Ridley) interested me for three reasons. First, she is a charming, admirable, gutty, and very feminine (but in an unconventional way) action hero.
Second, she and Han Solo have a good teacher-pupil relationship until… well, you know.
Third, concerning the second theme, I was delighted to watch her intuitive discovery of her spiritual prowess, especially during her mental face-off with Kylo Ren. The light saber fight wasn’t bad, either.
It is probably obvious by now that I found her the most compelling character. I’m a father with daughters, and I teach at a women’s college. I’ll make a bold prediction: this kid is going places.
Am I forgetting something? Right. Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) is still cool, too.
Back when they came out, I considered the movies of the original Star Wars trilogy to be fun, visually impressive, and little more than that. On further reflection, I have realized that these did two things I think good movies should do: (1) make me think about them the day after I see them and (2) cause me to ask questions that go beyond the obvious statements in the script. When a cinematic experience is at its best, we do more than watch. We also interact on some level. We assign our own meanings to the work, and we often reflect on our own lives.
Having said this, I would like to mention some themes from the original trilogy. These may or may not have been intended by the directors, writers, and producers of the movies, but that doesn’t really matter to me. What does matter is that they pulled me in far enough for me to get invested, to be stimulated to think. So here are what I would call (if nothing else) a couple of THEMES IN MY HEAD. Readers may disagree, but let me remind you that you have just entered MY universe.
The first theme is the origin of evil. This can be thought of on at least three levels: in itself, in the individual, and in the group. The origin of evil in itself is something which challenges my Christian mindset since I believe in a benevolent creator. George Lucas said in at least one interview that he was interested in religions as plot and theme elements, including eastern religions in which this theological snag would not present the same problem. The origins of evil in the individual and the group lead us into psychology, sociology, and ethics. In other words, why do the characters in the story behave as they do? How Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader was an interesting question which was not answered by the original trilogy.
The second theme is spiritual development. Luke Skywalker learns that he has a strong connection to The Force, and a significant amount of screen time is devoted to how he learns to grow in his capability. His tutelage comes at the hands of Obi Wan Kenobi and then Yoda. Also this learning process folds back onto the first theme in those instances when he is tempted to succumb to the Dark Side of the force.
I said last week that I was going to make you wait for it, but next week we’ll get into the new Star Wars movie, especially in light of these two themes.
I wanted to wait until the hype about Star Wars: The Force Awakens had died down (well, maybe it has a little) before mentioning it in my blog. Having said that, I won’t write about it this week. I’m going to make you wait for it. Instead, I’d like to offer some observations about the original trilogy (episodes IV-VI). Is there a better starting point for a series entitled Mythology in Space? So before I go any further, here ‘s the obligatory photo:
What I was asking myself was why this franchise was so popular. Since I’m old enough, I went back in my mind to 1977 (the year this movie was released) and remembered how it had impressed me a long time ago in a state far, far away. Here, then, is my list of reasons:
The light and dark sides of The Force (whose meanings are claimed by Christians and practitioners of eastern religions alike) were compelling spiritual concepts. Even in my profession of academia, professors across this great nation refer to colleagues who have gone into administration as having crossed over to the dark side.
The Jedi and their counterparts have telepathic and telekinetic powers. Along with The Force, these added a new dimension to the science fiction genre.
Darth Vader (played by David Prowse, voiced by James Earl Jones, and played by Sebastian Shaw when the helmet is finally removed) is one of the all time great villains in cinematic history. The Emperor (Ian McDiamid) is also noteworthy.
Obi-Wan Kenobi (the venerable Alec Guinness) and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) are cool. So are Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), and Yoda (voiced by Frank Oz). In other words, the characters are memorable.
So that diehard fans don’t get mad at me, C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) and R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) were cool, too.
The spaceships, the Death Star, and all the other space machinery were cool, and the special effects used to bring them and their battles to the big screen were groundbreaking for their time.
Lightsabers are definitely cool, even their sound. I mean, who wouldn’t want one in a fight?
It was a good story. The plot was compelling.
I’d better stop here. The more I write, the greater the chance that fans better versed than I will find grounds to correct me. A quick look at this insufficient list will show that the iconic imagery, concepts, and characters are extensive. Lest we blame George Lucas eternally for the second trilogy (which came before the first?), let us remember that this piece of cultural history was his creation and that he wrote and directed the first installment (which turned out pretty well). After all, even a damaged Death Star is impressive.