Dr. Ransom, an English philologist, is kidnapped and carried onto a spaceship headed for Mars. Once there, he escapes from his captors, lives among the native inhabitants, and learns some surprising information about his own planet in his adventures.
“Things do not always happen as a man expects” (38).
The first of C.S. Lewis’ science fiction trilogy about the space adventures of Dr. Ransom is ultimately a novel of perceptions. Ransom begins to change on a fundamental level as soon as he awakens in the pure space sunlight aboard the ship of his captors, and as the novel progresses he sheds his fears and his pride to reach a new openness and love of life.
Is this a sci-fi novel like I’ve read before? No. Although it is peppered with space travel, “aliens” and new planets, it is ultimately a novel of spiritual discovery. Ransom’s interplanetary travel becomes a metaphor for his own internal travels- a journey into the far reaches of his beliefs and understandings. He is repeatedly reminded, through his interactions with the hrossa, sorns and pfiffltriggi (Martian, or “Malacandran” natives), that the fears and judgments he has held onto are limiting and small-minded. Fortunately, he is given the opportunities to grow and learn, and takes them whenever he can. The same cannot be said of his captors, whose interactions with the natives are markedly different and decidedly negative.
Did I enjoy it? I would say yes. I liked that Lewis took a well-worn formula (reluctant hero + spaceship + new worlds) and used it as a springboard to go internal, and yes, spiritual. Without revealing too much, the idea of a cruel space and a comforting Earth is completely turned on its head, and Ransom is confronted with a universe that is much kinder than he had thought.