In a story that revolves around intelligent life existing on other planets, can you still incorporate a Theistic worldview?
C.S. Lewis is an interesting guy. I’ve read a lot of books by a lot of authors, but he seems to have a particular knack for jumping across genres. He can children’s fantasy, and then he can hop over to meaningful theological apologetic works. What’s unknown to many people, however, even some dedicated fans of Lewis, is that he also wrote a space trilogy. What surprised me is how original it manages to be, even in a sub-genre which has experienced an outrageous degree of over-saturation ever since H.G. Wells.
The book follows a man named Dr. Ransom, an innocent academic with a relatively isolated life, who happens upon a couple of less-than-savory individuals who kidnap him and take him to a foreign planet, intending to use him as a human sacrifice to the hostile natives of this foreign planet. But when Ransom comes across one of the intelligent creatures on this planet, he becomes more skeptical as to his adversaries’ understanding of the creatures on this mysterious place called Malacandra.
The most remarkable thing about this book just in terms of creativity is Lewis’ description of the creatures and the foliage and the basic visual things about the planet. It’s a level of incredible creativity that is unmatched in any of Lewis’s other work, including The Chronicles of Narnia. Between the colorful petrified forest, the seal-like hrossa, and the truly unique sorns, C.S. Lewis created a world that is more his own than any other. Others have created worlds with talking animals, God figures, and heroic children. Even if you argue that the Narnia stories are higher quality than other similar stories (which I would argue), it’s still a different take on something that’s been done several times. The world of Malacandra, on the other hand, is completely Lewis’s own. It’s one of the most original science fiction tales I’ve read.
But the thing that makes it so original isn’t just the races, the color, or even the detailed description of how different the atmospheric conditions and gravity levels are. It’s in the spirituality of the world. Ransom’s discussion with the hrossa (who he stays with for a large portion of the story) reveal belief in an all-supreme god (Maleldil), as well as a being who might be described as a sort of arch-angel in charge of keeping peace on the planet (Oyarsa). The most notable thing about this aspect of the story is that this is not, as in most science fiction, presented as an ignorant religion by primitive people. In fact, it’s less an organized religion and more just a statement of the way the world is. These people are not primitive. Of the three hnau (the hrossa term for intelligent races, what we would think of as beings with a soul, like humans), the hrossa are poets who believe in sustainable living, the sorns highly intelligent intellectuals and scholars, and the pfiffltriggi brilliant inventors. Many modern inventions on Earth are notably missing, but there are also certain technological achievements that the people of Malacandra have that those of Earth have not attained.
The story doesn’t dig deeply into the theology and such of Maleldil, nor does it spend a great deal of time with Oyarsa. But the time that it does spend on these things is in the context of the true crux of the story: the comparison between Ransom and the two men that abducted him, Weston and Devine. The difference is primarily in that Weston and Devine cannot see the hnau of Malacandra as being equal beings. They don’t see their lives as having value. They are beasts at worst, worthless primitives at best. Ransom on the other hand, takes time to live with them. To get to know them. To appreciate them.
So there is room for God in this story. You can hardly read this without asking, even believing, that Maleldil is in fact Jehovah by a different name. But the point of the story is more a recognition of the value of lives that are not exactly our own, and an appreciation of people that are not exactly ours, all in the context of a rather fascinating world.