Having recently finished reading Out of the Silent Planet on holiday, two quotes from separate, but closely tied, passages struck me especially. Not having read the book since high school, almost 8 years ago at this point, most of it was new to me in terms of the ideas presented and general plot; and as is often the case of most ‘first time’ read-throughs where only the veneer of ideas is genuinely discovered, mine was no different. All that to say, even having just finished it, the book already entices me to read again and see what other worldview and cosmological tidbits Lewis has sprinkled throughout this first in his space trilogy.
Quote 1: On Death
“Many thousands of thousand years before this [talking to Weston], when nothing yet lived on your world [earth], the cold death was coming on my harandra. Then I was in deep trouble, not chiefly for the death of my hnau [creatures] -Maleldil [God] does not make them long-livers -but for the things which the lord of your world, who was not yet bound, put into their minds. He would have made them as your people are now -wise enough to see the death of their kind approaching but not wise enough to endure it. […]The weakest of my people do not fear death. It is the Bent One, the lord of your world, who wastes your lives and befouls them with flying from what you know will overtake you in the end. If you were subjects of Maledil you would have peace.” (Lewis, 138-139; Chapter 20)
Quote 2: On Bent and Broken Men
“I see now how the lord of the silent world has bent you. There are laws that all hnau [creatures] know, of pity and straight dealing and shame and the like, and one of these is the love of kindred. He has taught you to break all of them except this one, which is not one of the greatest laws; this one he has bent till it becomes folly and has set it up, thus bent, to be a little, blind Oyarsa [king] in your brain. And now you can do nothing but obey it, though if we ask you why it is a law you give no other reason for it than for all the other and greater laws which it drives you to disobey. […The bent one] has left you this one [law] because a bent hnau can do more evil than a broken one.” (Lewis, 137-138)
I like the above conversations between Oyarsa and Weston. Prior to and during this conversation, Weston has waxed eloquent about how ‘humanity’ must be perpetuated at all costs -even if it means sacrificing their physical form, the lives of individuals (like the protagonist), etc. Through this whole dialogue, Lewis demonstrates mankind’s propensity to try and mentally block out and avoid what they know to be their ultimate end. In Weston’s specific case, Lewis also makes an interesting statement that a bent man is more capable of evil than a broken one. A man driven by greed, for example, will only cause so much harm, and is no longer so much a man as an animal since he no longer operates under any pretense of ‘law’ but simply carnal desire. However, the tyranny of the moral busybody, the man who will go to any extreme for a ‘good’ end, can be the most destructive, and Lewis understands this because he saw many such men in his own day, as we do in ours.
“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.” -C.S. Lewis