Friday, 4 May 2012

Cosmic Journeys III

In CS Lewis' Ransom Trilogy:

Out Of The Silent Planet describes Elwin Ransom's journey to Mars and ends when Ransom, back on Earth, writes to Lewis;

Perelandra begins when Lewis visits Ransom, then describes Ransom's journey to Venus;

That Hideous Strength, set entirely on Earth, features many characters including Ransom, MacPhee and Lewis and ends when Ransom returns to Venus.

Thus, the Trilogy is structured as follows:

interplanetary journey, correspondence with Lewis;
conversation with Lewis, interplanetary journey;
conversations and conflicts with several characters, interplanetary journey.

Three other works feature Lewis as character and narrator:

"The Dark Tower" begins when Ransom, Lewis, MacPhee, Orfieu and Scudamour converse, then describes Scudamour's visit to an alternative Earth;

"The Shoddy Lands" begins when a former student and his fiancee visit Lewis, then describes Lewis' visit to the fiancee's mind;

The Great Divorce begins with Lewis already visiting a mysterious realm where he later converses with George MacDonald.

The structure of this loose Lewis trilogy is:

conversation involving Lewis, visit to a parallel realm;
conversation involving Lewis, visit to a mental realm;
visit to spiritual realms, conversation involving Lewis.

One other work fits into this sequence. "Forms of Things Unknown" begins when Jenkin and Ward converse after a lecture, then describes Jenkin's journey to the Moon. The four characters who make cosmic journeys are:
Ransom, to Mars and Venus;
Scudamour, to Othertime;
Lewis, to the Shoddy Lands and to a dream of the hereafter;
Jenkin to the Moon.

Lewis converses, fictitiously of course, with his fictitious character, Ransom, then converses, also fictitiously, with an earlier writer, MacDonald. The line of literary descent is that MacDonald inspired Lewis who created Ransom but Lewis, by entering his own fictions, converses with both the others.
"The Dark Tower" was written before Perelandra and as a sequel to Out of the Silent Planet so I propose that the "Lewis trilogy" should be read between Volumes I and II of the Ransom Trilogy. That Hideous Strength, published in 1945, describes some technological advances after the War and "Forms of Things Unknown" describes the further technological advance of flight to the Moon so I propose that "Forms..." be read after the trilogies. (Weston's earlier space journeys were not made public and Weston died on Venus so that flights to the Moon - there were three before Jenkin's - came as a new development.)

"The Dark Tower" and Perelandra are direct sequels to Out Of The Silent Planet but "The Dark Tower" and its two "sequels" (I argue that they can be seen as such) change the direction, replacing Ransom with Lewis until the former returns in Perelandra. Although Ransom appears in four of the seven works and MacPhee in three, Lewis is in six. He becomes the central or continuing character of the sequence before returning that role to Ransom. Most people know of Narnia and many have read Ransom but it may not be widely recognised that Lewis himself plays such a major role in his own fiction. 

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