Friday, 4 May 2012

CS Lewis: "Forms of Things Unknown"

"Forms of Things Unknown" by CS Lewis reads like "hard sf" (scientifically and technologically accurate science fiction) until the last sentence. However, Lewis has prepared the reader for this ultimate intrusion of fantasy. The story is prefaced by a quotation from Lewis' novel, Perelandra:

"...that what was myth in one world might always be fact in some other." (1)

Before Jenkin sets off for the Moon, his friend derides the idea of animated lunar stones as "...mere science fiction or mythology." (2)

Thus, sf and myth are bracketed together. Jenkin replies:

"Going to the Moon at all was once science fiction. And as for mythology, haven't they found the Cretan labyrinth?" (2)

Thus, the reader is prepared for the idea that, if the labyrinth existed, then perhaps mythological beings did as well. Also relevant is Jenkin's remark that, after a disappointing relationship with a young woman, he doesn't feel anything about her or indeed about women. In fact, he is "A bit petrified." (3) There was a female mythological being who literally petrified anyone who saw her.

The petrification theme continues when Jenkin, en route to the Moon, realizes one of his motives for volunteering. Because the affair had indeed frozen or petrified him, he now:

"...wanted to feel again, to be flesh, not stone." (4)

He will get the opposite of this wish.

There is a less explicit echo of Perelandra. A conscious reason why Jenkin had volunteered was a wish to be "...'outside,' in the sky...," in space, where, if anything, there might be a danger of agoraphobia. (4) Instead, he is claustrophobically enclosed in "...a little metal container...very like a coffin." (4) In Perelandra, Ransom had been angelically transported to Venus in a transparent white coffin but there the symbolism was of death to one world leading to new life in another whereas Jenkin's situation suggests merely death.

Lewis' unfamiliarity with technology is shown by his use of the word "...gimmicks.." for the instruments that Jenkin must use. (5) On the Moon, he finds statues of the men who had preceded him there, had started to transmit to Earth, then stopped. The statues show them in their spacesuits, looking over their shoulders. Believing that he has encountered lunar art, Jenkin, happy, no longer petrified, starts to transmit, sees the shadow of a human head with thick writhing hairs approaching from behind him and remembers that there is no wind on the Moon as he turns...

"His eyes met hers." (6)

(1) CS Lewis, "Forms of Things Unknown" IN Lewis, The Dark Tower and other stories, London, 1983, pp. 124-132 AT p. 124.
(2) ibid., p. 127.
(3) ibid., p. 125.
(4) ibid., p. 128.
(5) ibid., pp. 128, 131.
(6) ibid., p. 132.


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