Overview: Lewis takes us on an unexpected space journey with Dr. Elwin Ransom, a philologist (or linguist). Much of the book deals with his encounters with exotic beings and his attempts to communicate with them. This book would be appropriate for teens or middle-school children, although the rest of the trilogy treats more mature themes.
Meat: The strengths of this book are essentially the same as those of The Chronicles of Narnia. Lewis’ description in this book is simple and beautiful, and the metaphors are plain and elegant. The crux of the book lies in Ransom’s realization that his species, is, in fact, the strange one. Through this lens he explores what it means to be human, and imagines the possibility of an unfallen species. The insights on this line deepen in the sequel, Perelandra.
Bones: As in Narnia, Lewis’ metaphors for divinity are thinly veiled, but to the believing reader this is merely Lewis being himself. Critics point out that Lewis’ explanations are unscientific—but then, that’s not really the point of the trilogy. Others might find, on the contrary, that he uses too much of the scientific perspective in the book. As a scientist and a believer, I found the book concise, elegant and readable.
Quotes: “At length he understood that it was his species that was the strange one.” (ch. 11)
“Like a silence spreading over a room full of people, like an infinitesimal coolness on a sultry day, like a passing memory of some long-forgotten sound or scent, like all that is stillest and smallest and most hard to seize in nature, Oyarsa passed between his subjects and drew near and came to rest, not ten yards away from Ransom, in the centre of Meldilorn.” (ch. 18)
“The very name ‘Space’ seemed a blasphemous libel for this empyrean ocean of radiance in which they swam. He could not call it ‘dead’; he felt life pouring into him from it every moment. How indeed should it be otherwise, since out of this ocean all the worlds and all their life had come? He had thought it barren: he now saw that it was the womb of worlds, whose blazing and innumerable offspring looked down nightly even upon the earth with so many eyes-and here, with how many more! No: Space was the wrong name. Older thinkers had been wiser when they named it simply ‘the heavens.'”