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I am a high school English teacher in an urban high school in Oklahoma City. I am a member of the American Federation of Teachers, Local 2309. I am a Democrat, a union activist and a worker for social justice. I also am a Christian (Congregationalist). I play chess and coach our school chess team.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Could Lewis's Science Fiction be turned into a film?

Perelandra, the second of C. S. Lewis' Science Fiction trilogy.
My wife and I went to see the film adaptation of C.S. Lewis's 3rd installment of The Chronicles of Narnia, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I enjoyed the film, which, with a few changes, followed Lewis's plot quite well. The film has underperformed at the box office, but I hope this will not end hopes of a production of the next book in the Narnia series: The Silver Chair.

Narnia, of course, is not the only fantasy fiction written by Lewis. He also wrote The Screwtape Letters, a brillant satire in which a "senior devil" named Screwtape gives advice to his nephew "Worwood" who has been given the responsibility of leading a human "patient" to the man's damnation. (Wormwood fails.)

Lewis also wrote a science fiction triology prior to Narnia, and I am tempted to wonder in this day when science fiction works like Star Wars, Startek and many other titles appear annually, whether some producer might be tempted to have a go at Lewis's contribution to the SF genre.

The three book titles are Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength. I believe the last book is greatly inferior to the first two for reasons I'll discuss later, but the first two involve themes popular in SF movies: space travel, new species, alternative worlds, evil scientists, even devils. Silent Planet and Perelandra also have something rather unique to their credit: they are both examples post World War I utopian fiction, a genre not often seen in our time.

In the first book ,Out of the Silent Planet a linguist, or philologist in British terminology, named Elwin Ransom is kidnapped by two men, one a former school mate ironically named Devine and the other a professor of physics named Weston, and taken to Mars, named Malacandra by its inhabitants. There Ransom escapes his captors and flees them meeting in his flight the various creatures who inhabit the planet. He uses his language skills to learn their langauge and discovers that they live a near perfect existence free from war, hatred, greed, adultery, and other sins that exist on Earth, which is known on Malacandra as "The Silent Planet." Ransom discovers that the reason for the Malacandran's utopic existence is that the Fall experienced by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden never happend on Malacandra. Ransom eventually is reunited with Devine and Weston who reveal the worst of human qualities to the Malacandrians. Because their prescence is deemed harmful to the Malancandrian world, all three are sent back to earth.

In Perelandra, Ransom is summonded to Perelandra, aka the planet Venus, to help the inhabitants of a new creation. There he discovers a world made up largely of floating islands with some "Fixed Land". He meets one of the two human inhabitants of the planet, a female named Tinidril. Her mate is nowhere to be found. Both Tinidril, who is green skinned, and Ransom are naked, but the is no hint of lust between the two. Soon they are joined by another earth man, Prof. Weston of the previous novel. Weston soon becomes the vehicle by which Satan is able to enter Perelandra for the purpose of tempting Tinidril to do the one act God has forbidden: remain overnight on the Fixed Land. Ransom realizes that his job is to prevent another Fall. He does so, at first, through argument and debate with Weston. Finally, he physically fights Weston, defeats and kills him. Tinidril is then reunited with her mate, and Ransom is returned to Earth.


Both of these novels create utopic worlds based on Christian theology. Because the creatures of Malacandra never fell, they are naturally good, chaste, peaceful and just. We can assume that the same will happen for the descendents of the first couple of Perelandra. All will be born free of original sin and obedience to God and righteous living will be natural for them.

The third work of Lewis's trilogy That Hideous Strength, set on Earth, has a much darker tone than the previous his two books. The work is also an unfortunate mishmash of science and fantasy with everyone trying to discover the secret chamber where Merlin the magician sleeps.

Once utopias were fairly common starting with Sir Thomas Moore's novel Utopia. Works like Erewhon by Thomas Butler, News from Nowhere by the English Socialist William Morris, Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy, an Ameican Socialist, and even Herland by the American feminist Charlotte Perkins Gilman. All of the books outlined the writers' vision of beneficial futures created through sound political and philosophical principles.

Utopias are fairly rare in our time. Two world wars, paricularly World War I, seems to have ended the writing of utopias in favor of dystopias. Lead by works like 1984 by George Orwell and Aldous Huxley'sBrave New World the future was seen as a dark and scary place to be. Most visions of the future now are dystopic nightmares like Mad Max, Blade Runner, the Maxtrix franchise and so forth.


While I think it unlikely that any of Lewis's SF will make it to the big screen, I think it would be an interesting challenge to try to recreate them in some form on the small one. They couldn't be set on Mars or Venus. Space exploration has forced us to place our other worlds in "galaxies far, far away." However, the idea of encountering an unfallen species does have interesting opportunities for us to do the sort of self-examination that is the hallmark of good science fiction. The idea is not without precedent. H. G. Wells did something similar to this in his work The Time Machine, a work that may have influenced Silent Planet. Humans who are a bad influence on other species has figured in many a Star Trek episode.

Perhaps someone or some group may wish to bring Lewis's science fiction to a wider audience through television. They might make an interesting cable series made to show that we can aspire to live up to higher ideals. Who knows? One day the utopic vision may be back in fashion.

What do you think?

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