Karl J. Franklin
Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics*


I use two books from the space trilogy by C.S. Lewis as a basis for examining and speculating about how Lewis might have functioned as a missionary. I observe Lewis, as his surrogate character Ransom, interacting with various aliens, as well as the scientist Weston (and Devine) as he visits Malacandra (Mars) and Perelandra (Venus). In these books are examples of dynamic culture and language contact as Ransom encounters beings and cultures and attempts to communicate with them. His exchanges parallel those that often take place between missionaries and people of non-Western cultures. I outline some of Ransom’s experiences and compare them to a few of my own, from observations of living abroad as a missionary linguist for many years.


My interest in the writings of C.S. Lewis goes back to my college days. After I read Mere Christianity I was sure that its arguments would challenge my skeptical dad to consider the claims of Christianity. I don’t remember that it did, but it prompted many profitable conversations between us and Lewis’s writings have influenced my own thinking about the Christian faith.

I continued to read all of his books and when we arrived in Papua New Guinea (then the Territory of New Guinea) in 1958 as “missionaries” the novel Till we have faces had recently been published. It again challenged me to think more deeply about culture and language. His books (and books about him) have been part of my life for a long time.

When my daughter was a sophomore at Baylor University she took a course that specialized in books by Lewis. She read most of his books and later enrolled me as a member of the New York C.S. Lewis Society. A couple of years ago the Great Courses, offered a course that I took (The life and writings of C.S. Lewis by Professor Louis Markos of Houston Baptist University. I often re-read one of Lewis’s books because they bring a fresh perspective to Christianity and its applications.

Over the years authors have looked at Lewis from various perspectives[1], for example: philosophy (A. Barkman, 2009); storyteller (D. Bingham, 1999; B. Gormley, 1988); apologist (S.R. Burson and J.L. Walls, 1998, and others); Scripture (M.J. Christenson, 1971); defender (R.B. Cunningham, 1968; B.L. Edwards, 1986); the Catholic church and Rome (J. Pearce, 2003, C. Derrick, 1981); friendship (C. Duriez, 2003; C,S. Kilby and M.L. Mead, eds. 1982); myth (M.E. Freshwater, 1988, and others); war (K.J. Gilchrist, 2005); enchantment (D.E. Glover, 1981); legacy (T. Glaspey, 1996); poet (R. Kawano, 1955; D.W. King, 2001); fiction (T. Howard, 1980, 2006); education ( J.D. Heck, 2006); imagination (A. Jacobs, 2005, and others); heaven & hell (W. Martindale, 2005; G. Clark 2012; P. Kreeft, 1982; J. Como, 1998); laughter (T. Lindvall, 1996); fantasy (C.N. Manlove, 1993, and others); the virgin Mary (A. Mastrolia, 2000); the classics (T. L. Martin, editor, 2000); joy (M. H. Macdonald and A. A. Tadie, eds., 1989); social and ethical thought (G. Meilaender, 1978, and others); witness (D. Mills, ed. 1998); allegory (J.W. Montgomery, ed. 1974, and others); metaphor (F.J. Morris, 1977, and others); prophet (C.A.E. Moodie, 2000); God, love, sex, and the meaning of life (A. M. Nicholi, Jr., 2002); the Holy Spirit (L. Payne, 1979); vice and virtue (G. Reed, 2001); holiness (G. Reed, 1999); fantasy (L.D. Rossi, 1984, and others); form and fiction (P.J. Schakel, ed. 1977); reason and imagination (P.J. Schakel, 1984, and others); (P.J. Schakel) imagination and the arts, 2002); the Bible (J. Schriftman, 2008); science and the supernatural (S. Schwartz, 2009, and others); the sexes (M.S. Van Leeuwen, 2010); skeptics (C. Walsh, 1949); vision (C. Walsh, 1981; reason (E.J. Wielenberg, 2008, and others).

There are also Lewis related bibliographies, summaries, encyclopedias, collections of readings, websites and so on, to consult on Lewis. However, as far as I know, no one has ever suggested that C.S. Lewis championed the missionary cause, nor had much interest in it.

In September 2005 my wife and I spent a month in Ecuador visiting our family, who were medical missionaries there, and I re-read the space trilogy: Out of the silent planet, Perelandra and That hideous strength. As I read Lewis’s comments on space travel, meeting with inhabitants of other planets and trying to learn a very different language and culture, it seemed to me that Lewis could be imagined as a missionary.

Coupled with the general triumph of technology, and the often consequences of sin and pride, the trilogy is hardly out of date. Then in September 2006 (in Ecuador again), I re-read the books more carefully. In a vicarious sense, I pretended that Lewis was a missionary—what did he say in his space encounters that paralleled the missionary work with which I was acquainted? So I began to think, speculate and write about the subject. My wife informs me that some of my analogies are a bit far-fetched, but missionary stories often seem far-fetched, so bear with me in this exercise.

Of course, to consider the question, I have had to speculate about Lewis as an author and about his characters and plots. I found that his many characters and events reveal a great deal about cross-cultural communication, something missionaries are supposed to excel in.

Readers know that Lewis’s books speak of fantasy, myth, devils, other worlds and planets, and that his letters reveal his more personal side. Although my context is the first two books of his space trilogy, I may occasionally refer to some of his other writings. [2]

I do not want to imply that Lewis considered himself a missionary or thought deeply about missionaries. In fact he was frightened that, if humans should contact an unfallen race somewhere on another planet in space, we would soon corrupt them. In an interview with Sherwood Wirt of Decision magazine (September 1963, and probably the last interview Lewis had before he died) he said:

I look forward with horror to contact with other inhabited planets, if there are such. We would only transport to them all of our sin and acquisitiveness and establish a new colonialism. I can’t bear to think of it. But if we on earth were to get right with God, of course, all that would be changed. Once we find ourselves spiritually awakened, we can go to outer space and take the good things with us. That is quite another matter.

Some definitions and background

The word “missionary” has both positive and negative connotations, so let me explain how I am using the term and why I want to see if Lewis fits it. Although the work of a missionary is most naturally related to religious tasks, it does not have to be. A businessman, nurse, teacher or terrorist can have a mission to fulfill, so they could fit that aspect of the missionary profile as well. I therefore go further and qualify the definition by saying “Christian missionary,” thus immediately adding certain additional constraints and facts.

Put simply, a Christian missionary represents (serves as an ambassador for) the God of his Christian faith; secondly, he is motivated by God to do the task; thirdly, he is willing to undergo hardship to accomplish the task; and finally, he carries the message for the benefit of a particular audience. A missionary is therefore one with a mission, a purpose to fulfill. In the Christian context the mission is to tell groups, most often those that are culturally different than one’s own, the good news of Jesus Christ–how he came into the world to die for sinful people, was killed and then rose again. It is a message of hope because it offers forgiveness, redemption and resurrection.

In thinking about how Lewis portrays the missionary cause, I have imagined Ransom leaving his English homeland, going to a non-English speaking country, and trying to learn the language and customs of the country, all with the goal of conveying to the inhabitants a message (which he was initially unaware of) of hope and reconciliation.

We know that if missionaries wish to be “at home” in a different culture and communicate with the inhabitants of that culture, they need to learn to speak another language, one that is often very different from their own. They also need to understand the culture without judging it negatively simply because it is different. The depth of their linguistic and cultural understanding will most often be determined by their degree of participation in the contacted culture, as well as by the friendships they form within the culture. Their ability to gradually gain a perspective from inside the culture, similar to a native speaker, rather from the outside, like an alien, will allow them a view that is cross-cultural, i.e., it crosses from their own culture to a new culture. Initially it may turn out that their audience is not appreciative and does not understand their message, so they may be treated indifferently, or even cruelly. All of their interactions will require faith, love, and hope, but the most important may be hope. Although most missionaries go in faith, not knowing exactly what to expect, they are convinced that God is leading them into this new venture. They must also demonstrate charity because their motives and behavior will be tested and often found raw and bitter. But most of all, they will need infinite patience, hoping that learning the language and culture, living in an alien land, eating different foods and viewing practices that are foreign and often distasteful to them, can lead to an acceptance and understanding of the message they represent. We should expect this of missionaries, so how about Ransom on Mars?

A Missionary to Mars?

To begin this exercise let us look at author Lewis, in the persona of his surrogate Ransom, as he visits a planet outside of earth, and let us observe his interactions with the aliens he meets. What he learns will eventually influence his behavior and work back on earth.

When Ransom goes to Mars he is like some missionary spouses, going more by compulsion than desire. Although a spouse will not be captured and put in a space rocket, it may seem so, especially if he or she goes unwillingly to a new environment. When the space ship goes to Mars, it is because of the evil intentions and desires of Weston and Divine, not because Ransom wants to go there.[3] Missionaries often do not end up where they intended to go: Judson found himself in Burma when he wanted to be in India; Ken Pike desired China, but ended up in Mexico; some of my colleagues in Papua New Guinea were waiting for visas to go to Irian Jaya (now called Papua), but served in PNG, and so on. They have experienced these verses: “Many are the plans in the mind of man but it is the will of God that will be accomplished.”(Proverbs16:9; 19:21)

The story of Ransom, who is a philologist and a fellow of Cambridge College, begins when he is simply trying to get home before dark. As it becomes late and he seems unlikely to get to his destination, he chances to meet a woman and asks her for directions to an inn where he might spend the night. She is distressed because she has been waiting for her husband, Harry. Harry turns out to be dumb, but works at a place that Ransom will be passing. Ransom agrees to contact her husband and pass on her message of anxiety. Upon reaching the somewhat secluded place, Ransom has to climb a fence in order to get inside. There he is accosted by Devine (a former acquaintance) and his accomplice, Professor Weston. Unbeknownst to Ransom, they are conducting a human experiment, and want to use Harry.

Lewis uses the experiment motif as the underlying reason that Ransom is taken to Mars. God seems to conduct experiments with people, as demonstrated most strikingly by Job, who was the experimental evidence that God offered to Satan for a righteous man. Ransom seems to be unaware of God’s ultimate purpose and yet eventually learns what God is teaching him. Missionaries often wonder what God is doing, not if He should do it, but where the action or inaction is leading. In my case, why would an administrator ask me to run a sawmill in 1958 when we were awaiting assignment to start language work? Or why did the director choose my wife and me to supervise the opening of an airstrip? However, these experiences allowed my wife and me to begin learning the trade language (Tok Pisin) and meet people of different cultures. The space trilogy is an excellent metaphor of missionary work at times: into the unknown, meeting the unknown, difficulty in communication, battles with evil, questions about purpose, and so on.

Weston and Divine overcome Ransom and decide to use him, instead of Harry, for the experiment. Ransom finds himself on a spaceship and as the earth recedes he learns that they are on their way to Malacandra (Mars). Overhearing a conversation on the space ship, Ransom realizes that Weston has been in contact with Mars inhabitants, known as sorn, earlier. He cannot imagine what the sorn are like, but from what he overhears he believes that they are demanding a human sacrifice from earth.

Ransom, like any curious missionary, is observant and making deductions, even as he is puzzled about what is going on around him or the purpose for it. Missionaries generally know about the country where they are heading and, for the most part, are quite observant. When we were assigned to PNG (then the Territory of New Guinea) in 1957, I found books by Colin Simpson called Adam with arrows and Adam with plumes and read them. I wrote to Oceania to buy some monographs on the New Guinea people and what was known about their languages. I also read back issues of National Geographic to find information on the area—in short, I was learning as much as I could before I arrived at this new country. This reading and study gave me background information from which to make deductions about the country and its people. Some were wrong: when we landed in Port Moresby and saw the men spitting out red juice we assumed that TB was rampant instead of recognizing that they were chewing betel nut and spitting out the juice. Similarly, Ransom had difficulty figuring out what was happening on his way to Mars, but he had nothing to read to help him.

Ransom’s party eventually lands on Mars. Weston obviously has been there before because he has a key to a hut that contains provisions. Later they are met by six white “spindly and flimsy things, twice or three times the height of a man,” who compel them to cross over water with them. Weston fires his revolver at them and in the confusion Ransom is able to free himself and flee.

As best he can, Ransom describes his first contact with the inhabitants of Mars. Enough sign language is communicated for Weston’s party to know what these unfamiliar creatures, the sorn, want. Ransom, perhaps like most missionaries, does not own a gun, but Weston does and he fires it to scare off the natives. Similarly, in the story of the first contact into the highlands of Papua New Guinea by Hides and O’Malley, they frighten the people by shooting a pig to demonstrate the power of their guns. This has sometimes been a tactic when invaders and prospectors have entered new territory and believed the people meant them harm. When missionaries arrive in another country, their mission is to interact positively peacefully with the people (not shoot them). There are instances when guns have been used, so perhaps we should not be too judgmental of Weston and his fears.

Ransom‘s first impression of his new world is that it is bright, “a water colour world” (43), and that it is beautiful. He encounters many obstacles, creatures and personal difficulties and, as he does so, he is terribly afraid of the sorn and its territory. His imagination has already formed “incompatible monstrosities” (37), so he is intent on escape. At the same time, he is “absorbed in a philosophical speculation” (41). He talks to himself about the situation and its dangers—a sure sign of cultural shock. His first encounter is with “a herd of enormous pale furry creatures” and then creatures whose heads are narrow and conical and have hands like paws (54). Ransom flees until he is near water to drink and then sees something come out of the water, something tall and “too thin for its height, like everything in Malacandra” (55). The creatures talk and Ransom imagines describing their grammar and writing a dictionary of it (56), but at this stage he can’t understand its language and is perplexed.

However, the creatures gives him liquid to drink (57) and he is very grateful. It tries to talk to Ransom, identifying itself as hross (later Ransom learns that hrossa is the plural) and their mutual attempt at conversation and discovery begins. Ransom deducts that the name Malacandra is the whole landscape, with handra meaning ground or earth. As a student of language, he notices a change in sounds (dialects) as well as suffixes and prefixes and a phonological rule (“H disappears after C”).

Sometimes the people we may fear the most in another society and culture can turn out to be our best friends. When we lived in the village of Usa in the Southern Highlands of PNG, off and on, from 1958 to 1973, at first I didn’t like Yanda (not his real name). He was too demanding and always around, wanting to “help”. But it wasn’t long before Yanda wanted me to train him to do some of the things I was doing, practical things like carpentry. He became a very good friend, one I could count on for help and our friendship often developed while we ate. Just as the hrossa helped Ransom in a practical way, Yanda helped me. In respect to linguistic aptitude, Ransom would qualify as a missionary, but could benefit from some phonology training (there is no phonetic “C”, it would be a “K”). However, he learns quickly because he immediately attempts to use the language. His natural fears are reduced quickly when he begins to communicate in the language. The need for communication is why missionaries learn phonetics, language learning techniques, and study the basic grammatical and cultural features of languages. Nevertheless, fear of people and learning a new language in a different culture, leads to problems common to missionaries. Ransom overcomes many of his fears as he begins to learn the language and customs of the hrossa.

The hrossa are the first group of beings that Ransom interacts with on Mars. Before his trip is complete, he will have met three groups: the sorn (plural, séroni) , the hross (plural hrossa, feminine hressni);and the pfifltrigg (pural pfifltriggi) and will make observations on the languages and customs of each. They, along with Ransom are hnau.[4]

Eventually Ransom is compelled to follow the hross in a boat and he does so, although “its animality shocked him” (61) However, at the same time he had a “longing to learn its language” (61) and to understand it better. As they travel Ransom continues to observe new things: the high ground is called harandra and the low areas are handramit. The hrossa live in the handramit and the séroni up in the hrandra.

The hross who first found him is named Hyoi and the one teaching him the language is the “grey-muzzled, venerable” Hnobra (66). Ransom does well and is wise to remember personal names—I remember how difficult, yet essential, it was to remember the names of the villages, clans, rivers, mountains, and garden areas. These were all unknown to me as a foreigner in the Kewa area in the Southern Highlands of Papua New Guinea. Nevertheless, it was important for me, as it is with new missionaries anywhere, to learn the names of the areas around us. In this respect Ransom is again an exemplary learner. He continues with observations on the culture and environment, as well as observing the knowledge the Martians have of his world—Thulcandra, or the earth. Of course the Kewa knew nothing of my world but they were interested in my birthplace and where I grew up. In the same way, Ransom wishes to know all about the séroni and hrossa, so he begins to study what is of interest and importance to them, just as a missionary must learn the worldview of the people with whom he works.

Ransom analyzes the hrossa culture as “old stone age” and discovers their agriculture in the first week” (67), where “discover” seems to mean that he begins to record information about the plants and foods. It is at this stage that he is asked more questions about his own world, “the silent world or planet”, known as Thulcandra (68). He asks why they call it by that name and the answer is “the séroni know”, (68) a phrase he will often hear. Ransom explains that he did not come to their world alone, but with two bad (“bent”) men. Did Ransom know about Maleldil the Young who made the world? Ransom is being treated (in his view) as the savage and his subsequent questions indicate that he is convinced that the hrossa might need “religious instruction” (69). On the other hand, the Martian inhabitants decide that Ransom should try to meet Oyarsa, who lives in Meldilorn and who “knows everything, rules everyone, and had always existed” (70).

Ransom is learning about the traditional beliefs and activities of the three groups of inhabitants on Malacandra. Some missionaries are reluctant to put much stock in the traditional tales from the people, doubting the truth of their oral histories. However, God does not want anyone to be lost, so within cultures there is often some knowledge about Him, revealed in myths and stories and their natural environment. Their stories, compared to the biblical accounts, may be distorted, but should not be discounted. Once again Ransom exhibits good missionary skills by learning the names of the experts who know the answers and can best explain the culture’s worldview. Worldviews are composite values and beliefs and are best understood by hearing stories from participants in the culture as Ransom is learning the worldview of Malacandrians. Our worldview influences the way we interpret not only the Scriptures, but other cultures and languages. This is why we study anthropology and linguistics. I remember studying Kewa religion and thinking not only: Whom should I ask, but also, who are the ones who know the most about this topic? I was even unsure of the best questions to ask.

Ransom learns, for example, that Maleldil is not a hnau (being), that the hrossa, as well as the séroni and pfifltriggi, are different culture groups (see the Appendix for more details). The pfifltriggi like to dig, soften things with fire and make things. They are smaller than humans, “long in the snout, pale, busy” (69). Ransom begins to realize why Weston is so interested in the area, apparently for what the pfifltriggi can make. He also concludes that the séroni are the intelligentsia.

Here again Ransom is like a working missionary anthropologist: analyzing class and social structure, determining work habits, describing the new culture group as best he can. One of our first tasks was to outline the kinship structure of the Kewa, to see how people fit into the social structure and to note how the clans and sub-clans were named and organized. We then were gradually assigned our own place in the structure and given names to use. This adoption process is essential if missionaries are accepted into a culture group. However, even in the process, we make assumptions that are influenced by our cultural background and worldview. For example, the word “brother” in English can refer to a sibling, a shared parent (half-brother), a common ancestry, a fellow man, a friend, or a member of a religious order. In Kewa a “brother” refers to male siblings, parallel male cousins, the wife’s sister’s husband, the wife’s father’s brother’s daughter’s husband, the wife’s fathers’ sister’s daughters’ husband and several other similar relationships. But in Kewa my sister does not use the name “brother” for me; rather she uses a word that means “sibling of the opposite sex” and I would refer to her the same way. Some of Ransom’s assumptions were also incorrect, but again, this is part of the process of culture and language learning.

In the ensuing conversations both Ransom and the hrossa learn that they have hunted the hnakra in their separate worlds and will do so now. But as they engage in the activity a philosophical discussion reveals that the hrossa have no “bent” (sinful) ones of their own species.

This is a theological point that most missionaries might find unacceptable—the whole world and other worlds as well would probably be considered sinful to missionaries. But why is this so? Didn’t Jesus say that he had other worlds that the disciples didn’t know about? Are there really other places in the universe where there are princes and powers that are evil? How do our practical earth-oriented worldviews fit with the Scriptural hints of fallen angels, angel-humans, and supreme evil angels like Satan? Ransom is learning new things that conflict with his own experiences and worldview—missionaries do this on a regular basis. It is not as difficult to learn about hunting and engaging in similar cultural activities with the people. Ransom follows missionaries in this respect—in many societies around the world hunting is a part of the people’s lives. In the U.S. today there is a lot of conflict over “gun control” but I grew up in rural Pennsylvania where using guns to hunt was part of our adolescent ritual.

Ransom becomes engaged in a long discussion with Hyoi and one of their exchanges is on the difference between two verbs, “points in their language which Ransom had not mastered” (74). They also discuss a hrossa having two mates (two hressni) and Ransom concludes that it is not the hrossa “but his own species, that were the puzzle” (75).

They leave for the hnakar (plural hnéraki) hunt on Hyoi’s boat with Whin as a companion. They meet up with an eldil on the trip, who reminds Ransom that he is to go to Oyarsa (80). The hunt ensues and a hnakra is killed—they are successful hunters (hnakrapunti, 82).

At that point Weston kills Hyoi, thinking it is a beast. Whin says this has happened because Ransom was supposed to go to Oyarsa but did not obey the eldil. The hross then explains to him how to take the five day journey to find Oyarsa. It is an arduous trip but finally he comes to a cave and meets a sorn. The sorn knows about Glundandra (Jupiter, 158) and Perelandra (Venus)

Prior to this there is a scene of ethnic and cultural superiority when Weston speaks to Oyarsa about science and human destiny. Ransom is called upon to interpret as Weston compares his civilization with the stone-age life on Mars, how his responsibility from the higher life is over the lower forms, and so on. Ransom falters when he tries to translate Weston’s view of killing the sorn as if the concept somehow benefited the survival of the human race. A series of conversations shows Weston speaking a pidgin variety of the language in which he assumes his own cultural superiority.

How do we justify or explain war, conflict, and conquest in space in terms of social benefits accruing for others? During a missionary’s  career many unusual and unacceptable things happen. How should they to be interpreted: Does the missionary always know God’s will? How should he respond to unacceptable behavior? There is no lack of cause and effect in cultures of PNG. There are no accidents: sickness and death (even often including old age) happen because of sorcery, the use of magic to enhance a love relationship, and so on. In this instance Ransom has disobeyed what he was told to do, resulting in something wrong happening. But we have to be careful: when there is an accident, has the missionary disobeyed God in some way? Are there accidents? A building collapses and good and the evil people both die. Ransom seems to accept the cause and effect reasoning.

Philosophical questions like these do not seem to trouble Ransom as he continues to try and understand what he has seen and heard. As he journeys on he reflects on the nature of Oyarsa: is he an arch-sorn? Is he a real person? Ransom is looking for Augray’s tower, unsure of what this might be or mean.

I have mentioned that missionaries are often confronted with the names of things that they do not know or understand and live in places that they cannot comprehend. Should they enter new territory, according to some theologies, likely to be ruled by the devil? How far should they go in their quest for cultural understanding? Ransom, it turns out, goes further than most missionaries would. Similarly, I once attended a garden ceremony when we first arrived in the village. The head man cooked some pig parts over a small reflective pond as he chanted the names of certain spirits ( I learned later). It was an eerie feeling for me and when I reported the incident to some missionaries afterwards they cautioned me to be careful of what ceremonies I took part in. That may have been good advice, although it is difficult to learn about many cultural events without participating in them.

Eventually Ransom meets a sorn, one who reasons that Ransom is from Thulcandra (earth, 158), rather than Glundandra (Jupiter, 158), because he is “small and thick”, which is how animals from that world would look. Ransom questions the sorn, called Augray about Oyarsa, and discovers that Augray speaks a dialect different from the hrossa. Ransom also wonders what the eldila look like, so there follows a discussion on Oyarsa, who “is the greatest of eldila who ever come to a handra” (94). In the ensuing discussion with Augray, Ransom finds that he has insufficient vocabulary to find out much about the political and economic background of the Malacandrian people, in particular the pfifltriggi.

Ransom’s interest in language contributes to his identification of dialect differences, but it also shows how weak he is in certain cultural domains, such as politics and economics. Ransom seems to assume that the division of vocabulary and culture into economic, religion and so on are natural rather than an artifact of Western culture and analysis. Missionaries likewise assume that their own cultural domains are more reliable than those of another culture. In Kewa we found that there was no word for “religion” or “economics” or, of course, for “psychology” because these have arisen out of our Western educational complex. Ransom is also tied to his educational background and finds it difficult to communicate along the lines that the sorn does.

Travel is difficult for Ransom so Augray carries him across the landscape, a new handramit that is spectacular in beauty. There has been climate change, such that they travel across the “old forests of Malacandra” that existed when it was warmer. They pass caves where the sorns lived and Ransom notes excavations depicting “a collection of rolls, seemingly of skin, covered with characters, which were clearly books” (101). He sees pictures on stones that suggest an earlier evolution of the sorns, hrossa and pfifltriggi. It is the latter who turn out to be the sculptors, and one does a portrait of Ransom. Eventually they reach a lake and Ransom is transported by Hrinha, a hross, by boat for a distance, resumes walking, and reaches an island, which is “all full of eldila” (108).

The picture of Augray carrying Ransom is symbolic of how in an unfamiliar place and culture, he must rely completely on the “natives”. Despite how observant missionaries and anthropologists are, they must rely completely upon members of the cultures where they live. Ransom is able to appreciate beauty–even when it is unlike that of his own world. He also is able to connect the relationship between groups of people from pictographs that he notices. In both respects he is an example of a missionary intent on appreciating the culture in which he lives. Not many missionaries have the interest in geology or botany that Ransom does, but such discoveries reveal important and intricate historical aspects of the language and culture.

Ever the philologist, Ransom makes another discovery: the soréni, hrossa and pfifltriggi can all speak the same language, despite differences in their speech organs. He is told that once they had their own languages but now everyone has learned the language of the hrossa and that none can learn the language of the soréni (114)[5]. Ransom remains to learn more of their cultures until finally Oyarsa appears from the long lines of sculptured stones. Oyarsa has an inhuman voice, but unshaken, sweet and remote. From Oyarsa Ransom learns that he has been brought to Mars for a purpose and that he met séroni so that they could teach him the language. Oyarsa had not expected the strangers (Weston and Devine) to bring Ransom, although the pfifltriggi knew from the séroni that Thulcandrians were mining on Mars. Oyarsa had sent for someone of Ransom’s race so that he could find out as much as he could about Maleldil’s wars with the Bent One.

Ransom finally discovers the purpose that took him to Mars. It has taken a leader from a culture not his own to make this clear. Similarly, some missionaries do not find out their true purpose for being in another land until they have deep philosophical and religious encounters with inside leaders. Why are missionaries in a particular culture? The simple answer is “to communicate the Gospel”, but what does God have in mind in the transaction and how are his purposes discovered? Ransom’s difficulties and discoveries parallel the missionaries as they try to communicate effectively without knowing the language and the culture well.

As Ransom is explaining what happened with Maleldil on Thulcandra, Weston and Devine arrive in a procession (123). They deposit three dead hrossa before Oyarsa. Hyahi the brother of the hrossa Hyoi—who has been killed by Weston—attempts to speak to Weston and Devine. Weston cannot comprehend where the message is coming from and attempts to converse by using a condescending variation of Pidgin that is based on the Malacandrian he learned from the séroni. He tries to intimidate them but in the end he is ignored (even “laughed at”) before Oyarsa ends the conversation.

Talking down to people is common, even by missionaries and the use of a kind of Pidgin vernacular is also widespread. But when done in a manner that uses the language incorrectly, it shows a lack of respect. Weston and Divine are examples of what missionaries should not be: condescending in both attitude and language, indicating their feelings that the inhabitants are culturally and linguistically inferior, subject to control and intimidation. Lewis obviously recognizes this when he has Weston using a Pidgin variation of the language.

Ransom listens to the songs of memory for the dead séroni. Because of his knowledge of the culture and his love for the creatures he begins, ever so little, to hear the songs with their ears. Oyarsa makes a sign and the pfifltiigg touches the three dead séroni and they disappear.

When a missionary begins to understand and respond internally like one of the people there is hope that his message will be listened to and, perhaps, accepted and adapted within the culture. But the empathy of missionaries should go beyond simply the goal of the salvation of the people. A missionary’s reactions and feelings need to be spontaneous and genuine without ulterior motives. Funerals and mourning were one of my most difficult times when we were living with the Kewa. I can still occasionally hear the death wails in my dreams. But listening to the songs and dirges enabled me to understand the depth of feelings of the people. Ransom began to do this. Of course one does not have to be a missionary to have this kind of response, but a cross-cultural view of death can be terrifying.

Oyarsa has Weson’s head dipped in cold water with the hope that it will help him understand the ways of the Malacandrians. Instead, Weston continues to lecture them on their primitive ways. He claims that life is greater than tribal taboos (135) and that life is on “a relentless march from the amoeba to man and from man to civilization.” When Oyarsa extols the benefits of Maleldil, Weston rubbishes the concept and, in his Pidgin version of the language says, “Me no care Maleldil. Like Bent One better: me on his side” (139). Oyarsa allows Weston’s party to leave, saying that the sornéni and pfiftriggi will give them enough food and air for the 90 days it will take to reach Thulcandra.

Despite their most degrading speeches and actions, foreigners, including missionaries, are often given more grace and good will than they deserve. This is certainly the case for Weston and Devine. An inherent cultural view of hospitality in many cultures will often overcome the negative response that outsiders could expect. Apparently Ransom finds it no different on Mars. Of course this is not always true: In all good faith, James Chalmers went to the Gulf of PNG at the turn of the 19th century, but was killed by the Goaribari people. The five martyrs in Ecuador were killed despite their good intentions. Ransom and Weston were not missionaries and their intentions were always self-centered. They could have expected retaliation and revenge but are allowed to return to earth instead.

The three return to earth and it is at this point that Ransom’s friend takes up the story, remarking that Ransom has abandoned his idea of a Malacandrian dictionary and telling his story to the world. The author remarks that this record, however, gives much of the story, even if it does not do justice to Ransom’s experiences.

Ransom, or Lewis as Ransom, clearly portrays a number of positive characteristics of a missionary. These include linguistic aptitude and cultural curiosity, coupled with empathy, friendships, and deep discussions about the important matters of sin, life and death. The whole story is not told to the world—no TV or DVDs in those days. Like many missionaries returning home, Ransom also realizes that he will not get some of the linguistic work done that he had planned. Many missionaries have shelves of data that they will probably never analyze and eventually realize that many things they hoped to accomplish will not get done. In addaition, many will be perplexed by the missionary stories.

In summary, there are a number of practical observations that we can draw out of Ransom’s experiences on Mars that are similar to what missionaries learn from their overseas experiences:

  • He begins to learn a foreign language and finds it is difficult
  • He knows that attempting to use the language is a way to make friends
  • As he describes his experiences he learns more about himself
  • He learns from cultures and peoples that are quite different than his own
  • When he examines come aspects of his own culture he is ashamed
  • He is uncomfortable—even frightened—in his new cultural environment
  • He notes that traditional beliefs from other cultures encapsulate truth and knowledge
  • He understands that his ultimate destiny is in the hands of God
  • He understands that social organization is a universal aspect of cultures
  • He understands that degrees of empathy come from cultural immersion and participation
  • He observes that cultural imperialism is an aspect of his work

Reflectiing on these observations, how does Lewis fare as a missionary? He (Ransom) is at first depicted as a slow language learner, but soon enters into profound philosophical discussions that demand linguistic expertise. In this respect, Lewis is unrealistic because such a degree of fluency cannot be replicated in such a short time by any missionary (or any human). Although the story of language learning is therefore improbable, the observations and discussions by Ransom are of profound importance to any missionary. Lewis was a philologist and had an intense interest in the history of languages, but he was never in a cross-cultural situation where he had to learn to speak a different language.[6] He cleverly shows how a faulty use of language (Weston’s Pidgin variety) leads to false assumptions and misunderstandings. I think Lewis’s contributions would have been as a consultant and teacher of missionaries, rather than as a grass roots missionary. Such a person would have to learn to speak a vernacular language. Ransom’s efforts at doing so on Mars are extraordinary and therefore seem less than convincing.[7]

A Missionary to Venus?[8]

The sequel to Out of the Silent Planet begins with the thoughts and journey of a man (not incidentally, named Lewis) who is summoned to Ransom’s home. He already knows that Ransom has been to Mars and “does not doubt the existence of the things he had met in Mars” (14), which are, of course, the sornéni, hrossa, and pfifltriggi, as well as the creatures called eldila and their ruler, the Oyarsa of Malacandra. He sees what he interprets as eldila and hears them speak in a “strange polysyllabic language” that he has never heard before (18). Lewis knows something of their physical characteristics as well, although they seem to resemble “thinking minerals” more than what he would call animals.

Like a missionary returning on furlough, Ransom has re-told his Mars experiences to Lewis. Lewis also recognizes that Ransom has come back from Mars a changed individual: he has met and communicated with the eldila, who now do not leave him alone. The narrator (Lewis) is even afraid that he might meet one, and indeed as he travels to meet Ransom at his home he finds it difficult to think of any thing but them. In this episode Lewis exemplifies the missionary-storyteller par excellence. Ransom has told his bizarre stories with great effect. The missionaries who are sought for the banquet circuit and official functions are most often the storytellers, not the academicians—unless they too can tell stories.

In addition to the eldila, Lewis knew of the soréni, giants that Ransom had met and described. Ransom had also told Lewis about the pfiftriggi and the hrossa, as well as additional named beings. All of this background information contributed to Lewis’s raw cultural perceptions of haunted houses and superstition as he continued on his way to Ransom’s cottage.

Like an effective missionary storyteller, Ransom has made his stories so vivid that Lewis is terribly frightened in the dark on his way to Ransom’s house. Contributing are Ransom’s snake and cannibal stories, themes that audiences always have in mind when they think of “primitive” cultures and the stories that missionaries tell. This effect of such stories can be either positive or negative, depending on the way they are told and the motives for telling them. What was Ransom trying to achieve by telling these tales to his friend? When missionaries tell a story, their motives and goals may not always be clear. Ransom needs someone with whom he can share his adventures, and the same is true for missionaries. Ransom is fortunate that he has found someone interested—some missionaries are not so fortunate.

Upon arrival at Ransom’s house Lewis finds a note expressing sorrow that Ransom will be late and that he is to make himself at home. In the house he stumbles upon a long, open box and hears a voice calling the name of Ransom. He also sees a pillar of light with unusual colors, something he interprets as an eldil and he is filled with terror. Just then Ransom returns and converses with the eldil in “a strange polysyllabic language” that Lewis had never heard before.

Missionaries know what it is like to be invited to a home when the host is absent. We note that when Ransom and the eldil converse, it is a miracle to Lewis. When missionaries talk their learned languages the reaction is often similar: how did they ever learn to talk like that? Ransom undoubtedly knew the effect this language would have on Lewis when he heard it: awe, admiration, even a humbling effect. Missionaries likewise observe the audiences feelings of wonder when they talk or recite Scripture in an unknown language.

In the discussion that follows it is clear that Ransom would like to return to Malacandra (Mars) but has now been summoned to go to Perelandra (Venus) instead. The leader of the latter, a “bent Oyarsa” who resides somewhere in the Solar System, is going to attack Venus. Ransom has been selected to go to Venus because he learned the language Hressa-Hlab on Mars, which turns out to be Old Solar, Hlab-Eribol-of-Cordi, which is also spoken on Venus (22). The language was lost on Thulcandra (earth) and no human language is known to have descended from it. Additional facts are spelled out: how Venus has an outer layer of atmosphere that is thick, so the climate will be warm; the man Schiaparelli has studied the time it takes for Venus to revolve around the sun (Arbol). The conclusion is that there will be a perpetual day on one side of the planet and perpetual night on the other.

Here, similar to a scholarly missionary, Ransom has done his homework: he knows the linguistic history, the geography and the conditions surrounding any transportation needed for living in the new country. And like many missionaries, Ransom would like to go back to Mars, where he had learned the language and was accepted by the people. However, the mission superintendent has a different and more important assignment in mind for Ransom. “Going back” is a strange oddity and behavior of missionaries. It reveals the deep feelings that allow them to refer to “our language” and “our people”. Although Ransom may have more knowledge about the history of the language than the average missionary, he also demonstrates its relevance to understanding what has happened on the planet.

Ransom, in fact, will be sent to a place where there is a battle going on between good and evil. He will ride in a coffin by the power of Oyarsa to Perelandra. He has no idea of how this can be done, but Lewis has been summoned to help launch the box. At breakneck speed Ransom is deposited in Perelandra, which seems to have an environment that is without land. He describes it as having no moon or stars but a darkness that was warm. The earth has receded from his view and darkness, loneliness and sleep overcome him.

Darkness and loneliness are two apt words for the feelings of missionaries who arrive in new countries. And, like Ransom, they believe they are involved in a battle that is going on between what is good and what is bad. The challenge is to decide what the cultural insiders consider as good and bad. (Missionaries may also feel like they have been transported in a box after 24 hours in airplanes and airports!).

After an interlude of rest Ransom awakes and realizes that he is naked and on an unknown planet. Presently he sees what seems to be a dragon-like creature, which he unsuccessfully tries to engage in conversation. With considerable difficulty in communication, Ransom encounters what turns out to be a green woman. Eventually he talks to her in the ancient language of Venus telling her that he has come in peace. Her answer is as perplexing as his journey to this point. “What is peace?” she asks (50).

Missionaries assume that their vocabulary and viewpoint will be understood, indeed that it should be. But as surely as the green woman does not know what “peace” means (as well as other assumed common concepts), some cultural groups do not understand the most basic terms that are used to explain the Gospel (redemption, forgiveness, repentance, for example). Lewis portrays this difficulty in cross-cultural understanding very well. A further analogy is when translators are searching for key terms and attempt some definition from the “original” text, believing that this will explain a meaning. However, the meaning will be interpreted by the context of the message—written or unwritten, regardless of the Biblical history of the word or expression. Ransom can only explain meanings in terms of the present cultural context.

Further conversations reveal that neither party understands the other’s point of view or reference. Ransom believes that when she says she is young she is referring to age. Rather, she is talking about the accumulation of wisdom. She calls Ransom “Piebald Man,” (52) indicating the blotched nature of his skin and thanks him for the wisdom he is bringing. It turns out that she knows “that in your world Maleldil first took Himself this form, the form of your race and mine” (54). It is Maleldil that has provided all of the wisdom that the woman shares with Ransom.

Here Lewis is treading in deep theological water: people in other cultures are not supposed to know as much as the missionary about the purpose or nature of God. This is an important dialogue because it reveals that Lewis, now as author, appreciates some of the innate religious understanding that is present in another culture. Missionaries have to face the fact or possibility that in some way God has been there before them. Many object to this point of view.

As Ransom’s dialogue continues with the “Green Lady”, it seems that many of his concepts simply do not make sense to her. “What is home… alone… dead?” reveal some of the terms that are unfamiliar. She wonders aloud if Ransom was sent to Venus to teach them about death. As their dialogue continues Piebald is also confused, and the Green Lady observes “little hills and valleys” in his forehead and “a little lift” of his shoulders. “Are these the signs of something in your world?” she asks (61).

When verbal language can’t be understood, people look closely at “body language.” What does a furrowed brow mean in another culture? People in other cultures may not only wonder what the missionary is talking about, but also why he or she smiles so much? What does it mean? What gives him such power, with goods, medicines and knowledge that is far beyond what their own ancestors had? The dialogue with the Green Lady illustrates some of the confusion and cross-assumptions that occur, as well as Lewis’s skill in presenting them.

The next day Ransom and the Green Lady meet and talk again, this time of the Fixed Land, where Ransom lives. Ransom attempts to outline some of the laws of that land and of the people who live there, about the beasts on Venus and about what has fallen out of Deep Heaven. Ransom and the Green Lady ride on a fish she summons to the fixed land. Once there Ransom comments that he has seen no eldila, “the great and ancient servants of Maledil…who neither breed or breathe and have bodies made of light” (71). His questions and comments are based on his own cultural assumptions.

Ransom, like any missionary-in-learning, realizes that the laws of the land are different from his own. In PNG the world revolves around the land and water, not roads and shopping malls. But in order to understand another culture, missionaries must ask questions that make sense, observe actions and events carefully, and then attempt to analyze what they find. Ransom is rightly puzzled.

Suddenly Weston exits from a space craft and Ransom, knowing Weston’s evil intentions, tries in vain to keep the Green Lady from meeting him. Out of courtesy she meets him, despite Ransom’s wish for them to depart from Weston quickly. Weston and Ransom end up in a long philosophical argument in which Ransom admits that he is a Christian and Weston promotes his own view on the blind purpose of life. He sees this as an upward spiral toward spirituality, an outcome of his “biological philosophy” and his belief in “emergent evolution” (78). Weston remarks on what he has learned from his new knowledge of the extraterrestrial language. Their discussions and arguments continue until, finally, Weston contorts and passes out.

Missionaries sometimes engage in arguments that have a philosophical and theological basis from the Bible and revelation. In contrast, secular anthropologists or other observers, may have assumptions about life and creation that are quite opposite. Some of the debates are therefore not unlike those Ransom had with Weston, so much so that the arguments are indeed often “hostile.”

Later, when Ransom awakens, he hears voices that turn out to be Weston discussing Meleldil and the fixed land with the woman. Ransom realizes that Weston sounds different because he is deceiving the woman and attempting to learn things that will suit his own purposes. He is speaking to the woman “in the Old Solar language with perfect fluency” (74).

Recognizing the intentions and motives of an enemy through their voices and writings is essential for missionaries. (Reviews of the writings of Lewis and his comments about the reviews of his works indicate that he had to put up with this struggle throughout his academic career.) It takes wisdom and discernment for a missionary to determine what is deceitful in another culture.

Ransom, still alone, comes across a damaged animal, a trail of frogs, and then Weston, who has been mutilating them. When Weston went to Perelandra his evil accompanied him and it is about this evil that Ransom attempts to warn the Green Lady. However, Weston finds the lady first and is already in dialogue with her when Ransom arrives. Ransom tries to warn the lady of Weston’s intentions, but she is enthralled with his arguments on death and courage, forbidding and disobedience. The Green Lady seems to understand the implications when she exclaims, “Oh, how well I see it! We cannot walk out of Maleldil’s will: but He has given us a way to walk out of our will” (101-102). Weston, of course, argues this point, eventually changing the shape of his body and his utterances, such that he “opened its [his] mouth and gave a long melancholy howl like a dog” (104).

Often missionaries have tried to protect their converts from the ways and arguments of the world, believing that they are too young and naïve in the faith to counteract temptations and evil. The motivations of the missionary may be misunderstood and there may be unintended conclusions, but these are a part of cross-cultural communication process. This is the case with the Green Lady and Weston—she is enthralled by the arguments and what she is learning.

Weston is clearly the enemy, called the “Un-man”, and is intent on capturing the will of the lady. And the Un-man shows subtlety and intelligence as he talks to the Lady. Ransom sees clearly that Weston is using his intelligence as a weapon. Weston continues with his arguments, clothes the lady with feathers of dead birds, gives her a mirror so that she can see herself and explains, “We call this thing a mirror”. He wants her to love herself and “to walk alongside oneself as if one were a second person and to delight in one’s own beauty. Mirrors were made to teach this art” (117).

In order to get someone in another culture to accept a different point of view the persuader may resort to bribery and flattery. Missionaries may not recognize this but they are aware of the greed that possessions and new items promote. (Missionaries and colonists have been portrayed as giving mirrors and beads to the American Indians.) Lewis sees the Un-man as a theological personification of the general sinfulness of mankind, something that any missionary recognizes.

Ransom realizes that he must ultimately capture the Un-Man and the darkness he projects. He does not know what will happen, but he can no longer resist the conviction that he must do something.

Although the missionary may know in his mind that God is in charge of each situation, especially evil ones, he also knows that he must do something to confront the evil. Here Lewis clearly  represents the point of view of a missionary—even when things don’t turn out the way they expect, they acknowledge that God is in charge of the situation.

There follows a long battle between Weston and Ransom, over land and sea, between a true man and an Un-man, one who eventually begs mercy from Ransom, who mortally wounds him. Even in this condition Weston argues with Ransom, about evil, about God, about the meaning of life. He extols the virtues of Spiritualism, how it has taken him beyond pleasant accounts of the dead that are traditional and philosophical.

However, the Un-man appears again and Ransom finally crushes him with a stone in “the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost” (155). As the long and vicious battle concludes, Ransom eventually overpowers the Un-man and burns his body. On the cliff wall Ransom carved a remembrance of him in Old Solar that includes the words “A LEARNED HNAU OF THE WORLD WHICH THOSE WHO INHABIT IT CALL TELLUS BUT THE ELDILA THULCANDRA.” and “PERELANDRA WHERE HE GAVE UP HIS WILL AND REASON TO THE BENT ELDIL” (161). Ransom also records more about the activities of Weston and the approximate time when he was born and died. He then begins a subterranean journey through the mountains and difficult terrain in his attempt to reach Oyarsa.

Although allegorical, the battle between Ransom and the Un-man Weston is probably not unlike the battles that take place between good and evil in many cultures. The missionary is called upon to take part in the battle, just as Ransom does.

Even in the death of Weston, Lewis is kind and extols him as a person. Missionaries also remember the contributions that non-Christians, including anthropologists and naturalists, explorers and colonial officials, have made to better understand other cultures.

After further difficulty and travel, Ransom comes across what is his own coffin. It is like a chariot waiting to return him to Earth from Venus. Near him are also two eldila who have been waiting. One is Oyarsa, representing Malacandra, the other represents Perelandra. Ransom is referred to as Elwin, the friend of the eldila who is “in the body of Maleldil and his sins are forgiven” (167). It is also Maleldil who has taught the two eldila to build the Fixed Island and perform other tasks.

The eldila reconstitute themselves so that Ransom can see them—they are taller than the sorns, “perhaps thirty feet high” and “burning white like white-hot iron” (170). The Oyarsa of Mars and the Oyarsa of Venus too have differences in their faces and bodies. “[D]o I see you as you really are?” asks Ransom. Oyarsa of Mars replies, “Only Maleldil sees any creature as it really is” (173).

The final scenes show Ransom with a king and a queen who represent and explain the end times of the earth. They are grateful to Ransom for explaining the nature of evil and about the people of the earth, with their desire to corrupt other planets as well. Ransom departs in his coffin and returns to earth.

Lewis reveals the accomplishments of Ransom through the testimonies of the people that he has met and lived with. Ransom can be seen then as a Christ-figure, representing the will and purpose of God. Missionaries are also ambassadors for Christ in another culture and the testimonies of the people they serve often affirm this. Lewis provides a wonderful farewell for Ransom—missionaries would want the same, so it is easy to draw some parallels.

In conclusion, what might we say about Ransom and his so-called missionary voyage to Venus? How have his efforts been similar to that of a missionary? Here are some parallels:

  • He has made friends with the inhabitants to the extent that he can carry on deep and meaningful philosophical arguments and conversations, including those that portray symbolism and metaphor
  • He has provided a descriptive account of the people (beings) and their cultures and languages
  • He has acknowledged and encountered evil from people of his own race and culture
  • He has taken a stand against the evil represented by his race and culture
  • He has come to grips for the purpose of his life and what he was meant to do
  • He has told others of his experiences and enlisted their support and aid in returning to Venus.

One can only guess if other missionaries would draw such parallels between themselves and the efforts and stories of Ransom. However, it has helped me to imagine, if only in a small way, how my wife and I might have appeared to many of the Kewa people when we first met them in the Southern Highlands of Papua New Guinea. It has also underscored my conviction that anthropological and linguistic insights are crucial for any “successful” missionary work.


Appendix: A partial taxonomy of Mars and Venus aliens




sorn (séroni) soroborn (desert variety)       hross (hrossa)     hressni (f)            pfifltrigg (pfifltriggi)

Some Personal Names                                    Some Personal Names                     Some Personal Names
Augray                                                              Hnoh                                                  Kalakaperi
Arkal                                                                 Hnihil; Hnoo (132)                          Parakataru
Belmo                                                                Hyoi; Hyahi (125) Whin (78)        Tafalakeruf
Falmay                                                              Hlithnahi; Hnihi (114)                    Kanakaberaka
Hnohra (66) Hrikki
Hleri (f, 80); Hrinha (106)

/a, u, e, o,/                                                         /o , i, a/                                               /a, e, i, u/
/g, r, k, l, b, m, f, y/                                          /h, n, l, th, y/                                      /k, l, p, r, k, f, n, b, y/
VC-, -C(C)V(C)                                               hCVh/k, hCVV, hV(C), CV             CV, CVf

The proto language (11 consonants and 5 vowels): /p, th, k, b, g, f, m, n, l, r, y/; /i, e, a, u, o/

séroni attributes                                              hrossa attributes                               pfifltriggi attributes
webbed forepaw (57), long shanks (92)      dominant species (60)                     make & shape things
pouch-like objects with liquid (57)                            forepaw (63)                                     tapir-headed, hairless
7 foot tall (57), snaky body, solemn (93)    lived in the lowland (64)                little, frog-bodied (70)
black animal hair, whiskered (110)                            ate weed honodraskrud                  rock carvers
glossy coat, liquid breath, whitest teeth      bee hive shaped huts of leaf           pictographys (110)
know everything                                             “old stone age” (67)                        delight in digging (69)
live in the mountains (harandra)                 no pottery, boiled food                   long in snout, pale
speech and reason (59)                                  lived by rivers upstream                 female = Venus (111)
live in big caves, holes (70, 114))                kind of poetry and music                insect-like (112)
fan shaped, seven fingered (98)                   naturally monogamous (75)           broad, padded hands
plume-like shoulder surface (98)                 formerly had books (101)                              lang. not learned (114)
horn-like greeting (100)                                 use boats                                            oviparous
shepherds (93), spidery movements (93)    temp. 1030; age 160yrs (154)         matriarchal
joke=irony                                                       joke=extravagant                                            joke=abuse
laugh=booming (127)                                     laugh=baying                                    laugh=piping noise
desert variety=soroborn (155)                     black, silver, etc. (154)                   short lives (155)
don’t breathe, but can talk (156)                  slept on ground, no arts (67)          had funerals (157)



Buning, Marius. 1991. Perelandra revisited in the light of modern allegorical theory. In Peter J. Schakel and Charles A. Huttar, eds. Word and Story in C.S. Lewis, pp. 277-298. Columbia and London: University of Missouri Press.

Downing, David C. 2007a. Perelandra: A tale of paradise retained. In Bruce L. Edwards, ed. C.S. Lewis: Life, works, and legacy. Volume 2, Fantasist, mythmaker, & poet, pp. 35-52. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger Perspectives.

Downing, David C. 2007b. Rehabilitating H. G. Wells: C. S. Lewis’s Out of the Silent Planet. In Bruce L. Edwards, ed. C.S. Lewis: Life, works, and legacy. Volume 2, Fantasist, mythmaker, & poet, pp. 13-34. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger Perspectives.

Flieger, Verlyn, 1991. The sound of silence: Language and experience in Out of the Silent Planet. In Peter J. Schakel and Charles A. Huttar, eds. Word and Story in C.S. Lewis, pp. 42-57. Columbia and London: University of Missouri Press.

Glover, Donald E. 1991. Bent language in Perelandra: The storyteller’s temptation. In Peter J. Schakel and Charles A. Huttar, eds. Word and Story in C.S. Lewis, pp. 171-181. Columbia and London: University of Missouri Press.

Lewis, C.S. 1938. Out of the silent planet. London: Bodley Head; 1943. New York: Macmillan.

Lewis, C.S. 1943. Perelandra. London: Bodley Head; 1944. Macmillan, under the title Voyage to Venus.

Schwartz, Sanford. 2009. C.S. Lewis on the final frontier: Science and the supernatural in the space trilogy. Oxford University Press.

Wolfe, Gregory. 1991. Essential speech: Language and myth in the Ransom trilogy. In Peter J. Schakel and Charles A. Huttar, eds. Word and Story in C.S. Lewis, pp. 58-75. Columbia and London: University of Missouri Press.


*Based on two chapel messages given in early 2007 at the Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics, Dallas, Texas.

[1] To save space, I have not included the publication information—readers not familiar with the books can find the publisher and full book title by visiting the Amazon website, or contacting some other bookseller. For the sake of political correctness, throughout this essay I hereby declare that my ‘he’ may also, at times, parallel ‘she’.

[2] I do not examine the final book of the trilogy here, in which Ransom, the philosopher-educator, because of his experiences on Mars and Venus, understands what is happening in his college town. It has parallels with missionaries who examine their own cultures in the light of experience and understanding from other cultures. Other authors have examined the trilogy carefully and from an esthetic and literary point of view. See, in particular, Buning (1991), Glover (1991), Flieger (1991) and Downing (2007a, 2007b),.

[3] The full story is found in C.S. Lewis, Out of the silent planet. London: Bodley Head, 1938; New York: Macmillian, 1943. My page numbers refer to the Scribner edition, 2003. Schwartz (2009:157) provides an appendix that converts his page references to chapter numbers if editions other than Scribner are used.

[4] For a summary of the hnau and other “beings” and some of their cultural attributes, see my Appendix.

[5] Flieger (1991:52) gives historical linguistic evidence on the naming of the three species by Lewis and remarks that the sorns “have portentous, ponderous sounding names”, the hross “have animal-like, whinnying ‘furry’ names”, and the pfiftriggi “have busy, polysyllabic, technical sounding names.”

[6] Downing (2007a:29) says that Lewis “made Ransom a philologist because the plot would require someone who could acquire new languages quickly,” perpetuating the erroneous and somewhat popular idea that because one knows a lot about languages one can therefore learn to speak new ones quickly.

[7] Flieger (1991) gives a much more sophisticated analysis of Lewis’s use of language, relating it to Barfield’s theory of language as exemplified in Poetic Diction. Ransom cannot say certain things because he doesn’t have words for what he sees (Flieger, p.47) and if he does not have previous experience he cannot recognize or name something.

[8] The full story is found in C.S. Lewis, (Perelandra). London: Bodley Head, 1943; Macmillan, 1944 under the title Voyage to Venus. My page numbers refer to the Scribner edition, 2003.

[9] Best translated as “beings”, they contrast with hmān “man” (plural hmāna). so “man” could be put on the same level as the other three. Above all the beings is Oyarsa, a “real person” (86), a whisper of light and “the smallest diminution of shadow” with an unhuman voice (118), and who is a copy of Maleldil (119). Meldilorn is the seat of Oyarsa (69, 84). See my Appendix for a schema of the Malacandrians. All page numbers given there refer to Perelandra.