Completed 8/4/2017, reviewed 8/5/2017
I never read the Narnia series. I didn’t even know about it until college. So needless to say, I haven’t read any Lewis before. This being my introduction to him, I was pretty disappointed. I think I expected something really profound. Instead I thought it was pretty dull. This book was written in 1938, and science fiction was still in its infancy. Still I would have expected something a little more interesting, exciting, adventurous, something that had a little life in it. Instead, most of the book is analogous to a “stare in wonder at the special effects” film. And the special effects aren’t really that good.
The plot of the book is that a philologist named Elwin Ransom is kidnapped by two other professors and taken aboard a spaceship that goes to another planet. He escapes from the professors and finds himself alone, hungry, thirsty, and afraid. Eventually he meets an indigenous sentient creature, a hrossa. Being a philologist, i.e., a student of language in written historical sources, he finds a way to communicate with the alien, eventually learning its language. He becomes part of the hrossa society. He also meets the two other sentient species of the planet, the seroni and the pfifltriggi. Eventually, he is urged to leave the group and find Oyarsa, the high spiritual entity of the planet.
The aliens are pretty cool, mostly because they are quite different from earthly animals. They are not anthropomorphized animals, like so often used in early SF. I cringingly am reminded of Tigerishka, the cat-like alien from “The Wanderer”. And there are three sentient species, not just one. I think this is an interesting construct because what we normally see in SF is that like earth, the planet of other SF books only has one, unless of course, it’s an uplift story.
The flora of the planet is pretty interesting as well. However, I found that the descriptive scenes were quite dull. I was astounded by the lack of adjectives. The prose had a lot to be desired. The book being relatively short, I think I expected the prose to be concise and stronger than it was. The book wants you to look at this planet in wonder. Instead, the word choices just leave you rather bored.
There is a theological dialogue at the end of the book between Weston, who is one of Ransom’s abductors, and Oyarsa. I also found it dull. I kept waiting for something really profound to happen to tie the book together, but nothing did. It was like a little theology was thrown in in an attempt to elevate the book above pulp status.
Needless to say, the book left me nonplused. I’m still going to give the whole trilogy a try because the third book is “That Hideous Strength”, which was a book I opted not to read for my Fantasy Lit class in college (the other option was The Earthsea Trilogy, which I did read). I give this book two stars out of five. It was just too dull for me to appreciate.