Welcome to the second installment of “Favorite Lines from Literature.” This week, I am going to discuss a line from the C.S Lewis novel Out of the Silent Planet. Though Lewis is well known for The Chronicles of Narnia, the famous author also wrote the wonderful Space Trilogy which consists of Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra and That Hideous Strength. These novels tell the story of Dr. Ransom and his adventures in the Universe.
My favorite line from this novel is a simple one, but the preceding passage needs to be read in order to understand it. Here’s the passage from page 145 of the 2003 paperback edition:
He slept, and woke, and saw the disk still hanging in the sky. It was smaller than the Moon now. Its colours were gone except for a faint, uniform tinge of redness in its light; even the light was not now incomparably stronger than that of the countless stars which surrounded it. It had ceased to be Malacandra; it was only Mars.
The last part of the passage really touched me when I first read the novel. For those of you who are not familiar with the story, Malacandra was the native name for Mars. What I think Lewis does beautifully in this paragraph is describe how distance can change our outlook on a place. When Ransom was on Malacandra, he was completely taken in by the beauty of the planet. His experiences helped shaped his perception of the planet. When he was in a spaceship sailing back to Earth, that luster disappeared from Malacandra. It became Mars because once again, Ransom was a mere observer. Malacandra is the name used by people who know the planet, who have climbed its mountains and met the natives. Mars is the name used by people on Earth who only know it as the fourth planet in the solar system. It was just another planet; no more or less remarkable than the ones surrounding it.
This is a line that really registers with a reader after they have followed the protagonist on the adventure. They understand the distinct difference between Malacandra and Mars.
I really think C.S Lewis is under estimated as a writer. The Space Trilogy is some of his best work and this line represents that. It’s a wonderful example of brevity.