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  • Writer's pictureWalker Buckalew

C. S. Lewis and Science Fiction

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C. S. Lewis and Science Fiction

By most people in the world, C. S. Lewis is best known for his Narnia stories for children. But he wrote many kinds of books. His Ransom Trilogy – also known as the Interplanetary Trilogy or the Space Trilogy – was written for adults, and is sometimes, even today, catalogued by book sellers under “science fiction,” rather than “religious fiction” or “Christian fiction.”

That’s always seemed odd to me, but that’s how it is.

The titles in the Ransom Trilogy are: Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength. In the first book, Ransom, the central character, actually travels to Mars and encounters three species of intelligent Martians. It’s an extraordinary adventure in which his safe return to Earth is at no point certain. In the second book, Ransom travels to Venus, which is depicted as being in a state similar to Earth at the start of human history. As with the first book in the trilogy, Ransom’s safe return to Earth from Venus is doubtful until the very end.

The third book, That Hideous Strength, differs dramatically from the first two, and in three major ways. First, the perspective of the action shifts in its settings as the reader moves from one chapter to the next, unlike the first two novels in which the perspective is continuous, focused on just a single narrative. Second, Mr. Lewis had read Charles Williams’s supernatural thrillers between writing the second and third stories in his Ransom Trilogy, and had a better understanding of how to create narrative tension. Finally, That Hideous Strength takes place entirely on this planet. Ransom is “visited” by beings he has encountered outside the Earth’s sphere, but he himself does not travel in this story.

By expanding the field of his narrative to extend outside the Earth’s sphere, C. S. Lewis opened his fiction – and Ransom’s own experience – to a great deal that goes beyond ordinary human experience. In this “beyond ordinary” world, Mr. Lewis found it easier to introduce the supernatural into his narrative. And by moving from a single narrative perspective to a multiple narrative perspective, he broadened the scope of the novel to include more, and more interesting, characters, without stretching the fictional fabric beyond its natural limits.

That Hideous Strength serves as the prototype for all of my novels, both for adults and for young adults. Each of my novels features a small band of Christian people facing incomprehensible Evil. (That’s the “mystery” component in my action/mystery novels.) Then, once the Evil is identified, this small band of Christians is forced to take action against the Evil on their own, rather than relying on law enforcement, because they have deciphered the mystery with the help of certain “divine messages.” These come usually in the form of dreams, as in First Samuel 3:1: “The word of the Lord was rare in those days. Visions were not widespread.”

C. S. Lewis commented that fiction writing – especially the science fiction genre – gave him the chance to put forward ideas that he thought likely to be true, but which were too speculative to include in his non-fiction books. I am grateful to Mr. Lewis for all this and more. As one reviewer said about my first novel, The Face of the Enemy, “… the influence of C. S. Lewis is clear in this novel, yet without its becoming excessively derivative.”

For me, that was high praise indeed.

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