Exodus in “Out of the Silent Planet”

From the crossing of a body of water to the oaks of Mamre, the themes of the Exodus ring loudly in “Out of the Silent Planet.”

After landing on Malacandra, Weston, Devine, and Ransom take time to eat lunch. This is not surprising: Lewis has a propensity toward dealing with the mundane, even in his most fantastical stories. Remember that the Witch tempts a child with something as simple as candy (Adam and Eve, on the other hand, required God-like knowledge and a semblance of a kingdom to sin against Yahweh!). It is, rather than a simple recollection of facts, a part of the themes of Exodus that run underneath Out of the Silent Planet’s story.

Weston and Devine have taken Ransom captive, wishing to bring him to theĀ sornĀ on the planet Malacandra as a human sacrifice. Ransom is drugged, taken aboard a space ship, and sent flying through space toward Malacandra. His captives waste little time explaining the situation. Rather, they simply view Ransom as the means to their end: a building project. Through Ransom’s sacrifice, they will gain immortality. Sounds like Egypt. At the expense of Israel’s freedom, Egypt plans to become immortal in their building practices.

As Devine suggests it is time for lunch, Lewis uses evocative language. “Mindful, however, of a possible dash for liberty, he forced himself to eat much more than usual, and appetite returned as he ate.” (45) The meal is described as “protracted” (46), an opposite of the Hebrews, who ate in a hurry and had no time to prepare their meal. The difference, I think, is that the Israelites knew that Yahweh would deliver; Ransom was waiting on deliverance.

Thankfully, as the trio approached the water, Ransom’s deliverance finally came. Whereas the Israelites traveled safely through the water, Egypt was destroyed in the water. Ransom is on the land as his captors are in the water: when danger strikes, they are the ones most at risk. A shark-like creature descends in a tornado, similar to the pillar of fire coming from Yahweh in the wilderness. (I think Lewis reserves fire here as fire has other symbolic meaning in his fiction.)

Ransom is now on the run, stuck in a would be wilderness. After Israel entered the wilderness and praised Yahweh for her deliverance, she came upon an oasis in Elim. At Elim, there were 70 trees and twelve bodies of water. The 12 bodies of water symbolically stood for the tribes of Israel; the 70 trees the seventy nations (cf. Genesis 10). The bodies of water, Israel, were the water by which the world, the trees, would flourish. Before arriving at Elim, they came by the waters of Marah, which were bitter before Yahweh made them appropriate to drink.

Both the location and the transformation of water appear on Malacandra as Ransom runs from his would-be captors. First, the context of his first rest is the same as the exodus account. As he runs, he realizes he is no safer in movement than he would be if he was resting. He falls down a cliff, finding himself surrounded by water and trees. Just as Israel found relief as the oasis of Elim, so too did Ransom find a break at his gulley.

Secondly, bad water is turned good. As Ransom rests, he finds himself near a stream. The stream moves downhill a bit too slowly for the incline, one of the first weird things that he notices (51). The water was slightly phosphorescent and warmer than he expected water to be (50-51). “[I]t looked poisonous, very unwatery” by his estimation (ibid.) He did not want to drink it, so he went to sleep instead. When he woke, he found himself unable to help himself. He drank the water, despite his initial concerns. Thankfully, “[i]t was good to drink. It had a strong mineral flavour, but it was very good. He drank again and found himself greatly refreshed and steadied.” (54)

Lewis is well known for his allegories. It is not hard to see many allegorical representations of Christ’s passion in Lewisian fiction. Those with ears to hear may hear a bit more.

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